... aka: Dracula '79
Cliffhangers was a very short-lived TV show that attempted a serial-like approach to its storytelling. Each 60-minute episode contained 20-minutes incriments of three different tales, which would be continued from week to week until completion. Bad ratings led NBC to pull the plug on the series early, leaving two of the three tales; the Perils of Pauline-inspired "Stop Susan Williams" and the Phantom Empire-inspired "The Secret Empire" unfinished (conclusions were filmed but not seen by U.S. audiences). "The Curse of Dracula" was the only story that was shown to completion. Long-forgotten, the show has never received an official DVD or VHS release, and no longer plays on television. As what happened to many other genre shows that didn't do so well, such as The Veil and Journey to the Unknown, multiple episodes were eventually combined together to play on TV as features. The Curse of Dracula had enough footage for two of these "films:" THE WORLD OF DRACULA and THE LOVES OF DRACULA. World, featuring episodes directed by Jeffrey Hayden, Sutton Roley and series creator Kenneth Johnson, is the first half. Michael Nouri, who'd get a career boost in a few years after starring in FLASHDANCE (1983), stars as the Count, complete with a surprisingly decent Hungarian accent. Nouri is handsome, suave and charismaic enough in the role and sometimes reminds one somewhat of Chris Sarandon in FRIGHT NIGHT. However, for not having seen the sunlight for 512 years, he sure is rockin' quite the tan!
The general premise involves Dracula relocating to San Francisco, getting a job as a college professor and teaching a night school course on European history. Dracula's brought along 20 boxes of soil from his native Transylvania, which he must line his coffin with in order to withstand the days. Dracula also has two vicious hell hounds, a raven that can relay information to him and three entranced students who do his bidding. In an interesting addition to the vampire mythology, Dracula can bite victims either to make them his subservient followers (by simply leaving his "mark" on them) OR turn them into full-fledged vampires (by drinking from them three times). A pair of vampire hunters, Kurt Van Helsing (Stephen Johnson), grandson of Professor Van Helsing, and Mary Gibbons (Carol Baxter), who wants revenge because she believe the Count killed her mother, try to track him down. In the meantime, they locate and destroy the soil lined coffins (which are placed around San Francisco in strategic locations) one batch at a time by sprinkling holy water on them. Mary tries to infiltrate the count's class but her head scarf and sunglasses don't fool him, and she ends up going back to the vampire's mansion home and getting bit.
Dracula claims to have loved Mary's mother and now he wants to take possession of her, so he tries to seduce her over to the dark side with promises of love, adventure and immortality. Ultimately though, he leaves it entirely up to her and proves not to be such a terrible guy after all. Antoinette (Antoinette Stella), one of Dracula's followers, is in love with him and jealous of the attention he bestows upon Mary, so she tries to kill her using the dogs, but Dracula comes to the rescue. Meanwhile, Van Helsing gets himself into lots of cliffhanger situations but is ironically bailed out by a female each and every time. When he and Mary are trapped in a barricaded burning barn, she devises a plan to use a coffin as a battering ram. After suffering a concusion from a car crash, he's attacked in the hospital by a few of Dracula's disciples; Darryl (Mark Montgomery) and Christine (Bever-Leigh Banfield), who try to poison him, but Mary shows up just in time to unplug the machine he's hooked up to. When he's dangling over a railing and about to fall on some spikes, Mary shows up with a crucifix. And when he's almost buried alive in a crypt, a female vampire named Amanda (Louise Sorel), who also happens to be Mary's "dead" mother, comes to his rescue.
Amanda, who had faked a suicide jumping off a bridge but has been living on the fringes of society ever since, wants Dracula destroyed and shows up to warn her daughter (who is falling for Dracula and has allowed herself to be bitten a second time) that immortality isn't all that it's cracked up to be. And that's where this chapter leaves off. I went into this with low expectations but was pleasantly surprised by the competent storytelling, well-written dialogue, interesting and somewhat compelling characters, amount of action and decent production values this TV production contained. Les Baxter and Joe Harnell contribute a fine score, as well. Though the ending is left up in the air, the episodes stringed together here work just fine as a feature and they got me interested enough to want to seek out the concluding chapter The Loves of Dracula so I can see how this all pans out. So on the hunt I go...
A few bootleg sites sell this series and it sometimes pops up on ebay. The version I viewed was recorded off of the SyFy Channel back when it was still called the Sci-Fi Channel.