The Count Yorga Collection: Count Yorga, Vampire
and The Return of Count Yorga
COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE
Directed by: Bob Kelljan
Starring: Robert Quarry, Roger Perry, Donna Anders
Set in California at the beginning of the 1970's: two young couples: Donna and Michael, and Erica and Paul, attend a seance to try and contact Erica's deceased mother. At the seance they meet the enigmatic Count Yorga who had been involved with Erica's mother shortly before her death. Yorga becomes obsessed with Donna, and soon all of her friends find themselves in great danger as the Count is in fact....a vampire!
Originally, Count Yorga, Vampire was planned as a soft-porn movie (this newly restored print still carries the original name, The Loves of Count Yorga), but director Bob Kelljan was convinced by friends that the script was strong enough to be played as a straight-up horror film.
I can certainly understand the film's popularity in the drive-ins of the 1970s. To have a contemporary vampire film would have been very rare if not non-existant. Hammer Studios attempts to modernize Dracula, for example (Dracula AD72 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula) didn't come out until later (1972 and 1973, respectively). So the idea of setting a vampire story in contemporary Los Angeles, where everyone knows that vampires only appear in the movies, is quite refreshing.
The film opens with a quite extraordinary scene with Yorga's coffin-shaped crate arriving in the docks and being loaded on the back of a flat-bed truck. Its a weird juxtaposition - we the audience know what's in that crate (its coffin-shaped!) but to the guys transporting it its just another mundane delivery. So we watch from a distance as the crate is loaded and transported through the traffic to Yorga's new estate, knowing that something evil is inside.
While the seance itself is played for laughs - hardly any of the people at the seance (apart from Donna and Erica) can take it seriously - the film shows its true colours shortly afterwards when Erica and Paul are attacked in their camper van after giving Count Yorga a lift home. There is a great bit of hand-held camera work as in one single take we see Yorga attack Paul, then climb into the camper van, the camera moves across to a terrified Erica, who is then slowly obscured from view by her attacker. Things get even better when Michael realizes Paula and Erica are missing, and arrives at their apartment. What he finds there is actually quite shocking, even for a modern audience.
Its this incident which convinces Dr Hayes, a friend of both couples and who went with Michael to Erica's apartment, that a vampire is responsible. This sets up the finale in which Donna is abducted and Michael and Hayes try to rescue her and take down Count Yorga.
Robert Quarry certainly carries off the stylish, debonair Count Yorga. He has a low tolerance of rudeness and ignorant people, and totally feels superior to the fools trying to defeat him. There is a long excrutiating scene where Dr Hayes et al try to force Yorga to reveal his vampiric nature by keeping him awake until the next morning, basically acting as guests who outstay their welcome. In the end Yorga just ups and leaves!
There is a refreshing level of brutality to the film. The attacks by the vampires are more akin to what we're used to seeing in a zombie film (the blood fx here are reminiscent of Romero's Dawn of the Dead), with victims being swarmed and smothered by multiple attackers.
The main obstacle for a modern audience is the pacing, which some people will find too slow at times. Other than that this is a great vampire film with a level of violence not usually seen. Robert Quarry does a good impression of a vampire out of time - he still wears a cape! - while the rest of the cast help convey the cynicism and scepticism of the 1970s.
7 out of 10 (MIkeOutWest)
THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA
Directed by: Bob Kelljan
Starring: Robert Quarry, Marriette Hartley, Roger Perry, Yvonne Wilder
Count Yorga has returned, moving to San Francisco and into the Old Gateway Mansion, next to an orphanage. Its not long before Yorga makes himself known, at the orphanage's annual fancy dress party where he meets Cynthia. He becomes infatuated with her and is determined to make her one of his vampire brides...
This sequel certainly ups the ante on the first film, with Robert Quarry returning as the suave Count but this time bringing with him a half dozen vampire brides willing to do his bidding.
The opening scene gets the film off to a great start, as a young orphan called Tommy finds himself surrounded by the Brides at sunset in a graveyard. As they shuffle about its almost as if they are zombies and could be because it is still partly daylight. The evening sun gives the scene a great lighting effect and the brides look really sinister.
Count Yorga hasn't lost his acerbic wit. He arrives at the fancy dress party in his usual garb, so everyone assumes he's in fancy dress. One woman asks "If you're a vampire, where are your fangs?" to which he fires back "where are your manners?"!
Then there's the attack on Cynthia's family, which happens quite early in the film. Even more so than the first film, this sequel isn't playing coy and pulls no punches. Again, the scene is like something from a zombie movie, with the Brides crashing through the windows to get inside.
There is some bizarre comic relief in this entry, with Lt Madden and Sgt O'Connor the two police officers assigned to look into the alleged disappearance of Cynthia and most of her family. Their interference in the case, especially towards the end, helps to lighten the mood.
The Return of Count Yorga is a bit more playful than the first, introducing some humour to the proceedings. However this is still a chilling film when it wants to be with some very striking horror images. Highly recommended for fans of Hammer Horror.
7 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)