COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) and THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971) — Blu-ray Review

Count Yorga, Vampire and The Return Of Count Yorga both released on Blu-ray on October 13, from Twilight Time and Scream Factory respectively.

Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)

(This print carries the original pre-AIP title, The Loves Of Count Iorga)

Count Yorga, Vampire was a huge surprise hit for AIP in 1970. The unassuming film was originally envisioned as a porno, but actor Robert Quarry convinced the film’s creators that the script could hold its own as a legitimate horror film. As a safeguard, they were ready to insert additional explicit footage if the film failed.

Thankfully the film was a huge success and Plan B scuttled, and with good reason. Budgetary concerns had required that the classical vampire tale take place in contemporary times, but this limitation reinvigorated the vampire mythology with its juxtaposition of classic imagery and vibrant modernity. So successful was Count Yorga that it inadvertently influenced several vampire movies that soon followed, among them Hammer’s Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula, horror-comedy Love At First Bite, and AIP’s own pair of Blacula films. I’d also venture to guess the film inspired Marvel’s Tomb Of Dracula comics, which began in 1972 and introduced the character Blade.

The film appears to be patterned after the latter half of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) is new to Los Angeles, where he encounters a group of friends who closely parallel the novel’s characters. After he murders one of their number and preys on comely Erica, the group consults Dr. Hayes (Roger Perry as an amalgam of Seward and Van Helsing), a blood specialist who begins to suspect that there’s may be more to the dapper Count than meets the eye.

The film packs some decent scares, with several legitimately creepy scenes and shots throughout. Quarry is pretty terrifying to behold when in full vampire mode, and jump scares and freeze frames are used effectively with style.

The film ends with an exciting showdown between the surviving friends and Count Yorga and his minions, but the protagonists are so darn dopey that it’s hard to root for them. In the least subtle conversation possible, Dr. Hayes reveals his hand early, all but accusing Yorga of being a vampire. Our heroes then decide to kill the Count, but inexplicably wait until evening to do so.

Still, Quarry is an amazing screen presence as the Count, and it’s a really fun and thrilling film despite the human characters being dumb as rocks. It’s easy to see why audiences connected with the film in 1970, as it still frightens and entertains.

The Return Of Count Yorga (1971)

After the surprise success of the first film, a sequel was quickly developed and it wasn’t long before audiences saw The Return Of Count Yorga, once again helmed by director Bob Kelljan.

Having done the Dracula retelling the first time around, the sequel told a new story in which the Count and his harem of ghoulish brides take residence near an orphanage outside San Francisco.

Yorga rubs shoulders with the colorful locals, including a friendly priest who runs the orphanage, a deaf-mute young woman, and a young boy who likes to venture too far from the building. But most importantly, he becomes infatuated with a woman named Cynthia (Mariette Hartley), and something stirs within him — is it love?

After his harem attacks Cynthia’s friends, Yorga essentially kidnaps her under the guise of saving her and aiding her recovery. He can’t bring himself to turn her as per his SOP, perhaps intrigued by her purity. Interestingly, this pits him as her protector when his jealous vampire brides start to get aggressive.

After her disappearance, Cynthia’s boyfriend Dr. David Baldwin and other friends seek her out. The Doctor is once again Roger Perry playing an identical role to the first film as the concerned party who comes to blows with Yorga, yet not as the same character. It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine when actors are recast in a franchise in new roles like this.

Just give him a beard, the audience will never notice!

Baldwin convinces his friends and a pair of police detectives (including Craig T. Nelson in his first role) that Yorga must be holding Cynthia captive. They remain unconvinced that he’s a vampire, but nonetheless acknowledge the possibility that the girl is imprisoned in his estate. Once again a group of scared mortals has a showdown with Count Yorga, only this time they’re greatly outnumbered by his many brides. There’s a particularly impactful and memorable, almost surreal scene in which Yorga sprints down a hallway in slow motion toward one of the terrified interlopers that has doubtless provided much nightmare fuel to viewers over the years.

With its original script, the film brings more ideas to the table than the first film. As noted in the various commentary and notes accompanying both films, Yorga and his brides are influenced by Charles Manson, at the time very much floating in the zeitgeist. The brides are depicted as almost zombie-like, even rising out of graves. The Count also casts his spell over an orphan boy in Renfield-like fashion, causing him to obey his will, and the only witness to his evil is the deaf-mute woman who tries to warn the others but is dismissed. And perhaps the coolest random idea in the film; Yorga has a quicksand pit in his garden to dispose of bodies — both dead and alive.

There’s also a bit of cheeky self-awareness to the proceedings on this round. Early in the film Yorga attends a costume contest at the orphanage which is won by a cheesily dressed Dracula. Later at home, he passes the time by watching The Vampire Lovers on TV.

Even a vampire likes a good vampire film.

The Package – Count Yorga, Vampire

Count Yorga, Vampire released on Blu-ray from Twilight Time on October 13th. The package features the usual Twilight Time trimmings with a clear case and booklet with insightful liner notes by Julie Kirgo.

The disc’s special features are mostly centered around the archives and expert contributions of Tim Sullivan, a filmmaker and horror personality who is a megafan and friend of Yorga actor Robert Quarry. A nicely featured disc, overall.

Interestingly, both of the new Count Yorga releases feature restorations funded by Frank Darabont.

Special Features and Extras

My Dinner With Yorga: The Robert Quarry “Rue Morgue” Interview — A Reading by David Del Valle & Tim Sullivan (13:04)
 Great discussion that includes thoughts on the film’s porno origins, the impact that Charles Manson had on the Yorga character, Quarry’s idea for a never-realized third film, and his friendship and later career with cult filmmaker Fred Olen Ray. Strangely, this is a recreation of an interview with David Del Valle filling in for actor Robert Quarry.

Fangirl Radio Tribute To Robert Quarry With Tim Sullivan (45:59)
 HorrorHound writer Jessica Dwyer’s conversation with Tim Sullivan which originated as a podcast episode. Given its length and audio-only nature, it really makes little sense as a Blu-ray feature (and the static text on the screen could in fact damage some TVs after being displayed for so long). That said, it’s a really amazing conversation brimming with love, in which Tim tells some amazing and emotional stories about his friendship with Robert.

Still Gallery: The MGM Archives
 Promotional materials including posters, ads, lobby cards, collectibles & toys.

Still Gallery: The Tim Sullivan Archives
 This collection is more personal in nature, with more contemporary photos of Quarry as well as Sullivan. The format on both galleries is “click-through” rather than a video or autoplay, and frankly a bit annoying to navigate through.

Original Theatrical Trailer (0:59)

Audio Commentary with David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan

Isolated Score Track

The Package – The Return Of Count Yorga

The Return of Count Yorga released on Blu-ray on October 13th from Scream Factory. In a nice and uncommon act of synergy between two different distributors, Twilight Time and Scream Factory released both films simultaneously.

Scream Factory’s release features reversible cover art.

Special Features and Extras

Theatrical Trailer (1:38)

TV Spot (0:22)

Radio Spots (1:36)

Photo Gallery (3:24)
 Video gallery of color and black and white photos, posters, lobby cards, artwork, print ads, etc.

Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman & Rudy DeLuca

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 Count Yorga, Vampire — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]
 The Return of Count Yorga — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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