Saturday, September 27, 2014

Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) & The Return of Count Yorga (1971)

          Even though England’s Hammer Films was the undisputed leader in the vampire-movie business during the ’60s and ’70s, low-rent U.S. outfits including American International Pictures still ventured into the realm of bloodsuckers. For instance, AIP’s Count Yorga, Vampire did well enough to warrant a sequel, though it’s plain both films are feeble attempts at Americanizing the Hammer formula.
          Written and directed by the singularly unimpressive George Kelljan, Count Yorga, Vampire takes place in modern-day California, where ancient European vampire Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) has taken up residence. For reasons that are never clear, Yorga works as a part-time mystic, so he’s introduced leading a séance for several young people. Then, after two séance participants drive the count home and get stuck on his property, Yorga attacks them. One of the victims, Erica (Judith Lang), shows wounds on her neck and develops monstrous behavior, such as eating her cat, so the heroes, led by stalwart Dr. Jim Hayes (Roger Perry), figure out Yorga must be a vampire. One of cinema history’s least exciting showdowns ensues, largely comprising an interminable scene of Dr. Hayes chatting with Yorga in order to keep the vampire awake until sunrise. Dull, talky, and unimaginative, Count Yorga, Vampire features such amateurish flaws as a high percentage of out-of-focus shots and some truly inept acting by second- and third-string cast members. That said, Quarry has an enjoyable way of injecting condescension into all of his line readings, and costar Michael Murphy—who later became a go-to actor for Woody Allen and Robert Altman—lends credibility to his scenes.
          The Return of Count Yorga shows considerable improvement in the areas of acting, since even the bit players are competent this time, and cinematography, since future Jaws cinematographer Bill Butler generates the visuals. Alas, the pacing and storyline of the sequel—once again directed by Kelljan—are as lifeless as those of the first picture. Set at a coastal orphanage and a nearby castle, which happens to be Yorga’s new crash pad, the movie offers a feeble explanation for the titular vampire’s revival following the climax of the first picture. Yorga becomes infatuated with a pretty orphanage employee, Cynthia (Mariette Hartley), so he and his vampire brides slaughter Cynthia’s family, and then Yorga hypnotizes Cynthia into believing her relatives are traveling while she “recuperates” in his castle. Meanwhile, cops and a friendly neighborhood priest discover what’s really happening. After lots and lots of preliminary chit-chat, the good guys converge on Castle Yorga to effect a rescue. Oddly, several cast members from Count Yorga, Vampire appear in the sequel, though many of them play different roles.
          While many sequences in The Return of Count Yorga are almost unbearably boring, redeeming qualities appear periodically. Hartley is appealingly earnest, future Poltergeist star Craig T. Nelson shows up in a smallish role as a cop, cameo player George Macready does a fun bit as some sort of aging voodoo-hippie scholar, and Quarry elevates his performance style to full-on camp. Butler’s moody imagery helps a great deal, though his work is stronger during evocative exterior scenes than during the interior scenes that Kelljan orchestrates clumsily.

Count Yorga, Vampire: FUNKY
The Return of Count Yorga: FUNKY


Will Errickson said...

"Yorga becomes infatuated with a pretty orphanage employee, Cynthia (Mariette Hartley), so he and his vampire brides slaughter Cynthia’s family..."

This scene seemed like a fairly effective & unsettling allusion to the Manson/Tate murders.

Peter N said...

I saw both of these as a pre-teen, and they scared the crap out of me. Had to go to sleep with the light on for weeks afterwards. Robert Quarry made a superb, sinister vampire.