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Count Yorga, 1970

From the video case: Two lovers, Paul and Erica, make a grave mistake. When they park their van outside of a foreboding, vine-covered manor, the new owner – a vampire – decides to feed on the trespassers. The next morning, Paul has a terrible headache and Erica has two mysterious puncture wounds in her neck. Now, Paul must figure out just what happened before he loses the love of his life – and his own life – forever! (1970, color)

Mark says: Though this is not my favorite vampire movie, it does have some redeeming qualities.

Count Yorga is probably one of the first films to bring vampirism into the modern day. The setting is Los Angeles during the 1970s. In an opening scene a truck hauls a coffin-shaped crate through city streets. As we watch the truck weave through traffic, the narrator (George Macready) informs us of vampire legends and suggests that vampires may not only be an ancient phenomenon, but a modern one as well.

Though Count Yorga is full of vampire cliches (howling wolves, flashes of lightening, a spooky mansion, etc.) it also provides some unusual backdrops. The juxtaposition of Count Yorga, in full vampire attire, climbing into a Volkswagen Minibus to attack a pair of lovers is somehow startling, and a bit amusing, at first. However, I have noticed with more frequent viewings, that a vampire in a minibus does not seem that out of place.

I also admire how one of the major discussions takes place in an ordinary kitchen, with a large refrigerator placed conspicuously in the background. It forces the viewer to realize he does not have the comfort of time to separate himself from the story. Though the 70s seem like a completely different era, now.

It is to the film’s credit that it does not dissolve into a vampire sleaze flick. That’s not to say that this film is free of sexual situations, it certainly is not, but it never gets explicit. There’s one love scene, a hint of some vampire lesbianism, a suggested rape scene, and some blatant cleavage, but no real nudity. Not for children, mind you, but most adults can handle it (my VHS tape rates it as PG-13).

The acting is adequate to above-par for the genre.

Robert Quarry (Dr. Phibes Rises Again) plays the lead role as Count Yorga. He is well-spoken, witty, and charming, or at least that is what we are to believe. Personally, I find him less than convincing, though he does have his moments. For example, during the back-and-forth late night chat at his manor with guests he seems perfectly believable. But during the seance at the beginning of the film, his acting is as phony as the make-up plastered to his face.

The best performance is from Michael Murphy, playing the role of Paul. Paul is the doubting Thomas of the group, refusing to believe in any occult mumbo-jumbo. It’s not until his girlfriend, Erica (played admirably by Judith Lang) is kidnapped by the Count that he really takes vampirism into serious consideration.

A recognizable face is Roger Perry (The Thing with Two Heads, also featured regularly on the tv series, Love, American Style) as Dr. Jim Hayes. Jim is the kind of doctor who smokes in his office as he tells his patient to “stuff yourself with steaks.” He also acts as investigator/researcher in the area of vampirism. He puts me in the mind of Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak from the old Night Stalker series.

Other major roles include Donna Anders as Donna, Michael Macready as Donna’s boyfriend, Michael, and Edward Walsh as the beastly vampire’s helper, Brudah. Marsha Jordan has a smaller role as Donna’s mother.

Though I can not rave about this movie, I will admit it is a fine film and definitely worth a view. I don’t think Christopher Lee ever had anything to worry about, though.

Written and directed by Bob Kelljan.

Scene to watch for: Erica really loves cats – rare and without seasoning.

Line to listen for: “Well, it’s not very attractive to complain of a troubled stomach, but I’m afraid I must. Perhaps I’ll have a little snack later on.”

Trivia: The narrator featured at the beginning and end of the movie is actor George Macready (The Alligator People), who is the father of Michael Macready, the producer of the film.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

5 Comments

  1. i saw this at the local drive-in when i was in second grade…it really scared me! john

  2. What I really enjoyed about this film was its understated nature–many scenes transpire with no musical soundtrack–and the believability of the three “heroes.” At first they are skeptical about vampires, then unsure, and finally, credibly, shocked at the horror that has come into their lives, and the task that has now fallen on them: to go to the count’s lair, kill the beast and rescue their women. The picture seems a levelheaded and intelligent affair to me, and with a deliciously downbeat ending. A nice surprise, when I recently watched it for the first time….

    • Excellent observations. It is truly the understated nature of the film that makes it stick with you. And it beats the pants off all the “romantic vampire” flicks that seem to be all the rage these days!

  3. Even better is the sequel “The Return of Count Yorga”. I saw this sequel first. It was shown at my highschool auditorium. There are many great scenes in this film — a glimpse of the heroine’s parents disappearing in a bog, and an attack on a house by vampire women. The mansion was like a maze and fueled my nightmares. This movie really scared me as a kid. Funniest line: At a costume party a guest says to Count Yorga “Vampire huh? Where’s your fangs?” “Where’s your manners” is the vamp’s reply.

    • You’re right, Rob, about the sequel being scarier. I tend to have fonder recollections of the first film, but as you mentioned, The Return of Count Yorga has some genuinely chilling scenes. The scene with the boy with the ball in the woods has always stayed with me.


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