COUNT YORGA – VAMPIRE (originally conceived as a soft-core porn film entitled THE LOVES OF COUNT IORGA) is a nifty little low-budget exploitation effort that uses its resources to good effect. The shocks are crude but effective. Although relatively tame by later standards, the gore has a nasty edge to it, underlining the film’s cynical sensibility and downbeat ending.
After a brief prologue showing a coffin being transferred from ship to shore and arriving in Los Angeles (with a voice-over narration informing us about the nature of vampires), the story begins with a seance presided over by recent immigrant Count Yorga (Quarry), who is trying to contact the dead mother of one of the participants. Afterwards, Yorga gets a ride home from one couple, who get stuck in the mud after leaving him off. Yorga knocks out the man and attacks the girl, who later begins to show vampire proclivities (which include eating her pet cat). Dr. Jim Hayes (Roger Perry) suspects Yorga is a vampire. He and the victim’s friends try to keep Yorga up past sunrise. When that doesn’t work, they sneak back into Yorga’s isolated old house on a hill, hoping to stake him to death. Unfortunately, Hayes falls victim to Quarry’s harem of female vampires (which include the dead woman Yorga was supposedly trying to contact at the séance). Mike (Michael Macready) managed to kill Yorga and his ugly assistant Brudha (Edward Walsh), but finds out too late that his girlfriend Donna (Donna Anders) has become one of the living dead.
COUNT YORGA’s main strength lies in the way it addresses the vampire mythology. There is an off-hand, matter-of-fact tone that yields just the right kind of laughter as the characters, for example, resort to using broomsticks in place of wooden stakes.
Quarry is powerful in the title role. He somewhat resembles a shorter version of Christopher Lee, but he gets more opportunity for dialogue and characterization, which he exploits to blackly comic effect as a subtly mocks the mere humans trying to destroy him. He is aided and abetted in this endeavor by a script that gives him some good lines, especially during the confrontations with Hayes, wherein both characters maintain their pretense of a civilized conversation while each knows what the other is up to (Yorga toys with Hayes’ “stake” while bragging that a vampire, having the wisdom of the ages because of his immortal life, can make a fool of any man).
Quarry gets good support from character actors Perry and Michael Murphy, but much of the rest of the cast is weak; especially the women seem leftover from the film’s softcore origins. For example, Hayes has a sexy assistant who walks in just long enough to register her good looks, then disappears from the film, leaving one to wonder whether there wasn’t some hanky-panky planned.
Occasionally, the film descends to tasteless vulgarity, as when Brudha rapes Donna, whom Yorga has selected as his next vampire bride. The sense of watching a crude exploitation film is underlined by the cinematography, which has that sun-gun look typical of the era (before faster films stocks made it easier to get good results shooting in low light levels).
Typical for its budget, YORGA has a limited number of actors and locations. The later deficit somewhat robs the film of a sense of place — we don’t really see the ancient vampire unleashed on modern Los Angeles. Seeking to overcome this, director Kelljan tries to add a little production value by throwing in one sequence wherein Hayes and Michael have a long discussion while walking through various locations around the city (a montage filmed in long shots so that we cannot see their lip movements, removing any need to synch up the dialogue with the action).
Despite these weaknesses, COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE survives on the strength of its title performance and on the inventiveness of its approach to modern day vampirism. YORGA may not be a very refined film, but it packs a lot of attitude, and there’s no denying that the surprise ending is like a wicked little punch in the face.
The spelling of the vampire’s name was changed from “Iorga” to “Yorga” when the independently produced film was picked up for distribution by American International Pictures. Legendary AIP honcho Samuel Z. Arkoff was afraid that the target teen audience would not be hesitant to purchase tickets if they could not pronounce the title!
Along with the title change from THE LOVES OF COUNT IORGA to COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, the film was trimmed to get a PG rating. The most obvious cut consisted of the scene wherein Erica (Judy Lang) is discovered with the body of her bloody cat in her hand. In the theatrical cut, the image flashes by so fast that viewers were unlikely to see what was happening. In the restored version, Erica has a fairly extended scene that clearly shows the dead cat and also conveys her sense of debasement at having sunk to such a level.
YORGA and its sequel THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA were produced by Michael Macready (who co-stars in the first). Macready is the son of character actor George Macready (co-star of the 1946 classic GILDA), who supplied the voice over narration in the first film and has a cameo as a senile vampire expert in the second.
Actor Robert Quarry played the vampire count in two YORGA films. On the strength of his performance, he landed a contract with American International Pictures, who briefly groomed him to replace Vincent Price as their reigning horror star, casting him opposite Price in DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1971) and MADHOUSE (1973). Unfortunately for him, the horror cycle died out soon thereafter, as AIP moved into making blaxploitation films instead of horror.
Quarry also executive produced and starred in a third vampire film called THE DEATHMASTER, about a Manson-like vampire guru named Khorda. Although technically a different character from Yorga, American International Pictures confused the issue by using the tag-line “The Deathmaster is back from the Grave” in their poster art for RETURN OF COUNT YORGA.
COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE(1970). Written & Directed by Bob Kelljan. Cast: Robert Quarry, Roger Perry, Michael Murphy, Michael Macready, Donna Anders, Judy Lang, Edward Walsh, Goerge Macready (narrator).