FANGORIA On Demand Collection: “COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE” (1970)
Fans of fanged flicks will be thrilled and chilled to find the classic COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE making its VOD premiere as part of May’s “Terrifying Towers of Unholy Horrors” in the FANGORIA On Demand Collection at Xfinity On Demand.
Just as with today’s modern vampire craze with TRUE BLOOD, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, etc., ’70s audiences had no shortage of bloodsuckers, with DARK SHADOWS and THE NIGHT STALKER staking out the boob tube and Christopher Lee’s Dracula putting the bite into drive-ins. Legend has it that COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE—about a cultured Romanian blood-drainer who settles in modern-day LA—started out as a softcore movie before star Robert Quarry convinced the producers to take a legit approach to the material. Smart move: Reportedly shot for a meager $64,000—with Quarry only earning $1,200 for his lead role!—the film (originally lensed as THE LOVES OF COUNT IORGA) became a hit after American International Pictures acquired it for release in 1970.
Plotwise, writer/director Bob Kelljan closely follows the template set by Tod Browning’s 1931 landmark DRACULA, with the aristocratic Yorga settling into a new mansion while preying on two romantic couples. A blood doctor (Roger Perry), suspecting a supernatural menace afoot, matches wits with Yorga, not unlike the verbal dueling of DRACULA’s Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan. There’s also a mute henchman named Brudah (Edward Walsh) serving as the Renfield substitute, and a climax in which the good guys sneak into the villain’s lair to put a stop to the bloodshed.
The unflappable Quarry sets COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE apart from the period’s typical fanged fare. The actor exudes a commanding screen presence, has a great air about him, but can also launch into Lee-style animal ferocity when his back is against the wall. The California-born, classically trained thesp wisely plays the role straight, sans accent, and seems to relish his verbal dueling with Perry and company, with the Count almost too proud to hide his true nature. This vampire, alas, also has a romantic streak and keeps a harem of turned lasses in his basement. Both COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE and its year-later sequel THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA emphasize the vampire’s equal needs for love and blood, angles further explored in 1992’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, etc. Oh, the eternal loneliness… The film’s best shock scene finds the bitten (and smitten) Erica (Judy Lang) discovered gorily feasting on an eviscerated cat by her startled friends.
Symptomatic of its budget, not a whole lot happens in COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE. There’s quite a bit of talk between the protagonists, plus a long travelogue scene with two of our heroes wandering the sunny streets of Los Angeles (fun for nostalgia/time-capsule reasons, though). Yorga’s eventual demise comes a little too abruptly, and the film’s surprise ending probably worked much better 40 years ago than today. Director Kelljan went on to co-write and direct YORGA’s better-budgeted sequel and SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM, as well as tons of ’70s TV action shows like CHARLIE’S ANGELS and STARSKY & HUTCH. Actor Michael Murphy, whose love-van-driving character violently suffers Yorga’s wrath, carved himself a nice Hollywood career after this exploitation debut, appearing in such diverse films as Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN, Tim Burton’s BATMAN RETURNS and Wes Craven’s SHOCKER. Quarry, alas, never emerged as the ’70s successor to Vincent Price, which AIP unsuccessfully groomed him for. Audience tastes changed, and by 1973, tuxedo-wearing monsters were just not as scary anymore when compared to devil-possessed 13-year-old girls.
Besides COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, this month’s FANGORIA Collection on Xfinity On Demand also includes the launch of SIN REAPER (see story here), plus these fright favorites: Dario Argento’s INFERNO; Hammer’s CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL; the Charles Band production SPELLCASTER; the original Amicus film version of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, starring Peter Cushing and Joan Collins; 1976’s original THE OMEN; Dan O’Bannon’s THE RESURRECTED; the Fritz Weaver killer-snake opus JAWS OF SATAN; and one of scream great Boris Karloff’s last films, THE CRIMSON CULT. See our promo here.