Saturday, August 12, 2006

Count Yorga, Vampire - review

Directed by: Bob Kelljan

Release Date: 1970

Contains Spoilers

Count Yorga, Vampire, also known as The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire, was the surprise vampire hit of 1970. In a way, it very much took it’s lead from Hammer but transported the genre to a modern setting (some two years before hammer did the same with Dracula AD 1972 ) and yet added in some disturbing scenes that Hammer probably would never have contemplated.

Robert Quarry played Yorga, a good performance at times – though perhaps cheesy occasionally – and the film really did play styles off, with scenes of modern LA interposed with flashes of lightning, the howl of wolves, a caped vampire and what amounted to a gothic castle setting.

The film starts with Yorga’s coffin shaped crate being taken from a ship and loaded into a truck. As the truck made its way through the streets of LA we get a voice over by a narrator (George Macready). He tells us the base rules of vampires in the movie. They can see in the dark, they have hypnotic skills and they have more cunning than a mere mortal; stakes kill them as does sunlight (which reduces them “into a miasma of putrid decay”). We also find out, during the course of them film, that they react to crosses, are telepathic and have power over animals, more interestingly we discover that they have differences with their blood. This comes to light when one of the victims, not fully turned, has her blood checked and there is some form of unusual element in it.

The plot is fairly bog standard, the vampire comes along, preys on the women folk and the men folk try to save them. The simplicity of the plot is not a problem in itself but, within the simple plot, I would have liked to find out more about Yorga himself. We know that he comes from Bulgaria. It appears that his total goal is to create vampire brides – not caring to turn the menfolk and he has an interest in the occult. We find out nothing else.

After the truck scene we cut to a séance. A group of friends are trying to contact the recently departed mother of Donna (D J Anderson) and the séance is led by Yorga. It becomes readily apparent that the mother (Marsha Jordan) has been vampirised, we hear that she was Yorga’s lover and he persuaded Donna to have her buried rather than be cremated. Indeed we later see her as a vampire bride.

The séance ends when Donna freaks out, and is subsequently calmed by Yorga by hypnotising her (whilst giving her telepathic commands). Donna’s friend Erica (Judy Lang) seems fascinated by Yorga. She offers him brandy, which he refuses, and comments that he hasn’t eaten. I liked his answer to this, telling her he has a troubled stomach and suggesting he will have a bite later on. Erica and her boyfriend Paul (Michael Murphy) drive Yorga home. At the mansion/castle – I say this because we never really see the outside, but the inside is a full on castle design – we discover that he has a hirsute servant named Brudah (Edward Walsh) who guards the gate with a particularly vicious German Shepherd. The scene with the dog is fairly pointless other than to show that Yorga can quieten the dog with a glance as it never appears again. The couple are trying to leave but their camper van gets stuck in mud, despite the fact that it has not rained – Paul cannot understand were the patch of mud comes from. They stay in the van and there is some touchy feely. Later Paul nips out of the van and feels he is followed (which he is). They sleep and Erica awakens as the noise of insects and frogs outside becomes a cacophony. She opens a curtain and screams; Yorga is there in full vamp mode. He, unseen by Paul, knocks out the young man and then approaches Erica.

The next day she goes to see their doctor friend, Jim Hayes (Roger Perry). He realises that she has lost a lot of blood; she has strange elements in the blood that remains, which I mentioned earlier, and has marks on her neck. In the meantime Paul does not know who attacked him and knows that Erica remembers nothing but he confides in Michael (Michael Macready) that he thinks there is something strange about Yorga. He phones Erica. We see her feet shuffle through a messed up flat and the phone drop to the floor, worried, the boys race to check she is alright.

When we get there we get one of the disturbing scenes I mentioned, Erica munching on a kitten.

The film then follows the taking of the girls by Yorga and the battle of the boys to save her. There is a scene later on when Donna goes to Yorga and is caught by Brudah, he drags her off and lays above her. Later he begs Yorga for forgiveness. It is clear he has raped her but the scene is unnecessary. There is no plot functionality to the scene and its only purpose seems to be to shock.

Yorga is, eventually, staked and turns to dust (complete with finger drawn smiley face where the head would have been!) but the twist at the end of the movie is unfortunately visible a mile off.

All in all the acting is not bad, though it is a shame that Quarry does occasionally drift away into cheese. The main failing of the movie, however, is the fact that the plot is very simple yet seems to go nowhere due to lack of exposition into Yorga’s motivation, okay he is making brides but I felt there should be something more. Hayes suspects a vampire rather quickly though I liked his reticence to go to the police. There is a nice moment with his lady friend (Julie Conners) when he explains that he cannot call the police as they wouldn’t believe him. She tells him she would, if she were the police, as a baby has been found in the swamp with its neck ripped open and its body drained of blood. He therefore calls the police and is dismissed as a prank caller.

There is also a fantastic DIY Van Helsing scene as the heroes smash a chair and go at a broom to get stakes. Hayes asks Michael whether they have a cross and Michael replies negatively but then says he has cord so he will make some on the way to Yorga’s abode.

The scene when Yorga returns to Erica is wonderfully sensual, with Erica swept up in the vampire’s sensuality and we see as many bloody kisses as we see bites. I liked the fact that Yorga offered her eternal love rather than eternal life, though offer was perhaps a little bit of a misnomer as the vampire gave her no real choice. As for the brides, whilst they could speak (as we discover with Donna’s mother) they are rather animalistic, with grasping, long nailed hands and plenty of through fang hissing.

Unfortunately, this movie offered more than it actually delivered and I think I’m stuck with 5.5 out of 10.

Exclamation Mark has also reviewed the movie.

The imdb page is here.


Mark said...

Erica chomping on the kitten is such a memorable scene!

This certainly doesn't rate as a classic vampire flick, but I do enjoy it more than Hammer's Dracula AD 1972. Judy Lang is no Caroline Munro, but I think she does an admirable job.

I imagine you'll be reviewing The Return of Count Yorga soon?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mark, as you might have been able to tell I do like to capture the whole of a series! Also the disc I bought was a two sided with Return on it.

I hope to get to watch it sometime today, or at least in the next few days, and get a review up sometime after. It will be a legacy of discovery however, as I haven't seen the film before (unlike this one)

Mark said...

I won't say a word about The Return of Count Yorga so you can watch it without any preconceptions.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Mark