Monday, August 14, 2006

The return of Count Yorga - review

Directed by: Bob Kelljan

Release Date: 1971

Contains spoilers

If one watches this as a sequel to Count Yorga, Vampire (1971) then the film raises questions that are unanswered. How did the Count (Robert Quarry), who died at the end of the last film, become resurrected? How did his resilient, yet ultimately mortal, manservant Brudda (Edward Walsh) come back from the dead, albeit looking a little worse for wear? (Also, why is Brudda's name spelt differently?) Where are the brides who survived the last film? These questions are frustratingly unanswered and so perhaps it is worth seeing this film more as a re-imagining of the first for, whilst the setting is different, much of the core plot is the same.

So it is that Yorga is taking womenfolk to build his harem of vampire brides and the menfolk try to prevent him, again. This time there is a little more substance as Yorga falls in love with a mortal and tries to woo her into actually loving him. There are also some interesting devices used within the film but, ultimately, it fell a little flat for me anyway. This was perhaps due to unwarranted comedy moments, missed opportunities and unfilled plot holes.

The film, first of all, takes us on a guided tour of Yorga’s mansion and then cuts across to Westwood Orphanage where assistant Cynthia (Mariette Hartley) is staring wistfully into space. She is approached by Rev. Thomas (Tom Toner) and asks him if he can hear the wind. It is the beginning of the St Anna wind, mentioned a couple of times at the beginning of the film but not elaborated on, it seems that the winds will knock the bridge out (or cause a weather front that will raise the waters and knock the bridge out, its never explained properly). Rev. Thomas asks if she knows where Tommy is.

Quarry as YorgaWe have seen Tommy, a young orphan playing ball outside the mansion. We cut to him and he is playing amongst graves. We hear Yorga whisper that it is time, the earth shifts and hands shoot out of the ground. Brides rise and Tommy runs, straight into Yorga. It should be a great scene except that it was clearly broad daylight when it was shot.

The orphanage is having a fund-raising concert. The, very few, attendees are in fancy dress. One is dressed as Dracula. A beauty Queen, Mitzi (Jesse Wells), walks the deserted halls and we hear Yorga speak her name... Cynthia is upset by the concert and exits, straight into Yorga. She asks him how he got there with the bridge out and he quips that he flew; he then explains that he has bought the nearby Gateway Mansion. I see you've cut your fingerEntering the hall she introduces him to several people including her sister Ellen (Karen Ericson), Ellen’s new fiancé Jason (David Lampson) and her fiancé, the psychologist Dr. David Baldwin (Roger Perry). Tommy eventually comes to her and says he cannot sleep and asks to stay at her house, to which she agrees. The Rev. takes a photo but Yorga raises his cape in order to hide his face. The party ends when the unconscious Mitzi is found.

That night at the Nelson household most of the residents, Cynthia and Ellen and their mother (Helen Baron) and father (Walter Brooke) are unable to sleep, Tommy has come downstairs. Mute orphanage assistant Jennifer (Yvonne Wilder) is asleep somewhere, it is strange that imdb list Jennifer as a Nelson, which indicates that she is related, because the dialogue of the later film suggests otherwise. The wind has picked up and the unease grows until suddenly a window smashes and a bride grabs Cynthia through it and more enter the room. They slaughter the family in a scene which, as I watched, reminded me a little of Night of the Living Dead (1968). I checked the entry for the movie, after watching it, in David Pirie’s “The Vampire Cinema” and he makes the connection also, praising the scene for its tension but, to be honest, I felt it missed the mark a little. brides have comedy fangsPerhaps it was the satin gowns of the brides, incongruous with their more zombie like visages, or perhaps it was the comedy fangs some wore? I don’t know but the scene failed to raise the tension levels I expected. Cynthia is held as her family are killed and then carried to Yorga. She is taken to a bed in his mansion, where she is hypnotised into forgetting the attack and believing that she has been in a car crash and the Count is looking after her – this hypnosis doesn’t hold so well as, through the film, she sees flashes of the attack.

In the morning Jennifer walks into the carnage and her silent screams are some of the most powerfully shot scenes in the movie. She finds Tommy, stood in the room, and bundles him out. Tommy is one of the great bits about this film, a child servant of Yorga, he foils Jennifer’s attempts to warn the others and leads adults into danger. It is clear he is unhinged when, later, Jennifer spots him about to dash another child’s brains in with a rock during an argument over a ball. Eventually it is strongly hinted that Tommy commits murder for the Count on at least two occasions.

The police go to the house but the bodies are gone and the broken windows fixed. There is a letter left, to Jennifer, explaining that they had to leave because of a sick relative. With no sign of foul play the cops have to drop it. This is where I became confused as we hear later that no-one knew of any relatives, if Jennifer is related surely she would have known for sure, this is not mentioned. Also, how could the family go off if the bridge is out? The police never mention the bridge, in fact some of the action moves out into San Francisco, the collapsed bridge trapping them has been totally forgotten.

David is not convinced and starts to believe that perhaps Yorga is a vampire. movie posterThis realisation ties in with Yorga, at the fund-raiser, blatantly telling him that vampires exist, but to me his conversion into being a beliver is rather rapid. He goes to see Professor Rightstat (George Macready), a paranormal expert, a visit that is nothing more than a poorly executed comedy moment. George Macready, you may remember, was the narrator of the previous film.

I won’t go further into the plot but will mention some other parts that seemed incongruous or underused. There is a witch (Corrine Conley) who warns Yorga away from love. This was interesting but so under-used it beggared belief, to the point where it appears that she is just another bride.

There is a scene where Cynthia is trapped in the mansion and being tormented by the brides which was an excellently shot and powerful scene that led no-where. Was it simply an attack by jealous brides? Was it there to try and make her insane and force her to love Yorga, in some twisted way? Was it to convince her that she was still ill from the ‘car crash’ and should remain at the mansion? The film does not tell us, and the episode is never mentioned by the main characters.

When trying to convince the police that Yorga is a vampire, David shows them the photograph taken at the fund-raiser. Yorga does not appear in it and the Rev. can clearly remember him being there. Of course he can, Yorga made his exaggerated cape flick to hide his face. If he had simply stood there, knowing that he would not appear in the photo anyway, perhaps that would have caused them to doubt their memory of Yorga being in shot. It does, however, seem incongruous that a creature that cannot show up on photographic film would go to the trouble of hiding their face. In this film the police eventually go into the mansion, but the characters Lt. Madden (Rudy De Luca) and Sgt. O’Connor (Craig T. Nelson) are nothing more than under-used comedy characters, though I did like the line “the first one to find the vampire, scream his ass off”.

undignified attackYorga spends a lot of his time running at people with his arms outstretched and it just doesn’t seem dignified.

One nice moment in the film is when we see Yorga watching TV and the film being shown is Hammer’s The vampire lovers, a nice nod to the great studio. Bizarrely, the film is a Spanish language dubbed version!

There is a twist at the end and it was less obvious than the twist in the first movie

As I said there are some nice bits in this, some of them genuinely powerful, and the plot felt more rounded than that of the first but there were ridiculously incongruous parts, bad comedy moments and it did feel like little more than a re-hash of the first in parts. I’m only going to score the film at 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Dead on.

There were a few times in this movie where I thought it might really go somewhere, but it never does.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

True, the characte of Jennifer has potential as does Tommy. It did seem like a missed opportunity to me.

OllieMugwump said...

I personally enjoyed the Count Yorga films immensely, I got my copy just a few days before Robert Quarry's passing away, a sad irony.

Firstly, a point you seemed to have missed in your review; another reason the attack of Yorga's brides on the Nelson home is so talked about is it's also (deliberately) reminiscent of the Tate-LaBianca murders.

Also I thought the 'Witch'-character was a wonderful touch; referencing the traditional Un-Dead sorceress (e.g. the Romanian Strigoica) of folklore.

And, a good three decades before the 'Twilight' craze/farce we have Yorga watching Cynthia while she sleeps ;-)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

ollie, its great that you enjoy them.

Yes I did miss out on the Tate-labianca murders. Whilst clearly I am aware of Manson and the crimes surrounding him, I was born after the fact and I don't think they are as ingrained in the public psyche in the UK. Now you mention it I can see why it would have had an impact, especially at the time of release and Stateside.

I see your point re the witch - I just felt she was under-used.

Yorga is much more a vampire, however, than any Twi-hard wannabe vampire! ;)