18 May 2009

Count Yorga, Vampire!

Count Yorga, Vampire! Still Pretty Darn Good
By Kristin Battestella

I consider myself something of a vampire film aficionado. When I settled in for a late night viewing of Count Yorga, Vampire!, however, I was surprised to find it wasn’t the film I thought. In fact, I had never seen it before, and was pleasantly surprised with all the 1970 spooks and zings.

After her mother’s death, Donna (Donna Anders) and her boyfriend Michael (Michael Macready) hold a séance, conducted by the new local medium Count Yorga (Robert Quarry). At the end of the evening, friends Erica (Judy Lang) and Paul (Michael Murphy) offer Yorga a ride home. Soon after, Erica begins to act strangely, and Doctor Jim Hayes (Roger Perry) investigates her bizarre loss of and need for blood (!). His suspicions of vampirism lead to a cunning cat and mouse game with Yorga, his deformed servant Bruda (Edward Walsh), and a host of vampire brides.

Though Judy Lang as Erica and Donna Anders as Donna are a dime a dozen like their counterparts Paul and Mike, Count Yorga, Vampire! is a devilishly delicious vehicle for Robert Quarry. Back in the day, the eponymous Count was probably sexy and handsome, but today his stereotypical redlined cape, medallion, and white makeup work the creepy factor. I guess the late Quarry (Dr. Phibes Rides Again) still looks handsome in his 1970s glory, but it’s that older, nasty uncle vibe that makes Yorga deceptive and scary. The though that he’s watching our naughty couple shack up in a van goes beyond supernatural creepies to realistic disturbs.

Roger Perry’s (Falcon Crest) Doctor Hayes is the perfect modern Van Helsing to Quarry’s updated, swinging Count. Hayes knows his scientific stuff, but his fear while on Yorga’s nighttime turf is honest and natural. The intelligence and the strange mutual fear and respect from these leads keeps Count Yorga, Vampire! as intriguing as the vampire kink. Sure, the evening battle of wits with a sunrise deadline is nothing new from writer and director Bob Kelljan (Scream Blacula Scream!), but the desperation of the characters and a hint of fun from the actors keeps this film watchable when other low budget forty year old films have become unbearable.

It’s not that Count Yorga, Vampire! is particularly frightening, but it’s a great example of how an eerie atmosphere goes a long way. The old film stylings, like proper zooms and extreme close ups, add spooky flare- along with a creepy house with lots of stairs and a dungeon lair. There’s a touch of cheap soft-core porn nostalgia here, but the film is actually almost gore and nudity free. Of course there are almost some nipples or see through nightgowns and one count eating a kitten-but who’s keeping track? These kinky flashes mixed with quick, dark, and bizarre camera angles make Count Yorga, Vampire! an uncomfortable viewing that you can’t take your eyes away from. Half asleep at 2 a.m. and I was sitting up wide awake, on the edge of my seat, itching to see who lives or dies next.

After repeat viewings, some of the gotchas probably don’t hold up, but at that point, the fun takes over. Who hasn’t gone as a vampire just like Count Yorga for Halloween or tricked out their house every October with dungeon stylings? I remember being about ten years old, teasing up my hair, and donning one of my mother’s sixties red dresses for Halloween. I stuck my gut with a fake knife and squirted ketchup all around me as I dropped to the floor. The dog started licking the ketchup from the dress, and my mom came in and screamed. It’s that attempt at fright that gives us such fond memories and repeat viewings of Count Yorga, Vampire!

Count Yorga, VampireIf it isn’t the visuals that get you in a Halloween mood, the creepy organ score will. The music is obvious and loud in all the right big and scary places, as over the top horror classics should be. Bill Marx (also of the sequel The Return of Count Yorga and Scream, Blacula, Scream!) gives us that clichéd ambiance of old, and like a solid theme from Dark Shadows, keeps us thinking about Count Yorga, Vampire! long after a viewing. Yes, it’s silly and relatively poor in film quality by today’s standards, but Count Yorga, Vampire! gets every vampire cliché right. Our long established vampire film formula works for a reason. In 1971, The Return Of Count Yorga inexplicably continues the tale here. Nevertheless, after all the fun from number one, both films will be on my Halloween marathon schedule this year.

Count Yorga, Vampire! is available on DVD by itself or in sets with The Return of Count Yorga at very affordable prices. Although tame compared with films today, Count Yorga, Vampire! might be too kinky for a family viewing. Nevertheless, vampire fans or old school film lovers can take in a late night viewing for a fangs fix anytime of the year.

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