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Count Yorga, Vampire

Twilight Time // PG-13 // October 13, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 6, 2015 | E-mail the Author
We wouldn't be talking about Count Yorga, Vampire today if producer Michael Macready had made the film he'd originally envisioned. In the tradition of...well, every other vampire movie before it, this was initially intended to be a period piece. Its threadbare budget couldn't hope to turn back the clock that far, so its setting was instead shifted forward to the present day: the first bloodsucker of any consequence to do so on the silver screen. Macready had hoped to recoup his investment on the softcore circuit, though actor Robert Quarry convinced him that there was a worthwhile horror movie here. He wasn't wrong; not only would Count Yorga, Vampire go onto become one of AIP's highest grossing releases, but it revitalized a creature of the night that had largely fallen out of favor and reshaped the way vampire tales would be told.

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There is no nightmarish resurrection. Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) hasn't clawed his way from the depths of Hell to amass an army of the undead. He isn't hatching any grand, nefarious scheme. No, Yorga is just a nearly immortal creature trying to make it through another day: to continue to endure the tedium of an existence in which he's seen it all before. He's had untold centuries to sharpen his biting learn how to best charm the prey on which he seek the human blood that sustains him without drawing undue attention to himself. Rather than isolate himself in some hopelessly remote castle, Yorga revels in his wealth and prestige in Los Angeles. The Count fits right in, surrounding himself with small groups of eccentrics fascinated by the occult, even if some of them only bother to show up at séances to snicker derisively. Not much of anyone around him could hope to pose any meaningful threat. His continued survival throughout these great many years serves as proof enough of having routinely outmatched and outwitted any nemeses he's faced. Yorga amuses himself by bringing under his thrall the loveliest women he encounters. It's not that he plays with his food, exactly; indulging in their sensual pleasures or commanding his slaves to writhe across one another's bodies is just another way to pass the time.

What would Count Yorga have to fret about anyway? It's 1969; no one believes in vampires anymore, and it's not as if he's chomping on anyone's neck in a back alley where he could at any moment be discovered. With immortality comes a supreme confidence, but Yorga has perhaps underestimated some of those in his newfound social circle. He leaves questions that don't quite add up. He's a common thread in a series of mysterious disappearances. He's been preying on women whose friends don't believe in vampires, exactly, but are at least willing to entertain the notion. Mike (Michael Macready) and Dr. Hayes (Roger Perry) arm themselves as best they can, but what threat do homemade crucifixes or a stake made from smashed furniture pose to a seasoned killer that's endured for centuries?

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Far and away the most remarkable aspect of Count Yorga, Vampire is its titular creature of the night. With as charming, handsome, and refined as Yorga is, he scarcely needs to resort to supernatural abilities to entrance his victims. His dryly sarcastic sense of humor continually left me cackling, and his confidence and mannered veneer never waver. When Mike and Dr. Hayes try to dupe him into remaining with them until after sunrise -- or, later, when they misguidedly skulk about his estate in the dead of night, stakes in hand -- Yorga remains calm and collected, not even so much as raising his voice. Why would he? Though we're not offered any glimpse into the Count's past, he has surely overcome greater threats than this mere annoyance time and time again. This makes it all the more horrifying when Yorga does bare his fangs, as his dignified exterior is replaced by a swift, feral compulsion to kill.

Count Yorga, Vampire is largely effective at bringing the vampire movie kicking and screaming into the twentieth century. Still, it's difficult to imagine how much success it could have had with anyone other than Robert Quarry in the lead, as his charms are what carry the film through some of its more slowly paced stretches. In fact, Yorga doesn't bare his fangs until nearly the half hour mark, but, oh, what fangs they are...!

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Admittedly, the film is weighed down by an inordinate number of scenes with people standing around and talking, sitting down and talking, and wandering down a bustling city street and talking, often with nary a vampire in sight. Still, I found that Count Yorga, Vampire holds up remarkably well after nearly a half-century, and I appreciate the economy of having the Count immediately arriving in Los Angeles (with his coffin delivered by truck!) rather than be distracted by backstory that wouldn't have been of any significance anyway. Those accustomed to horror that goes straight for the jugular may find themselves repeatedly checking the time on their phones, at least in any scene without Quarry. Every last appearance by Yorga is arresting, however, whether he's sneering down at those beneath him or swooping in for the kill. The vampiric attacks are sudden, ferocious, and remarkably gruesome for a film originally rated GP. What I wouldn't give to have experienced Count Yorga, Vampire in a packed theater forty-five years hear everyone in the room jump in their seats and gasp whenever its fanged creatures make a mad dash towards the screen. Twilight Time's Blu-ray release offers an extended version of the movie compared to what had previously made the rounds theatrically, including one of Yorga's playthings snacking on a kitten.

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Despite being shot on a shoestring -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $64,000 -- Count Yorga, Vampire does boast some occasionally striking cinematography. Its hip approach to updating the vampire movie endures remarkably well these many decades later, and as sarcastic and playful as the film so often is, its ferocity is astonishing when the moment calls for it. Much the same can be said about Robert Quarry, contributing an incredibly memorable, career-defining performance here. It's been said that Christopher Lee's take on Dracula was more of a presence than a proper character, but as Yorga, Quarry succeeds in delivering both. Twilight Time has done an outstanding job bringing the first of the Count's two cinematic outings to Blu-ray, pairing a strong presentation with hours of extras. Highly Recommended.

Presented under its original title of The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire, the source used for this Blu-ray disc generally looks quite nice. Admittedly, the photography appears to have been rushed enough that it's not always in focus, there is some sporadic softness, and the choice of film stock struggles in its underlit night exteriors. Still, I frequently found myself impressed by the clarity and detail on display here, and its colors are wonderfully vivid. There's no damage or wear to speak of, and flecks of dust are kept to a wholly unintrusive minimum. The film and its extras just barely bleed over onto the second layer of this BD-50 disc, and it's appreciated that Twilight Time would go to that additional expense rather than squeeze it all onto a single layer. They certainly got their money's worth; the authoring of this disc is terrific across the board, with an AVC encode that ably shoulders Yorga's filmic texture. Well done.

The 24-bit, monaural DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is robust as well. There are some minor issues scattered throughout, such as a hiccup during the séance, and the recording itself can be somewhat spotty. Two actors can share the same frame, but one has dialogue rendered cleanly and clearly while the other sounds hollow and distant. That does, of course, date back to the original production. The audio doesn't sparkle and gleam -- as if anyone would expect that from an extremely low-budget independent production from nearly a half-century ago -- but it's aged better than many other AIP releases of this same vintage, and its dialogue is consistently intelligible. There's remarkably little strain, and I'm impressed by how much of a low frequency kick the bassy strings in the score continue to pack. This track hits all the marks I'd hoped it would and then some.

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Count Yorga, Vampire features two other lossless soundtracks as well: an audio commentary and an isolated score, both of which I'll touch on in a moment. Subtitles are offered here in English (SDH).

  • Interviews and Commentaries: The audio that Tim Sullivan recorded while conducting an interview with Robert Quarry for Rue Morgue has, alas, been lost. Thankfully, film historian David Del Valle is ready, willing, and able to stand in for Quarry as the two of them read from that interview. (This being an audio-only extra furthers the illusion!) It's noted that Quarry delivers more dialogue in Count Yorga, Vampire alone than Christopher Lee does in all his Dracula films combined, there are quips about how unintelligible those lines so often were through the unwieldy fang dentures, and they each deliver the ideas they had decades earlier for a third Yorga movie. Both entertaining and enlightening, this is a conversation that really highlights how Quarry amassed such a devoted, loving fanbase. It runs thirteen minutes in length, by the way.

    This time last year, Fangirl Radio interviewed Tim Sullivan in a tribute to Robert Quarry. Following an introduction newly-recorded for this Blu-ray disc, we're treated to the forty-five minute interview in full. Among the topics of conversation here are AIP's efforts to build their own stable of monsters as Universal had decades earlier, how daring the Yorga films' shock endings were at the time, and how the shortlived series drew more deeply from Dark Shadows than from any vampire movies on the silver screen. You may note that this conversation is labeled as a tribute to Robert Quarry rather than a Count Yorga retrospective, and the reason for that quickly becomes clear. The majority of this conversation revolves around Quarry's later years: a time when he was all but penniless, almost unemployable in the wake of a feral mugging and being struck by a drunk driver, and being robbed blind by "assistants" who pretended to take care of him. As dark as that may sound, Sullivan weaves a story that's ultimately sunny and uplifting: Frank Darabont spearheading a Yorga revival and ensuring that Quarry would live out his final months in comfort and peace, as well as the legions of fans who rallied in support of an actor they loved so greatly. It's a deeply rewarding listen and well-worth setting aside the time to hear.

    My eyes always light up when I see that a DVD or Blu-ray disc features a commentary with David Del Valle, and he's joined in this feature-length track by Tim Sullivan. It's a terrific pairing: both of them knew Robert Quarry well, their passion for and encyclopediac knowledge of horror cinema is without equal, and they're both engaging, charismatic speakers. Del Valle and Sullivan cast a wider net than I could ever have hoped: porn productions of Dracula, Edward Walsh's stint in Andy Warhol's The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Robert Quarry and Christopher Lee donning Mickey Mouse ears together at Disneyland, and even a Yorga-esque episode of Starsky and Hutch that director Bob Kelljan also helmed. It's one brilliant story after another, particularly the insight they have to offer about George Macready, who delivers the deliciously purple prose in the opening monologue, and the clashes between Quarry and Vincent Price over their places in AIP's roster. Seeing as how Del Valle and Sullivan also provide commentary for Scream and Scream Again, here's hoping they'll be a fixture on Twilight Time's horror releases going forward.
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  • Isolated Score Track: Not only does this Blu-ray disc feature an isolated score in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio, but it even includes the slates! Hearing those numbers and such called out is always fun.

  • Still Galleries: The first of Count Yorga, Vampire's still galleries draws from MGM's archives to the tune of some eighty images: poster art and lobby cards from across the globe, newspaper ads, bootleg figures, promotional stills, and some candid shots from the set. Among this gallery are more explicit shots of the sex scene in the van, some of which feature partial nudity. Tim Sullivan contributes a couple dozen images of his own, including scans from columns he's penned, a flyer promoting the Yorga double feature at the Egyptian, an autographed headshot, and some fantastic photos that Sullivan snapped himself.
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  • Trailer (1 min.; SD): A theatrical trailer rounds out the extras.

Count Yorga, Vampire arrives in Twilight Time's distinctive transparent case, and the liner notes by Julie Kirgo are equal parts fun and insightful.

The Final Word
Now that both of the Count Yorga films have arrived on Blu-ray, you know what you can do with your old double feature DVD:

Highly Recommended.

Further Reading
Coincidentally, The Return of Count Yorga also arrived on Blu-ray this past October 13th.
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Highly Recommended

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