In The Return of the Vampire (1943) an air raid is integral to the plot. In The Return of Dracula (1958) the titular vamp’ sports a quiff. But why, we hear you ask, are we telling you this in a review of Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) and its sequel The Return of Count Yorga (1971)? Well until Hammer dug up the Count in the ‘50s with the trappings of gothic melodrama, vampire flicks tended to be set in the “present day” and we like to think that if you’re going to put the evil past into the present then a modern “twist” would be nice. When Hammer updated (possibly because of Yorga’s success) they gave us a live performance from the (not very good) Stoneground in Dracula AD 1972 (1972) and some genuinely modern tropes in Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). And how groovy was Blacula (1972)? Even Stoker himself managed a phonograph and some blood transfusions.
And herein lies the problem with Yorga. These are basically perfunctory Dracula stories with Yorga (Quarry) turning up in modern-day Los Angeles and then San Francisco (his resurrection from the first movie unexplained) and falling in love with some woman while biting lots of people. He wears a cape, a smoking jacket, even a bow tie and sits on a throne in an inexplicably gothic house with absolutely no concessions to modernity. The fact that the rest of the cast are dressed for the present day in contemporary locations just makes it look like an old Hammer with a reduced budget that didn’t stretch to cover the costumes. As Yorga is so obviously a vampire from the moment you clap eyes on him, there isn’t even much suspense to be had. The modern twist on his Renfield-style sidekick? There isn’t one.
If we can be a bit defensive, we will note that once the ‘70s started in 1968 (he’s correct you know –Ed) paranoia had been the watchword in cinema so we do get some interesting surveillance-style shots of the lead characters’ exposition scenes (think of the opening of 1974’s The Conversation). It’s just a shame that it doesn’t serve any actual purpose other than to give a hint of artsiness.
But for all that, there is fun to be had here. The sequel starts with a brilliant Romero-esque scene with the “brides” coming out of their graves (until Yorga ruins it by turning up in a cape) and there are some quite effective slow-mo scenes of vampire attacks. The not-so-gradual realisation that the heroes are dealing with a vampire is a bit tired but it’s still quite amusing when they tool up with stakes and crosses and, although it’s not supposed to be funny, Yorga’s disintegration into a sandcastle is still a chuckle. Both movies also end in a wonderfully dark ‘70s fashion. And nice to see the same actor (Perry) turn up as a different central character in the sequel after he is inconveniently killed in the first.
Watchable but not essential.
Special Features: Audio commentaries / Kim Newman interview / Trailers
THE COUNT YORGA COLLECTION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BOB KELIJAN /SCREENPLAY: BOB KELIJAN, YVONNE WILDER / STARRING: ROBERT QUARRY, ROGER PERRY MICHAEL MURPHY, MICHAEL MACREADY, DONNA ANDERS, MARIETTE HARTLEY, YVONNE WILDER, RUDY DE LUCA, EDWARD WALSH, CRAIG T. NELSON / RELEASED: OUT NOW