A vampire, in ancient belief, was a spirit who, when the earth lost its sunlight, rose nightly from its dark grave to suck blood from throats of the living.
Its powers were many. It could see in the dark, which was no small ability in a world half veiled from light. Its hypnotic skills baffled the domain of science. It was of a cunning more than mortal, for its cunning was a growth of ages.
Since it could not die by the mere passing of time, it had to have been by a wooden stake driven deep into its heart or exposure to the rays of the sun, which would instantly decompose its body into a miasma of putrid decay.
The believers of this superstition referred to vampires as “the living dead”. I seem to be making use of the past tense. Perhaps the present will be more precise for it stands to reason that, if one is superstitious, even at a small, seemingly-insignificant level, one must be vulnerable to all superstitions conceivably even those of vampires.’ — Opening Credits Narration
This was around the mid-70s when Chiller Theater was a big deal here in Massachusetts, but despite being thoroughly horrified by Chiller’s airings of Hammer’s Dracula movies (so much so I never watched a one of them) I was still fascinated by the vampire myth when I was a kid. Any book I could find about them I would devour and there were only two “modern day” vampire movies I caught back then I actually managed to summon the intestinal fortitude to sit through—House Of Dark Shadows (1970) and Count Yorga, Vampire (1970).
I can no longer recall which one I saw first, but where as House didn’t terrify me, Count Yorga scared me about as much as the blood red mayhem in Hammer’s Drac films did. And this was all thanks to Robert Quarry who played Count Yorga. Sometimes all it took for me to tune in to a horror or science fiction movie was its title and I remember coming across Count Yorga in the TV guide one day. There was just something about those three words strung together. I think it was mostly the Yorga, because it sounded like a title more befitting of a monster movie, you know, something Toho-related. I remembered a Yog, Monster From Space (1970), a kaiju movie Toho made. But this clearly wasn’t a monster movie—it was Count. Yorga. Vampire! Christ, I just had to see what this was. I think I had it in my mind it was some kind of monster vampire movie. Anyhow, Quarry had this thing, this vibe, that “unnamable something” in his performance that gave me the willies even when he wasn’t vamping out. And when he did vamp out that something was even worse. I would even put his performance over Christopher Lee’s when it comes to actors who terrified me playing a vampire. With Hammer’s movies it was just the blood that was enough to turn me off, I had never seen a movie where the blood was so vivid. With Yorga, the movie had moments of that, which made my little kid heart skip several beats, but coupled with Quarry’s almost coolly sociopathic performance, it stood out like no other vampire movie.
Now that I think about it. It’s the eyes. You know that old saying, ‘they’re the windows to the soul.’ Watching Quarry’s eyes in Yorga, the way he looked around, the way he looked at his victims or regarded others even in the most docile scenes, I think, that’s what put his performance over the top. He was able to convey some primordial menace I had never seen before. And that performance still holds up today.
I know there are some people who prefer the sequel to the first one but Yorga doesn’t terrify me in that one. I take that back, had I seen it when I was a kid, yeah, he probably would have, but I never saw The Return Of Count Yorga until the mid-2000s. Which is too bad. I would have liked to do a comparison on which might have scared me more.
Count Yorga, Vampire started out life (pun intended) as an idea for a soft core porn, until Quarry suggested they just do it as a straight up horror flick, but the original title of that porn was The Loves Of Count Iorga, Vampire, which all prints seem to retain. I also have a distinct memory when those credits came up, but I can’t remember if The Loves Of.. was there or not. I do, however, remember the alternate spelling of Iorga on that airing and half wondering how the TV Guide had gotten the name so wrong. Actually the original porn title fits the movie better, since Yorga has a penchant for vampirizing hot chicks and killing any guy who gets in his way of that.
I was drawn into the flick and at the same time began to fear it when George Macready started his voice over narration after Yorga’s disfigured manservant, Brudah (Edward Walsh), picks up Yorga’s coffin at the docks, being shipped in from Bulgaria, I presume, and takes it to his new residence in the remote hills of California. This narration can be read above and being fascinated with vampires I dug the truncated lesson on what a vampire is, the abilities they have and how one my go about destroying them. All done in with a somewhat creepy tone by Macready.
Something I had never seen before in a vampire movie happens right after Macready’s voice over. Yorga is seen conducting a séance. Honestly it wasn’t just vampires that fascinated me when I was a kid but all things paranormal including ghosts, so this was a pretty damn good start to a movie and it gave me the feeling I wasn’t seeing your ordinary vampire flick. This vamp was calculating and could fit in with other human beings and no one would suspect he was a monster out to drain the world of blood.
In this séance we’re conveniently introduced to most of our central characters: Paul (Michael Murphy) and Erica (Judy Lang), who are a couple; Donna (Donna Anders), the chick who’s séance this revolves around since her mother died recently and she wants to contact her; Mike Thompson (Michael Macready) and another couple who are not central characters and the only two cast members who actually survive this movie without getting killed or getting turned into vamps. You never see these two again after this scene.
As I said Yorga is cunning and as this séance proceeds you get the feeling this has all been set-up, even the freak out Donna goes through that prompts Yorga to intervene with his hypnotic skills, relaxing her but also placing a subliminal message in her heard that she is now at his beck and call. But he’s not content with just adding Donna to his new harem, he wants Erica too and he bums a ride off of she and Paul to get them onto his property and if not into his lair close enough to sideline their drive back home so he can surface later with a visit as they try to sleep the night away in their stuck-in-the-mud van. Paul is viciously yanked from the van and knocked unconscious before he can even see who did it, and Erica is bitten!
Our “modern day” Van Helsing is now introduced and he comes in the form of Dr. Jim Hayes, (Roger Perry), blood specialist, who tries to get to the bottom of Erica’s bite marks and lethargic attitude, but vampires are only considered after she’s discovered later on all fucked up in her apartment. And by “fucked up” I mean looking disheveled, crazed and bloody from having just drained her pet cat and half eaten it.
Hayes transfuses her and this when he broaches the topic of the undead with Paul and Mike. Obviously neither believes this. Erica is the third to be added to Yorga’s harem. I had no clue who the other chick was, but Donna’s supposedly dead mother is the other one. She was dating Yorga before she died, which is how this all started. Erica is seduced one night while Paul is asleep downstairs, and once Paul suspects Yorga has her he makes the mistake of going to his house, in the middle of the damn night even, to confront him. This is where the movie circumvented my expectations yet again. Generally you can get a sense of who the heroes and who the victims are in any given horror flick. Paul looks like one of the heroes and I had my 8-year old mind blown when he’s rendered unconscious, again, by Yorga and then handed off to Brudah to have his back broken. Ultimately Mike discovers his drained and nearly cannibalized body in the final act. A gruesome shocker of a scene that tensed me up.
And yet another plot turn that seemed too original for a vampire movie, the surviving heroes, Mike and Jim, along with “compromised” Donna, visit Yorga (at night again, seriously?) in a half-ass plan to distract him while someone gets a look around the mansion for their two missing friends. We know this is all going to fall apart because we know Yorga knows this is half-ass plan to distract him, but the fun of it is watching each side beat around the bush as to why this social visit is happening in the wee hours of the night.
This mind game is played again the following night with only Hayes and Yorga this time, which again exceeded my expectations. It’s these two mind game scenes that really shows off Quarry’s Yorga portrayal and the character as being something more than a one-dimensional movie monster that needs to be fought and killed.
Now the shit that really started to scare me comes in the final act. One of them I already described, the finding of Paul’s body, the first, though, is the demise of Hayes, when he confronts Yorga in the bowels of his mansion where his three lovelies are kept stretched out on slabs. Never put your back to a vampire, even if they’re seemingly inert on slabs, but this is what Yorga maneuvers Hayes into doing. They wake and he’s attacked. Only showing this scuffle at leg level made the scene more terrifying for me because to me it meant this was too horrible to show, so the filmmakers decided to film it like this. He falls and they jump him again.
The frightening icing on the cake, however, was when Yorga vamped out and helped Hayes in calling for Mike before his harem took him down. I can’t tell you how screwed I felt for Hayes was when I first saw this. I thought, Jesus, he’s hollering for Mike too?! Yorga seemed pure evil to me at that moment. Which again added to my fright.
The final shock of this whole flick was the ending. I kind of knew no matter how grim this got Yorga was going to die, which he did, but I was not prepared for the final twist of Donna having been turned and she turning on Mike in the final moments leaving no survivors, well, no human survivors, of this movie whatsoever.
MGM first released Count Yorga, Vampire in 2001 as part of their Midnite Movies line and then again in 2005 (same label), but this time as a double feature with the sequel. It was only a matter of time before either MGM or someone else gave it the blu-ray treatment. Enter boutique disc distributor, Twilight Time! Gaining access to MGM’s vaults they have now given us the blu we all have been waiting for.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono—English subs only
The transfer on this remastered blu-ray looks downright stunning. Don’t go by the photos I have up of the opening credits, I just pulled those off the net, the ones that come up on this new blu are clear and blood red! Bottom line . . . a major upgrade over any previous DVD MGM has ever released!
- Audio Commentary with David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan.
- My Dinner With Yorga: The Robert Quarry “Rue Morgue” Interview (13:04)
- Fangirl Radio Tribute to Robert Quarry with Tim Sullivan (45:59)
- Still Gallery: The MGM Archives
- Still Gallery: The Tim Sullivan Archives
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer
- Isolated Score
This commentary and the one on Scream Factory’s blu of the sequel, (released last month), are both excellent, but this one, I think, is the better, simply because Film Historians, David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan, personally knew Robert Quarry, each at different times in his life, and because of that you get a really good encapsulation of who he was, how he worked, how other actors related to him (i.e. Vincent Price didn’t like him), how fans related to him (chicks literally pissed themselves, one dude came on his back) and other anecdotes from his life. Simply put this commentary is the epitome of what I love best about commentaries, especially on old films and cult classics. You actually learn things, and several things I learned was Quarry, Jonathan Frid and Raymond Burr were gay. Interesting, I never knew that. They also talk about the proposed third Yorga film that never got made, with tidbits of info I never knew, and I wished it happened, it sounded like a great idea. One that Quarry came up with too. Also we have Frank Darabont to thank for these new transfers for he footed the bill to have both Yorga movies restored back in the mid-2000s. The only thing that irks me is that Quarry died in 2009, the first Yorga flick came out on DVD in 2001, and someone should have gotten him for a commentary way back then. That’s a missed opportunity right there. Then again, who knows, maybe, he was approached and declined?
The next best extras are the My Dinner With Yorga and Fangirl Radio ones. The former is a narrated transcript of an interview Sullivan did with Quarry of which the actual tape recording he made has gone missing, and the latter is a radio interview with Sullivan. Both De Valle and Sullivan touch upon topics from these extras in their commentary, but give these a listen to anyway for you can consider them the “uncut” versions.
For someone like me who never knew much if anything about Quarry other than he made a movie that scared the shit out of me when I was a kid thus ensuring it would never be forgotten the extras on this disc are the next best thing to reading his autobiography.
Limited to only 3,000 units, if you want one get it now! Once they’re gone, they’re gone! You can buy Twilight Times titles at two places only: Screen Archives Entertainment or Twilight Times’ own site.