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Director/Writer: Bob Kelljan
Cast: Robert Quarry, Michael Murphy, Roger Perry, Judy Lang
Length: 93 min
Label: Twilight Time
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio commentary with David del Valle and Tim Sullivan
- My Dinner with Yorga: The Robert Quarry Rue Morgue Interview – a Reading by David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan
- Fangirl Radio Tribute to Robert Quarry with Tim Sullivan
- Still Gallery: The MGM Archives
- Still Gallery: The Tim Sullivan Archives
- Original Theatrical Trailer
The vampire is one of the most iconic archetypes in horror cinema. Like the folklore, the vampire is a shape-shifter. It can be a repellent, rodent-like creature as depicted in F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent masterpiece Nosferatu or a beautiful, sex-crazed nymphet like in Twins of Evil – though all vampires generally do have the high sex drive in common. More often than not, however, the vampire takes the iconic form of a romantic male lead, as seen from Bela Lugosi to (most recently) Robert Pattison. You know the type: slicked back hair, dashing good looks, mysterious and otherworldly aura, and a charming attitude to cap it off. The vampire is a sexual predator masked as a mysterious romantic, and, yet, there is generally a very palpable desperation and sadness hidden just below the surface of the character. This has allowed many of the most iconic screen vampires to elicit some form of sympathy. Herzog was even able to transcend the boundaries between deformed, hideous beast and gallant lover with his own adaptation of Nosferatu. For better or worse, the vampire is here to stay and its image will continue to creep into cinema for years to come. When Hammer’s reinterpretation of Dracula reignited a want in the cinema world, horror films in and out of Britian found themselves turning to familiar gothic trappings to figure their stories. This is, in part, one of the reasons that makes Count Yorga Vampire interesting; in a sea, of throwback, period-set vampire films, Count Yorga shook things up by bringing the fabled Count (although renamed here) to the present. In light of Twilight Time’s recent Blu-ray release, the 1970 film deserves a second look, as it is an oft-ignored title in favor of some of the more gory and or sexier takes on the lore.
The film opens amidst a séance. A woman is attempting to reconnect with her recently deceased mother. The opening party sequence takes up a great deal of the opening film’s run time, clocking in around fifteen minutes. But, over the course of this time, we learn that Yorga’s sudden appearance in the lives of these people has brought nothing but tragedy. It’s a unique introduction, one that despite the voice-over (which rather needlessly explains the vampire rules prior to the film’s narrative start) spares the need for too much expository scenes. Beyond the voice-over (which could be argued to be intentionally, overtly explanatory in favor of undermining expectations later on), Bob Kelljan relies on audience’s preconceived notions of the folklore and allows them to put the pieces together themselves. Appearing two years before the far more successful (at least in terms of longevity) Dracula A.D. 1972, Yorga does have the novelty of being one of the earlier, non-period set vampire flicks. Clearly borrowing from some of the technical and stylistic flourishes of Hammer but setting it in the modern era, Kelljan is able to have his proverbial cake and eat it too, but it also really works in the director’s favor.If anything, Yorga suffers from some major pacing issues. After the first, overlong scene, the film somewhat derails with another lengthy scene following Paul (Michael Murphy) and Erica (Judy Lang) on their trip home following the party. When their car gets stuck, the couple is forced to wait for help to arrive; which of course leads to a sex scene (why wouldn’t it?). These two consecutive scenes stifle the film really before it gets a chance to find its footing. Once the film does, however, the rest plays out quite smoothly. So if much of Yorga could be categorized as being a bit dull, it at least ends in great form. While Kelljan wasn’t necessarily a phenomenal director, he does include a few embellishments that heighten the visual nature. There are a few great handheld movements as well as dollies, and the director plays well in the often well-decorated sets (something that the film has most in common with Hammer). Robert Quarry as Yorga will either work of won’t for audiences, and I would guess that his performance here would be a bit more grating on younger viewers who are less familiar with his career. But it also goes without saying that Quarry was an iconic and marvelous actor, whose work not only flourished in the genre and B film world (where he is probably best known) but in the film world period. There is something a bit old hat about his performance, even for its time. Part of it seems like 5th generation copy, one that lost is vigor along its way but still resembles the original to a greater degree. But this is only part of the story, because there is also a sort of sardonic element to his performance. At the same time that his paying homage to the screen actors before him, he seems to be mocking the absurd nature of the character and perhaps vampires themselves. Quarry embodies this perfectly: while handsome, he is not sexy but yet he plays it sexy; despite having a charm, he’s not particularly alluring and yet he attempts to allure. His very shortcomings become his strengths; he’s a camp Dracula perfect for his time and one that continues to be joyous to see today. While he wasn’t openly gay — much like one of his friendly rivals and co-stars in Phibes, Vincent Price — there are rumors of his homosexuality, and, in that light, one can easily read into this role as toying with the line between the omnisexuality of the vampire character and Quarry’s own homosexuality. Either way, Quarry is having fun and the film is all the better for it — and, let’s be honest with ourselves, Quarry slays it with his fantastic, blood red cape, proving to be one of the most stylish vamps of any generation.
Much of the downsides of the visual presentation come from the lackluster production. The film was shot well enough, but it is far from anything that I would consider lavish. Composition is strange at times, the colors can be a bit bland, and certain scenes are flatly lit. However, other scenes, especially in the daytime, can appear lush with contrast, so it’s a bit of a uneven visual presentation — probably due to AIP’s prevalence for low budget filmmaking. Twilight Time’s 1.84:1, 1080p transfer looks surprisingly good, given the aforementioned limitations that exist. Thankfully, a hefty presence of film grain exists, despite the film’s general softness (a product of the era), and colors are presented naturally.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix is, likewise, a fine presentation of the original elements. The only real complaint comes in the form of an intermittent hum and slight distortion/noise that will creep up at times. While most of the time these occurrences are not distracting, there are a few instances where the distortion does distract from the dialogue. Beyond this, there are some really great elements presented, especially the score by Bill Marx, which really adds an layer of grandeur to the film.
One of the best extra features on this disc, and one that I was severely worried about until hearing it, is an audio interview with Quarry conducted for Rue Morgue. The reason for worry was that Tim Sullivan had to recreate the interview going off his transcript, as the audio was too far damaged to present as is. The result is fabulous, however, as David del Valle does a marvelous acting job imitating the late Quarry (Sullivan obviously reprising his role as interviewer). Del Valle really nails the cadence and energy of the actor. It’s really a hell of a listen and I really suggest anyone with even a cursory liking of either Yorga or Quarry give it a shot. In addition, Twilight Time have featured the Fangirl Radio Tribute, again with Tim Sullivan, as well as an audio commentary with Del Valle and Sullivan, which really gives viewers a good insight into the film’s place in 1970s horror and American cinema (as well as British horror, to which it is clearly indebted to). Finally, TT have included two still galleries (one from MGM and one from Sullivan) as well as the original trailer. Like Scream and Scream Again, Twilight Time have proven themselves to really have stepped it up in the supplementary features department, making this disc a nice addition to their catalog.
Count Yorga is a nice addition to the cinematic vampire canon, even if it’s not a frontrunner in the genre. The film suffers the most from a stagnant pace, which drags the first half down severely. Yet the film does finally catch its footing and (thanks to Quarry’s performance in particular) ends very strong. Twilight Time have packaged the film splendidly and complete with the sequel’s recent release, it’s fantastic that fans can now enjoy both films in stunning HD.