Originally intended as a softcore horror film (the presence of nudie actress Marsha Jordan, in her only straight movie, is a dead giveaway), the independently-made COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE was instead shot and released as a PG-rated vampire flick taking place in modern California (where it was shot entirely on location), and it was one of AIP's biggest money-makers at the time. Casting veteran actor Robert Quarry as a Dracula-like Bulgarian Count with a small coven of undead brides was a brilliant idea, as he was born to play the role and ranks among the silver screen's all-time greatest bloodsuckers.
After his coffin is transported from a boat to the back of a truck driving through Los Angeles, Count Yorga (Robert Quarry, MADHOUSE) gets entangled in the lives of two couples: Paul (Robert Altman regular Michael Murphy, STRANGE BEHAVIOR) and Erica (Judith Lang, THE PSYCHO LOVER), and Michael (Michael Macready, also the film's producer) and Donna (Donna Anders, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS) after he holds a séance to contact Donna's recently dead (or undead!) mother (Marsha Jordan, LADY GODIVA RIDES), who happened to be Yorga's mistress. That night, Paul and Erica give the Count a ride back to his mansion in their van, which becomes stranded outside the grounds. After they take advantage of the situation by fooling around in the back of their vehicle, Paul is knocked out and Erica is left with fang marks on her neck and no remembrance of what occurred. The next day, blood specialist Dr. Hayes (Roger Perry, THE THING WITH TWO HEADS) gets involved as Erica grows weaker, obviously having lost a lot of blood. After Erica is found devouring a cat, Hayes gives her a transfusion and it's now his belief that Yorga is an Old World vampire residing in modern-day California! Paul foolishly takes it upon himself to barge into the mansion and goes missing, and after Yorga is rudely visited upon by our heroes in attempt to prove he won’t survive daybreak, Donna is abducted as well. It’s up to Michael and Dr. Hayes to play vampire hunters (equipped with broom handles and wooden chair legs) and plan their attack.
As mentioned, Quarry is simply perfect in the role, creating a dark, romantic and supernatural character of the highest caliber, something akin to America’s answer to Christopher Lee’s Dracula. Quarry plays the dynamic bloodsucker with a sense of sarcasm as well a viciousness, and it was obvious he took the role seriously (it was reportedly his idea to pursue the makers to make it as a straight film, and he was absolutely correct in his suggestion). Raven-haired Judith Lang is a very alluring vampire girl, Donna Anders is a great heroine, and likable Roger Perry smoothly and convincingly plays the modern-day Van Helsing. Although the film includes the obligatory gruesome idiot servant, Bruddah (Edward Walsh, complete with bad makeup and an unkempt suit) as well as some awkward dialog and narration that borders on self-parody, COUNT YORGA still holds up very well over 45 years later. The erotic and creepy film, directed with care and respect for its audience by Robert Kelljan without the benefit of a studio, definitely has sequences you won't easily forget. At the time of its release, COUNT YORGA was a huge hit for AIP, with an immediate sequel ordered (THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA, now out on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, and very much recommended). Rumors of further Yorga films (with the title character being pitted against other AIP stalwarts Dr. Phibes and Blacula) never happened, but Quarry did become something of a horror star, at least briefly, and after this played Vincent Price’s adversary in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN.
Since COUNT YORGA was conceived as a sex film, there's a lot of talk about scenes that were possibly filmed but tossed out before release. A bimbo (Julie Conners, TRADER HORNEE) mentions a baby drained of blood, but we don't actually see anything like this on screen. There are stills of a vampiric Marsha Jordan holding a fake infant, so it's quite possible that a scene of this sort was shot and ended up on the cutting room floor. When Thorn EMI released it in on video in the 1980s, COUNT YORGA had restored scenes that were never before in any of the theatrical prints. These included extra (but still obscured) lovemaking between Paul and Erica in a van, Erica's extended fondling of her semi-exposed breasts to lure Yorga, and Yorga's extended bloody necking and biting of Erica. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray maintains all these scenes, as well as extra footage of Erica holding the devoured cat (which were first seen on MGM’s 2000 VHS release) with a few extra seconds of her waving the poor mutilated pet in front of the camera, in a sadistic, trance-like manner. Also note that, like the previous DVD, the onscreen title on this transfer reads, "The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire," the original shooting title.
With a "PG-13" rating replacing the old "GP," like the previous DVD, Twilight Time’s presentation of COUNT YORGA has been restored to its longest and most complete variant possible. MGM’s HD transfer looks terrific here, with the film’s low budget yet stylish look still apparent. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD, with colors looking noticeably bolder and fleshtones more distinct and realistic than on the previous DVD transfer. Textures have a sufficient amount of sharpness to them (with only several soft shots which seem to stem from the original cinematography), filmic grain is handled well and only heavier in several darker shots and black levels are deep. In fact, the amount of detail here will be something of a revelation for long-time fans of the film with the source materials used for the transfer being in excellent shape. The English 1.0 DTS-HD audio track is replicated very nicely (just listen to those noisy insects immediately before Yorga's initial attack!) with Bill Marx’s terrifically eerie score having good dynamic range (and it’s also given its own isolated audio track). Optional SDH English subtitles are included.
Filmmaker Tim Sullivan and writer/film historian David Del Valle are on hand for an audio commentary, with their conversation on the film being entertainingly busy. Count Yorga’s place in vampire cinema is well-established here, as they discuss everything from the film’s softcore beginnings to stories about its production, and they share plenty of fond recollections and stories (some very humorous, some very touching, and some very revealing) about the film’s late star Quarry, as both men knew him personally. “My Dinner With Yorga” (13:04) is a reproduction of an interview with Quarry that Sullivan conducted with the actor in his later years. Since the actual audio no longer exists, Del Valle takes on the role of Quarry with Sullivan doing the interviewing. With the two acting out the genuine script, Quarry’s quotes are choice, and definitely prove what his grand sense of humor was like, with the topic staying on the two Yorga films as well as Michael Macready’s grief when Quarry went on to make his own vampire movie, THE DEATHMASTER. “Fangirl Radio Tribute To Robert Quarry” (45:59) is a recent radio program with Jessica Dwyer interviewing Sullivan on the subject of the late actor, his struggles towards the end of his life and his memorable genre performances, with Sullivan telling how fans came to the actor’s aid via the internet to help furnish his new room at the Actor’s Home, shortly before his passing. Two still galleries are provided, one from “The MGM Archives” (which features some truly rare shots long-time fans will be surprised to witness, including one of comedienne Jo Anne Worley, then girlfriend and future wife of Roger Perry, on the set) and one from “The Tim Sullivan Archives” which focuses on Sullivan’s friendship with the actor during the last years of his life and a double feature screening of the two Yorga films (with Quarry doing a Q&A) which happened in 2004. The original trailer is included, as is the MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer in HD. The insert booklet contains liner notes by Julie Kirgo. (George R. Reis)
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