As Christopher Lee’s vampire Count was constantly being destroyed and returning to life in Hammer’s series of Dracula movies, America’s Count Yorga too came back (after being staked in the previous entry, COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE) for the immediate sequel, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA, now seeing a glorious Blu-ray release from Scream Factory.
Orphanage boy Tommy (Philip Frame, THE LITTLE ARK) is bouncing his ball in the wide open fields, when he stumbles across a forgotten cemetery. Several zombie-like vampire women emerge from the ground, as does the vampiric Count Yorga (Robert Quarry, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN). Yorga later charms his way into an adult masquerade party held at the orphanage, encountering the lovely Cynthia Nelson (Mariette Hartley, RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY), as he immediately becomes obsessed with her. Yorga attends the party, gives a lecture about vampires being real, is mistaken for a partygoer dressed as Dracula, sensually licks the blood off Cynthia’s finger wound (“an old Bulgarian custom”) and bites a female (Jesse Wells) dressed as “Miss Naughty”. Later, Yorga has his bloodsucking females raid Cynthia's house, attacking all her family members during a nightmarish home invasion. Cynthia is kidnapped, brought to Yorga's elaborate newly-acquired mansion, and put under his spell. Only the deaf housekeeper, Jennifer (Yvonne Wilder, the co-screenwriter and then-wife of director Kelljan) knows of the horrible occurrence, as creepy Tommy is also under the vampire's influence and is hiding the truth from the police, giving Yorga time to sway Cynthia’s attentions his way and consult with a mysterious witch woman (Corinne Conley, THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED), as his ultimate desire is love.
Rather than a sequel, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA is more of a remake of COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (utilizing the same motifs and storyline) with obvious improvements budget-wise and production-wise and basically the same crew as the first film. Once again Michael Macready was the producer, Bob Kelljan the co-writer/director and Bill Marx was back to compose the haunting, violin-dominated score. Although Roger Perry's character perished in the first film, he's (thankfully) back as a new vampire-hunting hero, the psychiatrist Dr. David Baldwin. He is also the love interest of Cynthia and after her disappearance and a number of bloody murders, he begins to suspect Yorga as the monster that he really is. Edward Walsh (HANNAH QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES) also returns as faithful servant Bruddah, sporting some really bad putty face make-up and sloppy neck-tie. The film does have some humorous tones to it; Yorga is seen glued to the TV watching Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS in Spanish, a flask-swilling reverend (Tom Toner, SPLASH) is forgiving of the Count when he offers a donation to his orphanage (only to be lead to a quicksand death) and the bumbling cops (played by Mel Brooks regular Rudy De Luca and future POLTERGIEST and "Coach" star Greg T. Nelson) are useless and idiotic but actually provide a few welcomed laughs. But make no mistake, there's still an underlying feeling of doom and decay making it an entertaining late-night gothic vampire feature again set in a modern setting, with the film being shot entirely on location in California (San Francisco and Santa Barbara). The scream-filled home invasion scene (which at the time of the film’s release conjured up visions of the then-recent Manson murders), with its horde of grotesque, night-gowned vampire brides attacking an entire family, is truly a well-staged loud and scary sequence.
What really makes THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA special is the return of Robert Quarry. Still one of the best screen vampires of all time, his grand presence is undeniable, and he obviously took his role very seriously (with the undead character now being love struck, and displaying a quality of dark romanticism). Quarry would only play a vampire in one other film, THE DEATHMASTER (actually shot between the two Yorgas, but not released until 1972), as RETURN didn't pull in enough dough for AIP to demand another sequel. Kelljan went on to direct the Yorga-inspired SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM for AIP and became a highly successful TV director up until the time of his death in 1982. Producer Macready (who does a quick bit here as a cop) this time throws his famous dad George in the film for an amusing cameo (he narrated the first Yorga), and look for Michael Pataki (who would go on to star as vampires in both GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE and DRACULA'S DOG) as one of Yorga' victims in another memorable attack scene. As Cynthia’s sister Ellen, Karen Houston (aka Karen Ericson, HUSTLE SQUAD) makes a fetching blonde bloodsucker, especially when laughing hysterically before putting the bite on her naive boyfriend (David Lampson), who then finds himself ambushed by vampire woman and brought to his doom (in slow motion) by the charging Yorga. The dad of Cynthia and Ellen is played by veteran character actor Walter Brooke (from CONQUEST OF SPACE and BLOODLUST!). Cinematographer Bill Butler went on to shoot such big Hollywood features as JAWS, GREASE and ROCKY II. The film often played on a double bill with Gordon Hessler’s MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, which will hopefully see its way to Blu-ray really soon.
Presented in 1080p HD, the MGM transfer carries the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with the framing looking spot-on. Especially when compared to MGM’s 2004 Midnite Movies DVD release, the picture here is quite remarkable, with rich colors and amazing detail, so much so that the outdoor foliage is life-like, and facial features have impressive textures. The elements used for the transfer are in nice shape, with only some fleeting speckling, with detail being strong and the film grain structure is well-rendered. Black levels are consistent and deep throughout. The English DTS Master Audio mono track is clean, with dialog, music and sound effects all emerging clearly. Optional English subtitles are included. The main menu has a great animated image of blood flowing down from the top of the screen, over the original poster art and its white background (the Australian poster art appears on the reverse side of the cover).
Film historian and screenwriter Steve Haberman moderates a commentary with one of the film’s stars, Rudy De Luca (both collaborated on the Mel Brooks films LIFE STINKS and DRACULA DEAD AND LOVING IT) who plays Lt. Madden. Haberman goes over the history of the Yorga films, mentioning how detailed the original 150-page script was (revealing bits which didn’t end up in the final film), and he compares the film’s creepy boy constantly bouncing a ball to similar eeriness in Mario Bava’s earlier KILL BABY, KILL. De Luca reveals that he was hired for the movie after appearing on a local sketch show (and that he was cast along with Nelson, as both knew Yvonne Wilder) and that Kelljan actually told him not to play it too funny. He also discusses his cast mates, the film’s locations, and he makes mention of an intended scene with a killer dog (the canine just wouldn’t cooperate) which never came to be. The original trailer (which makes use of stock music by AIP house composer Les Baxter) is included, as is a TV spot, radio spots and a lengthy still gallery. (NOTE: COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE is being released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time on the same street date of October 13, but is not yet available for review). (George R. Reis)
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