Creature Feature Crypt by Count Gore De Vol

Count Yorga—Horror’s Hippest Vampire

   Fifty-three years ago, a new cinematic bloodsucker appeared on the big screen, a vampire for the Haight-Asbury crowd, a blend of old-world superstition and new-wave spiritualism. Starring Robert Quarry as the Bulgarian Count Yorga, Count Yorga, Vampire debuted on 10 June, 1970. Written and directed by Bob Kelljan, and produced by Michael Macready, who also starred as Mike, it was originally conceived as a soft-core pornographic film, to be titled The Loves of Count Iorga. In fact, many prints of the completed film display this title. Quarry told Macready that he would play the Count Yorga role, but only if it were made as a straight Horror film. Production began in the spring of 1969i, with a budget of just under $100,000. The supporting cast included Roger Perry, as Dr. Jim Hayes, Michael Murphy as Paul, Michael Macready as Mike, Donna Anders as Donna, and Judy Lang as Erica.

    This worked well for the film’s prospective distributor, American-International Pictures. While AIP didn’t mind playing to the Specialty market, they knew that their best chance at a profitable project would be for the film to see a general release, in as many theaters as possible. As it was, they had a tremendous fight with the MPAA to avoid either an “R” or an “X” rating, either one of which would’ve seriously cut into AIP’s distribution plans. In the end it took as many as six attempts and between two and three minutes of cuts to earn the “GP” rating (the precursor of today’s “PG”) that AIP desired.

    The film opens with a voice-over narration (by Michael Macready’s father, veteran character actor George Macready), as a coffin is unloaded from a freighter in the Port of Los Angeles , and placed onto a pickup truck, which the camera follows as it drives into the hills above the city. The narrator recounts the superstitions regarding vampires, the undead creatures of the night that survive by feeding on the blood of the living.

    As the main title fades out, the scene shifts to a séance at the home of Donna, a young woman who recently lost her mother, and is desperate to make contact with her spirit. Fortunately, her late mother’s lover, a Bulgarian Count named Yorga, is a spiritualist, and is conducting the séance.

    Several others are also in attendance, including her boyfriend Mike, and their friends Paul and Erica. The séance seems to be successful in contacting Donna’s mother; however Donna is overcome with emotion and passes out. Once she recovers, Paul and Erica volunteer to drive Yorga to the home he’s just moved into—a home up in the hills. However, as they’re leaving, they get stuck in the deep mud in the dirt driveway leading up to Yorga’s mansion, a driveway that was dry just moments before. Unable to extricate themselves, they decide to just sleep in their van—and, of course, do what comes naturally.

    Later, as they lay sleeping, Erica is awakened by a noise outside the van, and sees a ghoulish, grinning face at the window. She screams, the door slides open, and Paul is dragged out into the night. He is quickly knocked unconscious, and their attacker, revealed to be Yorga, climbs in the van with Erica.

    The next day, Erica is being examined by Jim Hayes, a Doctor and friend of Paul and Mike’s. Paul remembers the attack, though he didn’t get a good look at the attacker. Erica however has no recollection of the assault, nor can she account for the two puncture marks on her throat. While Jim can’t explain the punctures, he is concerned by the fact that she seems to have lost quite a bit of blood.

    After Erica returns home, Paul tries to call her, but while she picks up the phone, she fails to respond to his voice. Paul and Mike rush over to her apartment, only to find a scene of horror—Erica stands with a small, bloody kitten in hand, pieces of its flesh between her teeth. Jim Hayes rushes over to the apartment, and performs an emergency transfusion between Paul and Erica.

    Later, after she’s stable, he tells the others that he’s consulted with a colleague who’s an expert in bizarre blood maladies, and his diagnosis is incredible. He believes the young woman has fallen victim to the predations of a vampire. Soon, the three men are off to battle Yorga for their own lives and souls, and those of Erica and Donna.

Count Yorga, Vampire was well-received, both critically and financially. Roger Greenspun said that Yorga was, “… the best chief vampire I have seen in years.ii” Gene     Siskel, writing for the 17 June 1970 issue of the Chicago Tribune, in a review entitled “Kremlin Letter,” said that Count Yorga, Vampire was, “the best horror film of the year.” John R. Duvoli wasn’t quite so effusive in his praise, saying that, “Count Yorga, Vampire, is then, for the most part, a surprisingly good flick.iii” At the Box-Office, Count Yorga, Vampire earned back more than five times its budget, making it profitable enough to convince AIP to produce a sequel with the less than inspired title of The Return of Count Yorga. Released in 1971, it did well enough, though plans for a third entry in the series never came to fruition.

    Count Yorga, Vampire, for those who view it today, is a quaint, almost naïve vampire movie, basically an updated, Americanized version of Hammer’s Vampire films. But in 1970, audiences would’ve seen it as a contemporary, up-to-the-minute take on the vampire movie, with characters that were reflections of those who were in that audience.


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