There was a time, wonderfully unrivaled, when vampire films were released for good and for awesome. You could purchase a ticket to any of these similarly themed films and be reliably rewarded with copiously seduced bare breasts, smarmy faux European gentlemen monsters and ample bloodletting. This magical long-long ago land was the 1970's: a time when leading men didn't have to be appealing, just finely mustachioed or in possession of a set of badass mutton chops. As far as the eye could see (in the dark, mind you) there were no emo sparking undead, creepily stalking whiney women (who just serve as a stand in for the author anyway). It would be exceedingly awesome for sissy Edward to have come up against one of those exemplars of vampirismic excellence. Count Yorga, for instance, would work the charismatic gentleman angle in their initial encounter like a series of body blows then unleash the full fury of the "Yorga Charge" (quarter circle forward + H.Punch for those of you playing Super Vampire Fighter II).
With that epic imagery, I'd like to welcome you to a new weekly series here on Mania; Saturday Shock-O-Rama will be dedicated to discussing what made USA Up All Night so fondly remembered: crazy cult flicks, campy horror gems, odd ball scifi and the mad minutia that hold them all together. There isn't a better film to kick off with than Count Yorga, Vampire. From American International Pictures (AIP), this 1970 exclusion to funky town was originally titled The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire; which makes way more sense when you find out that it was originally slated to be a soft core skin flick. At some point AIP's intention for Yorga changed and thus so did the title; though interestingly during the early part of the film his name is pronounced "Iorga" only to switch to "Yorga" after about twenty minutes' time. I can't help but wonder exactly what wound up n the cutting room floor.
Robert Quarry exudes indifferent charm as the count and puts on the veneer of refinement during social bat and mouse games played with his prey to be. I would be shocked if Quarry's turn as Yorga didn't in some way influence Chris Sarandon's realization of my all time favorite cinematic vampire: Jerry Dandrige from 1985's Fright Night. His resume of work reads like Samuel L Jackson's (minus the eye patch) including the excellent genre titles Dr. Phibes Rises Again and Madhouse with Vincent Price, Warlords ('88) alongside David Carradine and Sid Haig; and even Sugar Hill, the mondo slick blaxploitation film (which I highly recommend you seek out). Here Quarry flexes substantial acting chops as Count Yorga, a Bulgarian vampire masquerading as a psychic medium who specializes in seances. It's in this brilliant way he leverages his horrible hypnotic powers into easy feedings; with one burst of mesmeric thought he forces women to return to his estate alone, later in the evening, adding them to his bevy of buxom vampire beauties. It's tough to pin down his eventual undoing, and I don't want to spoil anything for the virgin viewer, but it's typically a bad idea to willingly put on the pretend seance for a girl who's mother you're holding in the basement as a love thrall. Just sayin'.
A sequel, The Return of Count Yorga, followed the very next year. In this intriguing yarn, Yorga wreaks havoc on the staff and inmates of an orphanage as he struggles to come to grips with an emotion not felt in centuries: love. It takes our heroes quite some time to figure out and then accept the true nature of the peril with which they're faced. When they do, however, hilarity ensues. Pay particularly close attention to a very young Craig T. Nelson in his first acting role as police Sargent O'Conner; he scoffs when offered a cross as a weapon and subsequently learns a messy lesson. Poor Coach.
Taking a brief vacation from vampirism to face off against Vincent Price in Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Quarry then hits the screen as the very Yorga-esk "Khorda" in The Deathmaster. This 1972 vampire flick sees Khorda take the head of a drugged out hippy cult, where he keeps them well supplied which in turn keeps him well fed. Can you predict where this road leads yet? The hippies (slowly) wise up to Yorga/Khorda and bloody shenanigans ensue. AIP knew they had a winning formula here and there's no doubt that they milked it but it's also clear they knew when to move on to the next "coming thing" (as Brisco County Jr would say). Still, one wishes there where more entries in the "Yorga Saga". You can join my retro reminiscing immediately if you're a Netflix streaming subscriber; both Yorga films are among the many classic gems available instant consumption.
Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service.
Netflix - A Bucket of Blood - Horror/Black Comedy (1959)
Crackle - The Last Dragon - Cult/Kung Fu/Comedy (1985)
YouTube - Bad Taste - Comedy/Horror/Sci-Fi (1987)
And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.