Release Date(s)1970/1971 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)American International Pictures/MGM (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A
- Overall Grade: A-
Count Yorga, Vampire, released in 1970, wasn’t the first vampire horror film that moved out of the Victorian Gothic setting, which was a staple of most productions at the time, but it was definitely the first to take place during the 1970s. Robert Quarry stars in the title role as a vampire posing as a medium who moves into a town and begins drinking the blood of his female customers. It features Robert Altman veteran Michael Murphy and frequent television actor Roger Perry, as well as George Macready, who provides the opening narration.
Beginning life as a piece of softcore erotica, it was decided during production (at the insistence of Robert Quarry) that the film was strong enough to go out as a more straightforward horror film. Along with some of the more revealing footage trimmed out of it, this inadvertently gave the film highly sexual undertones. It also changed the nature of what vampires could be. Instead of a normal set of fangs, they have rows of sharpened teeth, often biting their victims on the face instead of traditionally sinking them into their necks. This made them a little more primordial, and a bit more frightening than most movie vampires. At the time, Robert Quarry was being groomed by American International Pictures to take the place of Vincent Price as their horror cash cow, which never really came to fruition as old-fashioned horror films were passing out of favor with the public after the release of The Exorcist, and AIP was unable to keep up. Nevertheless, Count Yorga, Vampire forever put Robert Quarry on the map as an actor to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, he was unable to garner the same kind of success during the rest of his career.
1971’s The Return of Count Yorga saw Quarry return to the role, but this time around, Count Yorga is intent on taking a bride with the help of his army of zombie-like vampire women (the polar opposite of his motivation in the first film). He and his servant Brudah are inexplicably resurrected after having been destroyed during events in the latter of half of the first film with no explanation as to how or why. Roger Perry returns as a completely different character, and new to the table is Mariette Hartley as Cynthia—the aforementioned object of Count Yorga’s desires.
Despite The Return of Count Yorga having a slightly higher budget, the film isn’t quite as interesting as its predecessor. Many contend that it’s better because it’s slicker and slower-paced, focusing on character more than just scares, but the strength of the scares and the low budget nature of the first film make it superior in just about every way. It feels not only like a step down, but off the staircase completely, as if it’s a late film in a long-running franchise that is completely bereft of ideas. Even so, it’s not a total waste as Quarry is still very game and a couple of scares work quite well, including a sequence inspired by both Night of the Living Dead and the Manson murders. Keen eyes will recognize George Macready, who has graduated from the first film and given a brief on-screen part. Also appearing late in the film are Poltergeist’s Craig T. Nelson and frequent Mel Brooks collaborator Rudy De Luca. Unfortunately, The Return of Count Yorga would be the last in what could have potentially been a fun series of horror films had the circumstances been different for everyone involved, particularly American International Pictures.
Count Yorga, Vampire was shot by cinematographer Arch Archambault on 35 mm film using Arriflex cameras, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video brings the film to Blu-ray once again with a new 2K restoration of a new 4K scan of the original camera negative. Why this film and its follow-up weren’t released in 4K Ultra HD, especially since these films have been released on Blu-ray several times prior, is unusual. Regardless, the film, presented here in the full, uncut version, is a pleasant upgrade with a high bit rate and refined levels of grain. Overall contrast is improved, including more solid blacks, though they occasionally appear lackluster, which is down to how the film was shot and not a fault of the master. Saturation is good with more natural flesh tones and richer primaries, especially reds which look more crimson than orange. Transitions are soft and minor speckling and scratches are visible, but it’s an organic presentation, and could only be improved upon in UHD.
The Return of Count Yorga was shot by cinematographer Bill Butler on 35 mm film using Arriflex cameras, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video also brings the film to Blu-ray again with a new 2K restoration of a new 4K scan of the original camera negative. More money was allotted to this film and it shows in terms of lighting and contrast. Blacks are much deeper, but this presentation doesn’t do them enough justice. The positives up front are that color and contrast are definitely boosted over previous Blu-ray releases. The bit rate is high and detail is generally strong. Saturation is good, although flesh tones appear a bit too pink at times. Unfortunately, the aforementioned black levels are too deep, occasionally crushed with obvious macroblocking, with particular regard to Count Yorga’s cloak and pants during the costume party scene. Grain is also extremely thick at times, despite resolving well enough elsewhere. This presentation also features more obvious speckling and damage, with occasional color breathing. It’s an improvement in many respects, but it needs a bit more. Again, in 4K Ultra HD with a High Dynamic Range color grade in Dolby Vision and HDR10, many of these concerns could be eliminated.
Audio is included in English mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. Both tracks offer good support for dialogue and score. Sound effects range from thin to a little more robust, but at the mercy of a single channel source. They’re also clean with no leftover damage or other issues.
COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B/A-/B+
THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C/B/B+
The Count Yorga Collection presents each film on separate Blu-ray discs in clear amaray cases with reversible inserts, featuring new artwork by Heather Vaughan on the front, and the original theatrical artwork on the reverse. Inside the case for Count Yorga, Vampire are four double-sided, lobby card reproductions and a reproduction of the original 16-page pressbook. Inside the case for The Return of Count Yorga are eight double-sided lobby card reproductions. Each case also contains a double-sided poster featuring the same artwork options as the inserts. Also included is a 60-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information for each film, the essays Count Yorga: An American Vampire in the North-East of England by Stephen Laws, A Tale of Unspeakable Cravings by Frank Collins, Count Yorga, Revolution and the Chthonic Female Vampire in 70s Genre Cinema by Kat Ellinger, My Dinner with Yorga by Tim Sullivan, restoration details for both films, and production credits. Everything is housed within a rigid slipcase that also features new artwork by Heather Vaughan. Each disc includes the following extras, all of them presented in HD:
DISC ONE: COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE
- Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas
- Audio Commentary by David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner
- The Count in California: The Sanguine Glory & Gothic Charms of Count Yorga (9:44)
- I Remember Yorga (14:53)
- A Vampire in L.A. (9:30)
- Fangirl Tribute to Robert Quarry (45:55)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:25)
- Radio Spot #1 (1:06)
- Radio Spot #2 (:35)
- Posters and Stills Image Gallery (82 in all)
- Tim Sullivan Archive Image Gallery (24 in all)
The new audio commentary with novelist and film critic Tim Lucas is excellent, as always, providing a wealth of information about the film and its cast and crew, as well as offering excerpts from interviews with the filmmakers, and examining vampire films made in this era and beyond. The archival commentary with critics and authors David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner was recorded in 2016, and it too is entertaining and informative. The difference is that it’s more of an appreciation of the film and those who were involved with it, discussing their work at length, particularly Robert Quarry. In The Count in California, Heather Drain narrates as Chris O’Neill edits together a new video essay that takes a look at Robert Quarry and his performance in both films. I Remember Yorga features a new interview with Frank Darabont, who professes his love for the film, having seen it when he was a child and having the wits scared out of him, and appreciating it in different ways as an adult and a filmmaker. A Vampire in L.A. is a new interview with Michael Murphy who enthusiastically and amusingly discusses working on the film with such a low budget. The Fangirl Radio Tribute to Robert Quarry features podcast host Jessica Dwyer and filmmaker Tim Sullivan discussing his friend Robert Quarry at length. The trailer is an HD re-creation. The two still galleries offer 106 images total. The first features 82 stills of posters, lobby cards, newspaper clippings, advertisements, personal photos, press photos, behind-the-scenes photos, and memorabilia. The second features 24 stills of photos of Tim Sullivan, Robert Quarry, and Frank Darabont together at various events, as well as film programs and magazine articles.
Not carried over from Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release is an isolated score audio track, an 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; and a 6-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Julie Kirgo. Also not included from the Wicked Vision Region B German Blu-ray release is the documentary Shocking Cinema.
DISC TWO: THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA
- Audio Commentary with Stephen R. Bissette
- Audio Commentary with David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner
- The Count and the Counterculture (18:13)
- Chamber-Music of Horrors (35:17)
- Count Yorga: An Appreciation by Kim Newman (33:02)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:40)
- Radio Spot #1 (:35)
- Radio Spot #2 (1:04)
- Stills Image Gallery (148 in all)
- Lobby Cards and Posters Image Gallery (12 in all)
The new audio commentary with film critic Stephen R. Bissette is a more fact-based commentary, highlighting many facets of the cast and crew, as well as the locations and story details. He fumbles a bit and goes quiet a few times, but he otherwise keeps things on track, reading off an enormous amount of details. The archival audio commentary with David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner is just as enjoyable as the first, although they do tend to repeat some of the same information over again. They’re also a bit more critical of Return than they were of the previous film, but being that it’s (in this reviewer’s opinion anyway) the lesser of the two, that’s understandable. In The Count and the Counterculture, film critic Maitland McDonagh examines how what was going on in the real world influenced cinema at the time, especially the Count Yorga films. Chamber-Music of Horrors features an interview with author and film music historian David Huckvale who discusses composer Bill Marx and his scores for both films, playing selections on the piano. In Kim Newman’s Appreciation, he discusses each film and the state of both horror and American International Pictures at the time, noting the Blacula films and how there should have been a successful crossover featuring the two characters (a gross oversight, indeed). The trailer is an HD re-creation. The two still galleries offer 160 images total. The first features 148 stills of production and press photos. The second features 12 stills of lobby cards and posters.
Not carried over from the Scream Factory Blu-ray release is an audio commentary with film historian Steve Haberman and actor Rudy De Luca, and a TV spot. Also not included from the Wicked Vision Region B German Blu-ray release is a video trailer and Trailers from Hell segments for both films.
The Count Yorga films still aren’t held in quite the same esteem as many other vampire-related horror films, particularly those from Hammer Films and Universal Pictures. It’s a shame that more weren’t produced and that Robert Quarry didn’t have the longevity of other notable genre icons, but his performances remain indelible, much in the same way that William Marshall was key to making the Blacula films a little more than just tongue-in-cheek. Arrow Video’s boxed set once again brings the films together under one roof, although it would be nice to someday see Deathmaster included, if for nothing else than for being a part of the Count Yorga legacy. These films, the first film in particular, are treasures, and these visual upgrades are excellent.
- Tim Salmons