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The Count Yorga Collection (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • The Count Yorga Collection (Arrow Video) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: October 25th, 2022.
    Director: Bob Kelljan
    Cast: Michael Murphy, Donna Anderson, Roger Perry, Robert Quarry, Michael Macready, Roger Perry, Robert Quarry, Mariette Hartley, Tom Toner
    Year: 1970, 1971
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Count Yorga Collection – Movie Review:

    Arrow brings together both of director Bob Kelljan’s Count Yorga films from the early seventies in one handy collection.

    Count Yorga, Vampire:

    AIP's 1970 film Count Yorga, Vampire (or, if you prefer, The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire as the title card calls it) began life as a sexier take on cinematic vampirism but changed along the way into a more traditional take on the children of the night. It's interesting to think about what could have been, but so too is it interesting to revisit what is, and while this picture may be a traditional take on vampires like earlier entries we've seen from Universal and then Hammer, it's still definitely got its own thing going on thanks in no small part to the presence of Robert Quarry.

    Set in what as the Los Angeles of the modern day in 1970, the film introduces us to the suave titular Count (played by Quarry) who lives a life of luxury in the City Of Angels. Not the loaner holed up in a castle that other vampires have been, Yorga has an oddball circle of friends, or at the very least curious hangers on, who tend to socialize with him at séances and other mysterious, mystical, occult related events. Yet, Yorga is no young man, no L.A. trendsetter out to party it up, but rather he's proven, though existing as long as he has, that he's in it for the long haul. Some days are more exciting than others for our suave vampire, the ones that tend to involve seducing beautiful young women tend to be especially rewarding, but honestly it's the fact that nobody believes in vampires anymore that lets him get away with what he gets away with.

    One night, after one such gathering, Yorga is driven home by Paul (Michael Murphy) and his girlfriend Erica (Judy Lang). He invites them in, but they decline and instead opt to go fool around in Paul's van not too far from where the drop the good Count off. Of course, Yorga knows what they're up to and arrives just in time to get what he wants and if the next morning Erica should wake up with bite marks on her neck, well, she doesn't really remember any possible way that Yorga could have been involved in something like that. She visits her doctor, Doctor Jim Hayes (Roger Perry), and then heads back to her regular life unaware that Yorga is trying to turn her into one of his vampire brides. Paul figures this out before she does and both he and Doctor Jim start to wonder if Yorga really isn't a vampire after all… but will the old fashioned methods of taking out vampires that they know of actually work?

    Count Yorga, Vampire was a big hit for AIP the year it was released and it's easy to see why - this one is a crowd pleaser. There is a sense of humor behind much of the picture but it never winks at the camera or takes things too far into silly territory as to fall out of favor with genre fans. Yorga, when he wants to be, is quite fierce and Quarry plays him with the right balance of suave upper class sophistication and menace. The guy had great screen presence and director Bob Kelljan puts that screen presence to work in a big way. Quarry gets lots of screen time here, a decent amount of dialogue and he just flat out looks cool. We buy him in the part. Quarry very definitely makes an impression here. The supporting cast members are also fine. Michael Murphy might make an unlikely hero but he and Roger Perry, also an unlikely hero, make it work. Judy Lang is essentially the female lead here and she's beautiful enough that we can understand why she would become the object of Yorga's obsession.

    Generally Kelljan paces the movie reasonably well. The film is certainly well shot and it also benefits from a really strong musical score. The modern setting helps to differentiate this from so many of its predecessors and while there are some scenes that are a little too talky for their own good for the most part Count Yorga, Vampire is a film that hits all the right notes at mostly all the right moments.

    The Return Of Count Yorga:

    Bob Kelljan's follow up to his original Count Yorga (made for American International Pictures a year prior) once again stars the late, great Robert Quarry in the title role. When the film beings, Count Yorga is living outside of San Francisco in a quiet town where he winds up getting involved with a local orphanage run by Cynthia Nelson (Mariette Hartley) and Reverend Thomas (Tom Toner). He's not doing this out of the goodness of his heart, mind you, but instead using it as a convenient source of sustenance.

    He accomplishes this when the orphanage holds a costume party that he attends and while nobody really seems to know who this strange man is, they're friendly enough to him, particularly Cynthia. She is attracted to the stranger and it would seem the attraction is mutual much to the dismay of her fiancé, David (Roger Perry). As she falls further under Yorga's spell, David starts to put two and two together and realizes that Yorga is indeed an actual vampire. Getting the local authorities to believe him, let alone do something about it, however… that's a whole different ball game.

    This second Yorga film (a third was planned but never made) doesn't reinvent the wheel but it does what it does quite well, and that's to allow leading man Robert Quarry the chance to strut his stuff. His Yorga can be quite fierce at times, the camera accentuating these primal traits more than once by shooting him straight on almost as if he were in the sites of a rifle, but it's really Quarry's screen presence that makes the biggest impression. The guy had class and style but so too did he have an ominous and dark tone to his persona, at least on camera. This makes him quite well suited to playing a part such as this and here he makes the most of it.

    The supporting cast is also fun. Mariette Hartley is just plain charming as Cynthia, as attractive in the part as she is endearing. You can see why Yorga might take a liking to her and want to induct her into his own personal harem, and if her naiveté is a vampire movie cliché, well, at least she plays it well. Tom Toner is decent in his supporting role as the kindly priest and if Roger Perry (who was in the first movie but playing a completely different character) isn't the world's most dashing hero, he too does just fine here.

    Actor turned director Bob Kelljan, who would soon direct Scream Blacula Scream and Act Of Vengeance (better known as motherfucking Rape Squad!) knows how to pace a movie well and this picture is proof positive of that. The film goes at a good pace, it's never dull, and even when it does occasionally slow down Quarry is able to carry it and Kelijan is willing to let him. The cinematography is nice and often quite atmospheric and the effects work is even occasionally a bit creepy. Toss in an interesting score from composer Bill Marx and some effective humor that never once feels out of place and this one, if not all that original, does prove to be both well-made and ridiculously entertaining.

    The Count Yorga Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    Arrow presents Count Yorga, Vampire in a new 2k restoration and The Return of Count Yorga from a new 4K restoration, both taken from the original 35mm camera negatives and presented on their own 50GB discs in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Both movies look really strong here, showing impressive detail and excellent color reproduction. There are no noticeable compression artifacts and, overall, very little print damage to note at all, just the odd white speck now and again. The natural film grain you’d want is retained and there is no evidence of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement here. Both movies look really good, there’s impressive depth and texture throughout.

    Both films are presented in 24-bit DTS-HD Mono with optional English SDH subtitles provided. Audio quality is also very good. Both movies sound crisp and clean, there are no problems with any hiss, distortion or sibilance. Levels are always properly balanced and there’s some pretty good depth here, especially when it comes to the scores used in the movies.

    Count Yorga, Vampire:

    A brand new audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas starts off the extras on the first disc. As is typical of Lucas’ commentary tracks, it’s a very detailed and well-researched discussion that covers a lot of ground. He notes that the film is the first serious vampire movie to take place in modern times, goes over the different title sequence used on the title cards for this issue, American International’s contract system and how they came to distribute the movie, the quality of Robert Quarry’s performance in the film and the importance of his presence, details on the different cast and crew members that worked on the picture, thoughts on some of the character motivations and themes that the movie explores, the film’s release history and plenty more. This is well done and worth listening to.

    The disc also includes an archival commentary featuring David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan that is quite a solid dissertation of the picture. These guys know their stuff, anyone who has heard their recent commentaries on other genre film releases can tell you that, and this well paced talk covers where AIP was at when they came up with the Count Yorga character, the film's impact at the box office, Quarry's history and -importance to this film, plenty of biographical information and trivia relating to all of the key cast and crew members and quite a bit more.

    The Count in California is a new appreciation by Heather Drain and Chris O’Neill that runs just short of ten minutes. This featurette goes over the popularity of vampire movies before then talking about what sets Count Yorga apart from the pack, Quarry's performance and what he brings to the character, the quality of the visuals and how they set up certain scenes in the movie, the wardrobe on display in the movie, when the audience can and should connect with Yorga's character and the legacy of both the movie and it's star. It's a good dissection of the film worth checking out.

    I Remember Yorga is a new fifteen minute talk with Frank Darabont where he talks about seeing the film for the first time as a kid, revisiting it as an adult and how both experiences were very different. He then goes on to talk about how his upbringing made seeing the film at eleven made it quite terrifying, what made the film frightening both as a kid and as an adult, the quality of the acting and the production values and quite a bit more. Darabont's enthusiasm for the movie is pretty infectious.

    A Vampire in L.A. is a new interview with actor Michael Murphy that runs just under ten minutes. He speaks here about his background and how he got into acting, his thoughts on the script for Count Yorga and how he landed the role in the movie, memories of shooting certain scenes, how the movie was made on a pretty low budget, thoughts on working with Quarry and his performance, thoughts on his own character, getting along with the different cast members and working with Bob Kelljan.

    Fangirl Radio Tribute to Robert Quarry is an audio supplement is included in the form of the forty-six minute long Fangirl Radio Tribute To Robert Quarry in which Tim Sullivan and Fangirl Radio's Jessica Dwyer get together to discuss the actors like and work. They cover his AIP films in a good bit of detail but also discuss what happened to him after his AIP glory days were behind him and the many tragedies that befell the man in his later years.

    The film’s original theatrical trailer, a few radio spots and two separate image galleries finish up disc one, which also includes menus and chapter selection options.

    The Return Of Count Yorga:

    A brand new audio commentary by film critic/comic book legend Stephen R. Bissette starts off the extras on disc two. He talks about some of the locations that the movie used, anecdotes about Quarry's relationship with Vincent Price, details on pretty much all of the cast members that pop up in the film, the odd trend of orphans and orphanages in early seventies cinema, the cult like qualities of Yorga's brides, details on the writing team that worked on the movie, thoughts on the different characters and their arcs, American International's promotion of the film, the influence of Night Of The Living Dead on both Yorga films, the quality of the production values and how the film was received. It's a worthwhile track, Bissette knows his stuff.

    Up next is an archival audio commentary by David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner that goes over Quarry's career in quite a bit of detail and how the film connects to The Deathmaster, visual connections to Spirits Of The Dead and Kill Baby Kill, Quarry's career overall, the state of AIP at the time this movie was made, Bob Kelljan's career, notes on the cast and crew and lots more.

    The Count and the Counterculture is a new interview with film critic Maitland McDonagh that runs for eighteen minutes. She talks about how the movies, despite being released in the seventies, are movies of the sixties as they reflect what happened after the Manson Murders and mirror the destruction of the so-called American Dream. She then goes on to talk about how Yorga himself can be seen as am embodiment of the viciousness of American culture, how the visuals reflect this in certain scenes, the metaphorical aspects of vampire teeth, the predatory aspects of vampire movies and their place as sexual beings no longer constrained by social norms and plenty more. Lots of food for thought here, it's pretty interesting stuff.

    Chamber-music of Horrors is a new interview with David Huckvale about the scores for both films that runs for thirty-five minutes. Here, Huckvale does a pretty deep dive into William Marx's life and times, covering his life as an orphan, how he was adopted by Harpo Marx and his wife Susan, how William came to learn about music. From here, Huckvale explores some of the music itself using his piano, explaining the relationships that certain pieces form with both the film and the audience, why certain instruments are used in certain scenes, the significance of the use of specific notes and more. Anyone interested in film scores should appreciate this.

    The disc also contains an archival interview with film critic Kim Newman running just over thirty-three minutes. Here, Newman reviews the sleeper hit status of the original film, Bob Kelljan's work on the picture, AIP's involvement in the movie, the lack of nudity in the movie and its use of only mild gore, the impact that the locations have on the movie, where the name Count Yorga came from, Quarry's performance and how it compares to other famous actors who have played vampires over the years, the second film and its use of Manson references, the way that Yorga treats people in the movies, the film's connection to Starsky & Hutch and how the movie was made in a transitional phase between Corman's Poe films and the Hammer Films and the advent of important American seventies horror pictures.

    The film’s original theatrical trailer, a few radio spots and two separate image galleries finish up disc one, which also includes menus and chapter selection options.

    As Arrow has only sent test discs for review, we can’t comment on any packaging or inserts but should a finished release be made available, we’ll gladly update this review accordingly.

    The Count Yorga Collection - The Final Word:

    Arrow’s Blu-ray release of The Count Yorga Collection offers up both films in the series in very nice presentations with a host of new and archival extras to cover their history and importance. As to the movies themselves, they hold up very well as unique and interesting takes on an overplayed genre thanks to some smart direction and great acting from Quarry. Recommended!

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