Picking up Count Yorga, Vampire was one of American International Pictures’ smartest decisions as this cheap independent, produced for a five-figure budget, ended up raking in millions at the box office. Thus, it made perfect sense for A.I.P. to crank out a sequel, retaining the same star and writer/director. The Return Of Count Yorga doesn’t stray too far from the original in terms of plot but manages to find a number of interesting variations to keep the concept of its vampire antihero interesting.
This time around, Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) pops up as the new inhabitant of a creepy mansion that isn’t too far from an orphanage where Cynthia (Mariette Hartley) works. The vampire and his minions quickly begin picking away the people employed by the orphanage as well as any snoops that begin prying into their affairs – but Yorga can’t bring himself to kill Cynthia. He finds himself in the odd position of having feelings for her. Meanwhile, Cynthia’s fiancé David (Roger Perry) and a pair of disbelieving cops (Rudy DeLuca, Craig T. Nelson) begin to figure out the truth about Yorga, setting the stage for a vampires vs. humans battle.
The Return Of Count Yorga is often thought of as an example of the sequel-as-remake, kind of like Evil Dead II. There’s sometruth to that as both films have the same basic plot progression: the count stalks victims at a social gathering, he begins to pick off humans as a few mortals band together to oppose him and there is a castle-set finale with an escalating series of human/vampire skirmishes.
That said, The Return Of Count Yorga never feels like a retread because writers Bob Kelljan and Yvonne Wilder build in more setpieces and baroque flourishes than its modestly-budgeted predecessor could afford. There are a number of effective setpieces throughout the film, like a scene where an innocent kid playing ball can’t see he is being surrounded by vampires rising from their graves and a deaf-mute woman finding a roomful of corpses but being unable to scream. That said, the best might be a scene where a group of ravenous vampire brides break into a house and slaughter the screaming family inside – though free of blood, it’s one of the most intense and disturbing scenes of violence you’ll see in any PG-rated horror film.
More importantly, The Return Of Count Yorga has its antihero experiencing an existential crisis. In Count Yorga, Vampire, the titular character was a cynical and arrogant superman who sneered at the weaknesses and fears of the mortals he preyed upon. In the sequel, he finds himself feeling pangs of love and not knowing how to deal with it. The film uses this element with a wise subtlety, going more for quiet tragedy rather than romantic melodrama.
Finally, The Return Of Count Yorga is a more polished film than its predecessor because it had a bit more money to work with and Kelljan had developed the confidence and comfort with his material that comes from success. He gives the film a baroque treatment, using the talents of future Jaws cinematographer Bill Butler to experiment with colored lighting and slow motion. There’s also some effective flash-cut editing deployed when Cynthia experiences flashbacks. The resulting film has a bracing style and an edgy, downbeat atmosphere that it maintains right up to the final shot.
In short, The Return Of Count Yorga is a worthy sequel because it builds on the original film’s success while trying out some interesting new angles to give the proceedings their own feel. Anyone who appreciated Count Yorga, Vampire should check it out.
Blu-Ray Notes: This title was just issued on blu-ray by Scream Factory. The transfer looks impressive, offering a lot of fine detail and vivid colors, particularly during the eye-popping flashback bits. The lossless audio sticks to the original mono mix and is free of defects or distortion.
Scream Factory has also included a few extras. The biggest is a commentary track featuring film historian Steve Haberman and actor Rudy DeLuca. Haberman covers the saga of the Yorga films with an impressive amount of detail, including a lot of biographical info on Quarry and Kelljan as well as some thoughtful commentary on how the Yorga films represented a reinvention of the vampire myth. DeLuca offers memories of the shoot and his collaborators, including details on how he got the job and his working relationship with Kelljan. A trailer, a few radio spots and an expansive image gallery close things out.
To read Schlockmania’s review of Count Yorga, Vampire, click here.