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COUNT YORGA



THE GORY GLORY OF COUNT YORGA


By Dr. Abner Mality

Who out there remembers the name of Robert Quarry? Ah, I see the true horror fans among you nod in recognition. Shame there are so few of you these days. Yes, the glory days of Mr. Quarry were rather brief but they were potent...potent enough to guarantee him residence in that rarest of pantheons: legends of the horror film.

You can't mention Robert Quarry without bringing up his greatest creation, Count Yorga. The good Count ruled the early 70's and for a few delirious years, Yorga rivalled Dracula as the vampire supreme. It was Count Yorga who brought the gory antics of the cultured old world bloodsucker to the hip and happening California of the early 70's. The runaway success of "Count Yorga, Vampire" opened the floodgates of contemporary vampire films like "Dracula AD 1972", "The Velvet Vampires" and even "The Nightstalker".

How is it that Quarry and Yorga are so little remembered today, except by fans of cult film? I don't know, but in this article, I, Dr. Abner Mality, the Avenger of the Undead, shall shine a light upon both men!

"Count Yorga, Vampire" was released in 1970, the absolute heyday of both drive-in cinema and American International Pictures. Those two items go together like peanut butter and chocolate. They are almost impossible to separate. Movies were running wild and free back then and anything went. It was the diametric opposite to the corporate controlled boredom of today. AIP was always looking for exploitation oriented features they could make a buck on. An actor turned director named Bob Kelljan was looking to do a modern day vampire flick with a generous dosage of softcore sex. The movie would be called "The Loves of Count Iorga".

A.I.P. was interested in Kelljan's take on the film and gave the go-ahead. Kelljan also got the financial backing of young actor Michael Macready, the son of well-known character actor George Macready. Macready had made the acquaintence of a cultured California thespian named Robert Quarry that he thought would be perfect for the title role of "Count Iorga". Quarry took a look at the script and said he would be interested in the role if much of the softcore sex was excluded. Kelljan agreed and Quarry assumed the role that would give him his greatest fame. The name of the character was also changed to "Count Yorga". The decision to focus more on horror than sex was a wise one and led to much larger bookings for the movie.

Quarry was an intriguing man with an interesting and often tragic lifestory. He graduated from high school at the age of 14 and had an IQ registered at 168, which put him well into Mensa territory. He was a veteran of World War II and was believed to have been a love interest of Katharine Hepburn at one time. He was also a top notch chef who studied at the Cordon Bleu School in Manhattan and was the author of a best selling cookbook "Wonderfully Simple Recipes for Simply Wonderful Food". He started his acting career in radio and had many roles in film and TV, but none that really gave him the boost he needed. That is, until he found Count Yorga. It seems this was the part he was made for.

When the movie was released as "Count Yorga, Vampire"  in 1970, it caused a sensation with the way it merged classic Hammer-style vampire concepts with the contemporary and "swinging" scene of 70's California. Unlike today when film-makers feel vampires must be "updated", Count Yorga retained much of his old world style and charm. Yet Quarry's cooly sardonic and poised performance insured the Count would not be a complete anachronism. He could move amongst the mod California set with ease and assurance.


Let us dive a little deeper into the plot of "Count Yorga, Vampire"...

The ominous opening narration of George MacCready sets the tone for the film. MacCready ruminates on the existence of vampires as we see a pickup truck take some mysterious cargo through the busy highways of modern California. We eventually see that cargo is a coffin.

We cut to a seance at the swank abode of the cultured Bulgarian Count Yorga. Yorga is trying to reach the recently deceased mother of Donna. Also at the seance are Donna's boyfriend Michael and her friends Erica and Paul. Paul is deeply skeptical of the superstitious mumbo jumbo but when Donna becomes overcome with fear and collapses, things get tense. Yorga calms the hysterical woman down with what seems to be hypnosis but is actually his vampiric power of mind control, as we later discover.

When Paul and Erica leave for the night, they take their van up Yorga's VERY long private road. Although there was no rain that night, the van mysteriously gets stuck in a deep mud bog. After some grumbling where Paul asks Erica to "move her fat ass and help" (to which she sharply replies "My ass is NOT fat!"), the pair realize they are stuck for the night. They resort to doing what any young California couple would do in a van on a darkened road...they have sex. Unbeknownst to them, the undead eyes of Count Yorga are watching. The Count attacks the pair and knocks Paul out before turning his fangs on the very attractive Erica...

Paul and Erica awaken with no memory of their attacker. But Paul has clearly been beaten up and the usually vivacious Erica is now sullen and withdrawn, as well as sporting two wounds on her neck. The duo visit the eccentric Dr. Hayes to see what is going on. Played by Roger Perry, who was also in the sequel "The Return of Count Yorga", Hayes is on the goofy and klutzy side. He clearly has his own eye for a pretty lady, as he keeps a gorgeous blonde as his secretary and is later seen fielding a call while in bed with a hot brunette. The whacky discussion between Hayes and his less than intellectual bedmate is a highlight of the Yorga movies and demonstrates they have a well-developed sense of humor.

When Paul and Hayes go to visit Erica, they are shocked to find the apartment trashed and Erica trying to eat her pet kitten! This is a powerful scene that was edited in many versions of the movie but is in all its revolting glory on the current DVD releases. Erica becomes violent but is restrained. For the first time, Hayes brings up suspicions of vampirism, which Paul and Michael find ridiculous. But they do bring up the name of Count Yorga as a connection to the strange goings on and the men promise to investigate the mysterious foreigner.

Yorga cannot resist his attraction to Erica. He pays a visit to her and drains the rest of her blood, making her the latest of his undead "brides" that he keeps as a kind of vampire harem. Among those brides is Donna's mother. When Paul awakens from sleep and finds Erica gone, he rashly decides to visit Yorga's estate and confront the Count himself. That proves to be a fatal mistake. Paul falls prey to Yorga's grotesque human servant, Bruddah. Bruddah at first appears almost comical, a ridiculously ugly slob in unkempt clothes with a severe overbite. As played by Edward Walsh, he winds up being a degenerate of the first order and Yorga's guardian during the daylight hours.

With Paul and Erica both missing, Michael and Donna are now much more open to Dr. Hayes' idea that Yorga may be a vampire. Hayes has an idea to pay Yorga a late night visit to not only look for his missing friends, but to see if he can keep the Count awake until dawn. If Yorga becomes anxious at the approaching sunrise, it will confirm his vampirism.

They make their way to the mansion in the dead of night. Hayes engages Yorga in an awkward conversation about the occult and the existence of vampires while Michael sneaks off to search for Paul and Erica. But Bruddah prevents Michael from getting very far and finally Yorga verbally out-maneuvers Hayes, forcing he and his friends to leave before daybreak. Meanwhile, Yorga is mentally strengthening his hold over Donna, who seems to be in a trance like state.



Hayes is now completely convinced that Yorga is an actual vampire. He informs Michael and Donna that Paul and Erica are almost certainly dead and may have become vampires themselves. The police will be no help. Michael and Dr. Hayes will need to return to Yorga's mansion during afternoon, armed with crosses and stakes, there to kill any vampires they find. An exhausted Michael sleeps while Hayes continues to research occult lore until he also sleeps. A mind-controlled Donna makes sure both men will slumber until sundown and she leaves to join Count Yorga himself. She is met by the brutish Bruddah who cannot contain his own lust and apparently rapes her.

When Michael and Hayes awaken, they find the sun is gone and so is Donna. They know what they are up against and must face it themselves, without any outside help. They grimly head to the mansion of Count Yorga, for the final confrontation with the ageless and blood-thirsty Count...

I won't spill the beans on what happens, but if you keep in mind that this is the early 70's, you'll know who is usually triumphant in battles of good vs. evil. Here the results are decidedly mixed...

Coming in at a brisk 93 minutes, "Count Yorga, Vampire" was perfect drive-in movie fodder for 1970, with a mixture of old school chills and modern, sardonic wit. The movie became a sensation and suddenly the horror pantheon added Robert Quarry to the list that included Price, Lee and Karloff. With his perfect diction and cold, restrained charm, Quarry made for an excellent vampire count. His real evil shines through in his final confrontation with Hayes, where he mocks the doctor by sarcastically yelling for Michael to come and save him.

A.I.P. had a new star on its hands. A sequel, "The Return of Count Yorga", was commissioned almost as soon as the original wrapped. Quarry was also cast in a very Yorga-like role in the low budget movie "The Deathmaster". Even more importantly, there were briefly plans to team Yorga with A.I.P's other great creation of the 70's, the Abominable Dr. Phibes, as played by Vincent Price. Unfortunately that never came to fruition and Quarry co-starred in a different role with Price in "Dr. Phibes Rises Again". Incidentally, the two men did not get along.  Quarry once belted out some opera in Price's dressing room and asked "I'll bet you didn't know I could sing, did you?", to which Price acidly replied "Well, I know you couldn't act."


Despite his other roles, Quarry would always be associated with Count Yorga. The sequel was strange in that it ignored much of what happened in the first film.  It has a more eerie, dream-like feel to it and in many ways is more nightmarish than its predecessor. Bob Kelljan returned to direct the film and in addition to Quarry's return, Roger Perry was back as well, but playing a different character than Dr. Hayes. The gruesome Bruddah also returned to serve Yorga again.

The film takes place around an isolated, forested orphanage during the season of the warm Santa Ana winds, which are thought to bring evil tidings. The opening of the movie is an unforgettable scene of 70's horror. The young orphan boy Tommy is playing ball by himself in the twilight forest as the hot winds blow. He passes by an overgrown graveyard and we hear voices on the wind saying "it is time...rise, rise". Cold hands reach out of the ground. Yorga's vampire brides have awakened from slumber and they silently stalk the unknowing child. Finally, Tommy sees them and runs for his life...into the clutches of a glowering Count Yorga.

At the orphanage, the lovely young teacher Cynthia Nelson (played by Mariette Hartley, who was James Garner's associate in some memorable camera commercials) is getting ready for a costume party held at the orphanage. The party is also attended by Cynthia's family, the pastor Reverent Thomas and her fiancee, David Baldwin (a bearded Roger Perry). Plus there is another guest...Count Yorga, who introduces himself as a foreign tycoon who has just bought a nearby abandoned mansion. There's some clever dialogue between Yorga and the party-goers. One tipsy woman asks him, "where are your fangs?", to which he drolly replies "where are your manners?".

When Yorga spies Cynthia, we immediately realize he is strongly drawn to her. We've seen what his attraction has done to other women in the past, but this time he seems genuinely smitten.

After the party is over, Cynthia and her family are gathered in the living room of their house. Along with her parents, Cynthia's sister Ellen is also there...and so is Tommy, the young boy we saw at the beginning of the movie. He apparently resides with the Nelson family. It is an ominous evening, with moaning winds rushing through the trees. In a shocking attack almost reminiscent of the zombies assaulting the house in "Night of the Living Dead", Yorga's undead brides burst through the windows and violently assault the family. Mr. and Mrs Nelson are slaughtered outright, Ellen is drained of blood so she can become another vampire bride and Cynthia herself is knocked out and abducted, though she is not bitten. Silently and blandly watching the killing is Tommy. This whole sequence is unnerving.

When Cynthia wakes, she is in Yorga's mansion. The Count has used his hypnotic powers to convince her she has been in a severe car accident and must rest and recover with him. Yorga is reluctant to merely "vampirize" Cynthia...he seems to determined to win her love first. This is a course that Yorga's private witch has warned him will lead to his destruction.

Meanwhile, Jennifer, the Nelson's housekeeper who cannot speak, discovers the carnage at the Nelson home, with bodies strewn about and the place in a shambles. Horrified, she grabs a sleeping Tommy and goes to the police. But when the police return to the home, the bodies are gone and the rooms are in perfect order. Moreover, Tommy denies ever seeing or hearing anything wrong, leaving the police to think Jennifer is crazy.

Cynthia's fiancee David Baldwin is very suspcious of her sudden disappearance and the disappearance of her family. His attention is drawn to Count Yorga in the neighboring mansion. Ellen's husband Jason is also frantically looking for her and Tommy tells him he can find her at the Count's estate. He leads him there, where he does indeed find Ellen...as a cruelly sadistic vampire bride of Yorga. When Ellen and her fellow female vampires are done feeding on Jason, his body is taken by Bruddah to a pool of quicksand...where Mr and Mrs Nelson have already been disposed of.

With all the strange disappearances, David remembers tales of vampire murders near the orphanage years before. He begins to believe that Yorga is a vampire responsible for the mayhem. He involves Pastor Thomas and 2 highly cynical cops (one of which is played by a very young Craig T. Nelson) in a plan to investigate Yorga's mansion. Armed with stakes, crosses and garlic, David and the police make their move, while the Pastor tries to distract Yorga.

At the mansion, all hell breaks loose, as you might expect, as all the competing forces meet. Yorga is slowly losing mental control over Cynthia, as she is regaining memories of the vampire attack on her family, but he still refuses to transform her. Once again, I will not reveal the ultimate resolution, but I will say it is a kind of inversion of the ending of the first film, reversing male and female roles. And in this case, the ending is even more chilling when you think about it.


"The Return of Count Yorga" was another brisk 70's horror film, perfect for a warm night at the drive-in, a tub of popcorn and maybe a few beers. Robert Quarry delivered another strong performance as the bloody count and the movie was a combination of true horror and black humor. By far the most disturbing aspect of the film was how the all-American kid Tommy seemed to be a willing part of the horrors, leading people to their death, lying to the police and acting as an accomplice in Yorga's schemes. The mute character Jennifer was also unique for this kind of film and the scene where she slaps Tommy after he lies about the murders has a sting.

One would have thought that a successful string of B-movies starring Count Yorga would have been in the cards. And indeed, plans were drawn up for the third Yorga movie that would have had him ruling a vampire kingdom in the sewers of Los Angeles. But the movie was never made and then in the late 70's, the whole movie landscape drastically changed with the arrival of the high-tech mega-blockbuster "Star Wars". Such movies signalled the rise of the megaplex and the end of the low-budget studios like A.I.P. Also, horror tastes started to switch to slashers like "Halloween", rendering horror icons like Vincent Price and Robert Quarry passe.

So Yorga returned only once and Robert Quarry faded into the sunset, never to regain the brief stardom that the Bulgarian blood-sucker provided for him. Unfortunately, Quarry's story was not a particularly happy one. He had already survived a bout with cancer in the 1960's. In 1980, he was severely injured after being hit by a drunk driver. It took him many months to recover and his face was never completely healed from those injuries. To make things worse, he was brutally mugged later in the 80's and was so badly beaten that he was often confined to a wheelchair.

Those two disasters left him in dire financial straits and he retreated from public life until the notorious schlock director Fred Olen Ray convinced him to star in an ultra-low-budget film called "Cyclone" in 1987. From that point on, Ray was a lifeline for Quarry, keeping him working steadily through the 1990's. But by the year 2000, his health had deteriorated to such a point that he could no longer work. In 2009 at the age of 83, the man who had given life to Count Yorga passed away.

The Yorga films remains a fond memory for many children of the 1970's. Their mixture of contemporary grit and classic vampirism certainly influenced the highly successful "Night Stalker" TV movie and over the years, many looked back at those movies as a fun part of their lives. I know I do. Hopefully, this humble article helps to perpetuate the memory of both Count Yorga and Robert Quarry.