This sequel to COUNTY YORGA, VAMPIRE benefits from a slightly bigger budget and a considerably glossier look to the cinematography. Other than that, it recreates the formula of the first film, transplanted to the San Francisco Bay area, while emphasizing the campy humor and adding a love story.
Despite its title, the script does not’ bother to explain the return of the Count (or of his henchman Brudha either, both of whom were dispatched at the end of the previous film). Yorga simply shows up, taking residence in an old house near an orphanage on the isolated outskirts of San Francisco. At a costume party (where Yorga loses the “most convincing costume” award to someone in a goofy vampire outfit), Yorga becomes smitten by Cynthia Nelson (Mariette Hartley), who works at the orphanage. The Count dispatches his decaying vampire brides to kidnap her, slaughtering her family in the process (a sequence that evokes both NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the Tate-LaBianca murders). Her memory blanked out by shock, Cynthia is kept prisoner in Yorga’s mansion while the Count tries to win her love. Meanwhile, Dr. David Baldwin (Roger Perry, returning from COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE!) suspects Yorga is responsible for Cynthia’s disappearance. He enlists the aid of a couple of bumbling police officers (Rudy De Luca and Craig T. Nelson), who raid Yorga’s mansion but fall prey to the various dangers that lurk within (not only the vampire women but also a young boy named Tommy, who has fallen under the vampire’s spell). Baldwin is apparently dispatched but mysteriously re-appears, pursuing Yorga as he tries to escape with Cynthia. Regaining her memory, Cynthia buries an ax in Yorga’s chest, expecting to be happily reunited with Baldwin, but…
The second YORGA film suffers slightly from a been-there-done-that feeling (even a variation on the original film’s twist ending is reprised). Like before, the story takes place in an isolated location that undermines the sense of an immortal being walking the streets of a modern metropolis. To give some sense of the Bay Area setting, director Robert Kelljan once again offers up a dialogue scene that consists voice-overs laid on top of a montage of location shooting (this time in San Francisco, of course). Fortunately, he also includes a brief sequence wherein Yorga stalks a victim in a local nightspot, pursuing them to a small yacht docked on a peer.
The story has an interesting premise, with Yorga actually falling in love with a potential victim, but the pacing also suffers once Cynthia has been imprisoned. She wanders around a bit, looking confused and distraught, but the vampire’s attempts to win her over (as opposed to forcibly taking her) never really materialize.
On the plus side, there are a handful of interesting ideas. Yorga’s subtle disdain seen in COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE here becomes outright put-downs. The seductive vampire women of the first film are replaced by decayed female vamps who more resemble zombies. Little Tommy makes a pretty good impression as a “Bad Seed” whose innocent appearance belies the alliance with the Count (an alliance that is implied but never shown; we only guess it from Tommy’s sometimes murderous actions). There’s also an unexplained old crone, apparently a witch, whom Yorga consults about his plans for Cynthia; in typically oracular fashion, she mocks his plan and warns that it will lead to her doom.
The horror scenes still work (Yorga’s attack on the dock is nicely visualized, with the camera peering up at the Count from beneath the rippling surface of the water), but the humor is emphasized more heavily. In fact, RETURN OF COUNT YORGA mutates into outright comedy once the police officers make the mistake of accosting the undead vampire-zombies in Yorga’s mansion and trying to read them their rights. The subsequent panic and frenzied escape attempt suggests an Abbott and Costello movie, but the film uses the laughs to set up the next shock, as both officers meet a bloody demise.
Overall, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA is not quite a match for its predecessor, but it is a decent follow-up. The supporting cast (especially Hartley as the love interest-victim) is stronger this time out, and the production values are a bit more polished, adding a nice atmospheric sheen to the proceedings. Still, the smooth gloss somewhat diminishes the rough texture that gave COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE its memorable edge.
At the costume party, someone asks Yorga (who is dressed in evening clothes and a cape), “Where are your fangs?” Yorga replies, “Where are your manners?” In the same scene, the Count watches with distaste as a young, would-be musician pounds away loudly on a piano. When the aspiring rocker asks whether Yorga likes this kind of music, the Count responds, “Only when it’s played well.”
Both YORGA films were produced by Michael Macready (who co-stars in the first). Macready is the son of character actor George Macready (co-star of the 1946 classic GILDA), who supplied the voice over narration in the first film. Here, George Macready has a brief humorous cameo as a senile vampire expert, who is also hard of hearing. (Asked for help defeating Yorga, the old man replies, “Yoga? What does yoga have to do with vampires? You haven’t read my book!”)
Actor Roger Perry, who played Yorga’s nemesis in COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, returns in a similar role here, again playing a doctor who comes to realize that the Count is a vampire.
Rudy DeLuca, who plays a police detective here, is more well known as a comic actor and writer. Although he initially plays the role straight, his penchant for humor emerges with a vengeance when he and his partner (played by Craig T. Nelson, who went on to star in POLTERGEIST) encounter the living dead.
Robert Quarry reprises his role as Count Yorga. On the strength of COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, which was picked up for distribution by American International Pictures, the actor landed a contract with AIP, which produced this sequel and also cast him opposite Vincent Price in DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1971) and MADHOUSE (1973). Quarry was being groomed to replace Price as AIP’s in-house horror star; unfortunately for him, the horror cycle died out soon thereafter, as AIP moved into making blaxploitation films instead of horror.
Quarry also executive produced and starred in a third vampire film called THE DEATHMASTER, about a Manson-like vampire guru named Khorda. Although technically a different character from Yorga, American International Pictures confused the issue by using the tagline “The Deathmaster is back from the Grave” in their poster art for RETURN OF COUNT YORGA.
There was talk of a third YORGA film, which never materialized. (In an interview in “Monsters of the Movies” magazine, Quarry said there was even some talk of making Yorga a character in DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN.) Many years later, Quarry said the third Yorga was scuttled by producer Michael Macready, who refused to relinquish the rights and insisted on directing any future sequel.
THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA(1971). Directed by Bob Kelljan. Written by Kelljan & Yvonne Wilder. Cast: Robert Quarry, Mariette Hartley, Roger Perry, Yvonne Wilder, Tom Toner, Rudy De Luca, Philip Frame, George Macready, Walter Brooke, Edward Walsh, Craig T. Nelson.
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