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Sunday, October 23, 2016

HubrisWeen 4, Day 18: The Return of Count Yorga (1971)


HubrisWeen is a 26-day blogging marathon where a seasonally-appropriate movie gets reviewed every day from October 6 to the 31st in alphabetical order. Click on the banner above this message to go to the central site and see what Checkpoint Telstar and the other participants are covering today.



Screenplay by Bob Kelljan and Yvonne Wilder
Directed by Bob Kelljan

Robert Quarry:  Count Yorga
Mariette Hartley:  Cynthia Nelson
Walter Brooke:  Bill Nelson
Yvonne Wilder:  Jennifer Nelson
Karen Ericson:  Ellen Nelson
Helen Baron:  Liza Nelson
Roger Perry:  Dr. David Baldwin
Edward Walsh:  Brudda
Philip Frame:  Tommy

And Craig T. Nelson making his cinematic debut as Sgt. O'Connor

Well, you can't keep a good monster down. Despite the fact that he was staked to death in the previous film, American-International Productions hired Bob Kelljan to write and direct a sequel to their vampire-in-modern-times movie, getting Robert Quarry back to portray the Count again. Well, movies--especially exploitation movies--are commerce first and art by accident. So we get The Return of Count Yorga despite the fact that he was turned into a human-shaped dust pile at the end of his debut film. Fine, whatever. He's a supernatural creature and there's no hard-and-fast rules for how many times he an return from the grave. But how the hell did Brudda, his brutish Renfield, also come back to life? I'm afraid "there was a wind that is kinda a bad omen" doesn't cut it, but that's as much of an explanation as you're going to get from this flick. There was a third Yorga movie planned but never made; perhaps if this one wasn't such a chore to sit through we'd have had a trilogy.

The credits roll over static shots of Count Yorga's mansion, empty rooms and flickering candle flames being the dominant motifs. Then there's a long shot of a kid kicking a ball and chasing it down, and an establishing shot of the Westwood Orphange, an institution housed in a massive Victorian-style house. The Nelson family runs the place, with Reverend Thomas in charge of the place and various members of the Nelson family performing tasks to keep the place running. Thomas talks to Cynthia Nelson about the Santa Ana winds, which would scare him if he was frightened of anything other than JHVH. They also mention Tommy, who I guess is that kid running around with a yellow kickball under his arm (because the film cuts to him right after Cynthia says she hasn't seen him). 

Well, Tommy runs to a graveyard where a whispering voice says the time has come, and then "Rise", and Yorga's vampire brides get up out of the ground (and, since it's late afternoon when they do it, this should be the shortest vampire film ever made). Tommy eventually notices the vampire women and is too scared to run at first, but grabs his kickball and beats feet away from them (stumbling and falling enough times in this brief sequence for an entire film's worth of chase scenes) straight into Count Yorga's arms.

But enough of that, there's a Halloween fundraiser at the orphanage with a children's choir and a bunch of bored adults dressed as cavemen, Sherlock Holmes, a princess and a toad, etc. watching the show. Hey, auction off half an hour's silence from the kids and you won't have a full wallet in the house. Tommy's in the choir, so I guess Yorga didn't exsanguinate him like I expected. Yorga's haunting the corridors of the orphanage, and accosts a woman named Mitzi before putting the supernatural mack on Cynthia, who left the performance griping that a bridge was out (from those evil Santa Ana winds, possibly) so that the fundraiser is taking place in a mostly empty gym with a bare handful of people stopping by to demonstrate generosity and forge alliances with the institution.

Yorga, incidentally, says that he flew to the orphanage since the bridge was out, but I think it's supposed to be next door to his mansion. Less than ten minutes into the movie and the chief adjective I'd use to describe it is "willfully semi-coherent". Yorga cruises around the party to talk smack at the kid pounding the piano keys and is then introduced to a bunch of people who already know each other; names fly too fast for me to catch them all, and ditto their relationships to one another. Also, everyone's in a Halloween costume so anyone in a mask isn't going to be recognizable later when they're in street clothes. Way to go, movie. Dr. David Baldwin's played by the same guy who was the outmatched hero doctor in the first Yorga film; maybe AIP had him under contract and everyone forgot that he'd played more or less the same guy in the previous movie. At any rate, he's in this one too.

Jennifer, who is deaf and mute, turns out to like Yorga on sight because the elegant man knows sign language and can communicate with her on even footing; one of many, many hints about Yorga's true nature gets dropped here when he says he's just picked up bits of knowledge everywhere since he's lived as long as he has. While Jennifer and David (Cynthia's fiancee) take a spin around the dance floor, Yorga talks for a little while longer with Cynthia. He's not in the market for a new Renfield, but it does look like Cynthia's going to be the next Bride of Yorga. She somehow manages to cut her finger on a punch glass and the count offers "an old Bulgarian cure" by licking the blood up himself. 

Then Tommy interrupts the costume contest judging by wandering into the gym and saying he can't sleep (Cynthia blames those Santa Ana winds for this, and probably everything else including high gas prices, original sin, and the fact that we never got a Dr. Phibes versus Count Yorga movie, as was briefly planned by AIP). And Mitzi's husband, dressed as a caveman, is still looking for her. Someone in grey makeup and a dime store Dracula outfit takes the prize, which leads to a discussion amongst the gathered adults about how there are some weirdos who drink blood out of psychological compulsion, but the "turn into a bat or wolf" hypnotist immortal kind of vampires doesn't exist. Yorga says that real vampires totally exist, and that he's seen one himself. I'm kind of amazed that he's lasted as long as he has in undeath if he keeps trying to out himself. But the scene does establish that the rational world discounts the very possibility of real vampires, which is how Yorga can stay as safe as he does while preying on humans.

Yorga shields his face with his cape when someone takes a picture of the group (blocking himself so that his clothes will appear in the shot even if he doesn't, I guess) and then someone finds Mitzi's body, largely but incompletely drained of blood, in a hallway. Everyone else runs over to see what they can do for her while Yorga walks calmly behind them, in a touch I did genuinely like. Yorga leaves for the evening after that; curiously enough, the people at the costume party noticed the puncture wounds in her throat but nobody puts two and two together quite yet. Then it's time for Yorga to look over his vampire brides, who have a pretty advanced case of Oatmeal Face. It's just on their faces, though, not the rest of their bodies, so I'm not sure exactly what's up with that. If it's just grave dirt it'll wash off with soap and water and if it's supposed to be decay, the makeup guys could have put some on the actresses' arms and hands to show it was a full-body thing. The film doesn't try to explain it, so I won't bother either.

That night, Cynthia and the other Nelsons are up late when Yorga and his brides come calling at their residence (after a few interminable scenes intended to up the suspense factor). Tommy turns out to be sleeping at the Nelson place when the shit jumps off; the parents of the family are just killed off in one of the screamiest sequences ever committed to celluloid while the sisters are brought into Yorga's fold. Jennifer, the deaf-mute one, doesn't hear the attack and therefore doesn't go downstairs to see what's going on (and get vampirized herself). Cynthia doesn't get turned at that point, either--Yorga has other plans for her. He wants her to join with him of her own free will, but also hypnotizes her into forgetting that night's attack as well as trusting and befriending him. So he's using his innate Charm Person powers, more or less like a date rapist would. Yorga also hypnotizes Cynthia into thinking that she was in a car accident by the count's mansion, and that her family will be by to see her the following day. I guess that's all the loose ends tied up?

Well, not all the loose ends--the next morning, Jennifer Nelson sees the aftermath of the attack in her family's house (perhaps none of the vampires saw her because her nightgown was exactly the same canary-yellow shade as the wall she's standing in front of at the start of this sequence). There's broken glass everywhere and signs of a struggle, and her family's bodies are on the floor and furniture. Tommy's standing catatonically in the corner and Jennifer can't even scream thanks to her lack of vocal cords. This scene is more effective than it might have been because it was wordless and there wasn't even music on the soundtrack--it puts the viewer in Jennifer's place and that's not a good place to be. After she and Tommy flee, Jennifer calls in the cavalry somehow or other and the police run to the Nelson place to determine what went down. 

When they get there, however, there aren't any bodies anywhere; the windows are perfectly repaired and there's not a single drop of blood on the carpet. The reverend translates what Jennifer signs that she saw, but there's deep skepticism on everyone's part (although the lack of anyone else from the Nelson family at the house is at least a sign that something is going on). One of the police finds a pretty obviously faked note saying that the family ran off to sit at the bedside of a "critically ill" relative and just left her a letter. Allegedly the Nelsons will be back in a few days and it'll all work out in the end. Jennifer runs off to get Tommy and bring him into the house, signing for him to tell the police what they saw earlier that day. The little shit backs up the fake story, apparently hoping for a Junior Renfield status upgrade--or possibly because Yorga hypnotized him as well. The police take the note at face value and say there's no reason to investigate; to be fair, they were expecting blood and bodies and found tacky carpet and a completely undamaged house instead.

We do get a jump cut to Brudda dumping the older Nelson's bodies in a forest right after the police say there's no point investigating; he shoves them into a convenient quicksand pit on the property. Cynthia turns out to be able to see him from her bedroom window and goes outside to say hello. Brudda's guard dog is dubbed in to sound threatening and vicious, but the actual animal is wagging its tail happily while on set.

Dr. Baldwin and Jason, Cynthia's boyfriend, have a conversation about whether Jennifer or Tommy is the liar out of the pair; neither one is facing the camera when they talk so I'm not sure which one is saying what (they're on a hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and I think it was more important to the director to show that scenery than it was to make the conversation intelligible). The cover story falls apart pretty quickly--Cynthia Nelson never mentioned having any relatives before, among other things. But the police aren't particularly interested in committing any manpower to the case based on some half-baked hearsay when they had no crime scene to observe. At the end of a two minute conversation Dr. Baldwin's talked himself into believing vampires might be real; he mentions a professor who "devoted his life to studying folklore and the occults". Both of the occults, I guess. Maybe even all three of them. 

That professor says he's spent three decades studying vampires and witnessed horrors that most men could scarcely comprehend, but also comes across as a showboating liar in his big scene, intentionally mishearing everything Dr. Baldwin says about investigating Count Yorga and refusing to help. Not entirely sure why he was in the film, other than that he was the father of the producer. 

Later on, Tommy wanders around the orphanage grounds and Jennifer follows him to the gates of Yorga's mansion. The gates appaerntly lock themselves after Tommy walks through them and as the sun sets, Brudda assists Yorga in his waking ritual. Turns out that Yorga wishes to feel that emotion we humans call "love" one more time in his endless existence, and asks the voodoo witch in his basement (!) what do to about that. The voodoo priestess recommends that Cynthia die rather than have the Count expose his true nature to her; that night, over dinner, the Count continues to try and seduce his guest dressed in the most stylish of Seventies tuxedo jackets and a two-toned red and black bow tie. Maybe in 1971 he didn't look like a clown, but with 45 years' distance from the fashion advice Robert Quarry got, he looks ludicrous.

Cynthia's memories of the attack a couple nights ago start to resurface in her mind after dinner; she is so distraught that she can barely stand to look at her shrimp cocktail. So of course now it's time for a folk recital at a restaurant. The performer leaving the stage is Mitzi, from the party and fundraiser at the orphanage. Yorga follows her out to the houseboat where she and her dude Joe live. Yorga stalks them and then starts messing with the fuse box to turn the lights out. It's all quite, um, suspenseful. Really. Anyway, Joe gets strangled while Mitzi gets lightly bitten and taken back to Yorga's place to be turned into another of his vampire brides. (And, to be completely fair, the shot of Yorga charging forward at Joe is pretty startling).

Back at the mansion, Cynthia goes wandering about in the dark for a while. She winds up being startled by a creepy one-eyed doll before hearing giggling from somewhere while locked in the count's armor storage room. She has another flashback to the attack in there, her memories starting to resurface as the door unlocks itself and she goes to another room. There's cobwebs and dust everywhere, as is only fitting, and the vampire brides start whispering her name to freak her out a bit more than she already is. Expect lots of "ominous" laughter and women calling Cynthia's name in this scene, which is pretty interminable.

Eventually we go somewhere else; Jason, Dr. Baldwin, the reverend and Jennifer are grilling Tommy about what he was doing sneaking into the old Yorga place next door. The kid says he's never been over to that mansion and that Jennifer must be making up stories (which Dr. Baldwin and the reverend fail to believe). Jennifer, pushed to the breaking point, slaps Tommy out of frustration (hooray!). The kid goes off to bed, and his manner is not exactly what you'd expect from a ten-year-old kid who's been questioned about murders and conspiracies. He says he doesn't know what a vampire is, which is pretty obviously bullshit--everybody I knew when I was ten could have answered that question in the affirmative. The reverend thinks that it's insane to talk about vampires; when Dr. Baldwin leaves to try and call the police in on the case (again) Jason and the reverend tut-tut bout how crazy it is to suspect a vampire is on the loose in San Francisco. 

Over at Joe and Mitzi's houseboat, the cops are taking Joe's body away while Dr. Baldwin asks the officer in charge of the investigation for permission to take a blood sample from the body; he wants to check it to see if there's human saliva in the wounds (which we didn't see on Joe's body, and besides that Joe was strangled rather than bitten according to the footage the viewer saw). The lieutenant in charge of the homicide investigation thinks Dr. Baldwin could use a sanity hearing when the man tells him that he suspects vampiric involvement.

Over at the orphanage, Tommy tells Jason that his girlfriend is over at Count Yorga's, and that he really did go over there but lied about it for unknown reasons. Which means Jason's going to go check out the Yorga place himself, without backup and without telling anyone he's going over there. Rather than crouching in anticipation at the front door, Yorga's watching a Spanish-dubbed verision of The Vampire Lovers on TV. I don't know that I'd expect him to watch vampire movies recreationally, but you learn something new every day. Brudda tells the Count that Tommy's coming so it's time to ambush Jason in the mansion. The kid locks Jason in a room, and the guy gets ambushed by the vampiric version of his girlfriend Ellen and then all of Yorga's harem. He runs from them only to be jumped by a totally ridiculous slow motion shot of Robert Quarry running at him with arms and fangs extended. Jason gets fed to the harem, with even Ellen joining in to feed.

While the vampire brides are draining Jason, Cynthia confronts Count Yorga about why exactly she's been kept in his mansion and the vampire confesses his love to her. ProTip, Yorga:  "I could destroy you" isn't something you want to tell your special lady friend if you want her to return your affections. Cynthia says she'd rather leave than be destroyed or changed into a blood-drinking monster, but the Count hypnotizes her (again) instead of those other things.

Over with the police, Dr. Baldwin and the reverend, the doctor is still trying to get backup for his inevitable charge into Yorga's mansion to destroy the monster. There's a photo from the costume party; the reverend says that Yorga was standing in the middle of the group when he snapped the picture but when it was developed in his darkroom the Count was nowhere to be seen. Dr. Baldwin is ranting about how there's no proof Yorga isn't a vampire while Tommy listens in. Somehow this leads to Jennifer being murdered in her bed (and the phone ringing ominously to show she isn't answering it means nothing--she's deaf and mute, so why does she even have a telephone?).

So now it's time for the charge of the Not-So-Bright Brigade. Two cops, the reverend and Dr. Baldwin are driving towards Yorga's mansion with a plan to have the reverend distract the Count while the other three men sneak inside without a warrant and look for proof that Yorga is a killer (and a vampire, if Baldwin's right). This goes about as well as the first film's "keep Yorga talking until dawn and then get him" plan, of course. Dr. Baldwin issues broken sticks to turn into a cross in case Yorga attacks them before declaring that they should split up and cover more ground. 

Yorga and the reverend go for a moonlight stroll in the gardens while the Scooby Gang pokes around the basement of his mansion. The reverend, like a complete dolt, tells Yorga that Dr. Baldwin suspects the Count of being a vampire. As everyone was expecting once the existence of the quicksand patch was revealed, the reverend winds up getting sucked down into the bog. He goes down cursing Yorga as a Satanic creature, a vampire, and a fake philanthropist who never intended to make a donation to the orphanage like he said he would. Turns out Yorga isn't allergic to crosses being brandished at him, either, so the cops and Dr. Baldwin are pretty screwed.

Baldwin finds Jason's body hooked up to a blood-draining apparatus in a side room and the vampire brides take a stroll around the mansion. The two police stumble upon the women and wind up getting backed into a corner before running away from the flock of vampire brides. Both policemen shoot at the brides (the junior one only having one bullet in his revolver) to no effect, then try to make a break for it. While they're serving as a distraction / appetizer, Dr. Baldwin finds Cynthia in the Count's guest bedroom and gets sucker punched by Bruddah, who isn't affected by the improvised cross that Baldwin throws up. Also, Dr. Baldwin? It's supposed to look like a T, not an X.

It turns out that Bruddah is not immune to being smashed in the head with a spiked mace and gets knocked down, but he gets up again. He uses previously undisclosed Renfield Powers to smash through an interior door and tries to back the police into the vampire women. Being shot twice affects him more than the mace, and the police make a run for it. They get separated by a descending wooden gate between rooms, which gets the sergeant drained by that voodoo priestess who had about two lines earlier in the film. When his superior officer tries to escape he gets a knife to the torso from an unseen assailant, who I expected to be revealed as Tommy, but either that got cut for gruesomeness or the director thought we didn't need to find out. That just leaves Dr. Baldwin, who gets taunted over the mansion's PA system (?!) while he tries to escape. Then it's just a run down hallways and corridors that get blocked by vampires at various spots until he's stuck in a dark room with all of them, brides and Yorga alike. Cynthia joins the count while Dr. Baldwin gets backed into a locked iron grate with Tommy watching him try to flee. Might want to try the cross here, Doc...

As Dr. Baldwin escapes from the vampire women he charges after Count Yorga with an axe he grabbed from a wall; the dumb son of a bitch trips charging up a flight of stairs and drops his weapon, only to get himself good and strangled by the Count as Cynthia has another flashback to Yorga and his harem attacking the Nelsons. She picks up the discarded axe and buries it in the Count's torso, and Dr. Baldwin pitches him from the balcony down to the courtyard below. I wonder if the axe handle was supposed to work as a stake, or if the studio decided to leave the Count's fate a little more ambiguous this time in order to justify the third film they wanted to make (reportedly to involve the Count living in the sewers in Los Angeles and building an army of homeless vampires). Either way, I don't know what the hell happened to the Count at the end of the movie, but David got turned into an Instant Vampire by the count strangling him, I guess, and Tommy kicks his ball back to the orphanage while the song the children's choir performed at the start of the film gets overwhelmed by minor-key synthesizer chords on the soundtrack.

Well, I was bound to hit another movie that wasn't worth much of anything out of the 26 I picked. R is for Regretful in this case, though I still like that I was able to cover a movie and its sequel for HubrisWeen this year. If there had been time to do another couple of passes over the script this movie might have been an affable mediocrity, but as it is, well...it's just a forgettable and semi-competent horror flick from AIP. It's a damned shame that they were capping a decades-long run as the premier indie horror-movie studio in America but I'm guessing that the need to get a sequel out the next year superseded all other considerations. You can really tell. 

I'm not sure who believed in vampires the fastest--either Dr. Baldwin or the police he tried to convince something was up. And Tommy's role in the story was never really nailed down at any point. Oh, and the Bummer Ending where Cynthia gets drained by the man trying to save her came out of nowhere and didn't really affect me because I was expecting the reverse (the Count already got her; Dr. Baldwin finds that out when he gets attacked). That would have made more sense, at least, because the Count had been alone with Cynthia several times, but never had a chance to bite the man who became a monster for the shock twist ending.

Well, I knew they weren't all going to be winners going in to the project.


"Well, that was just endless. Time to make sure there's no third movie in the series. Sorry, Count. It has to be done for the good of B movie fans everywhere."


5 comments:

  1. I wonder if Yorga speaking sign language had any role in inspiring Deafula.

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  2. I have no idea, but at some point I want to check out Deafula and Incubus, the Esperanto-language horror movie starring William Shatner. I hear he spoke Esperanto like a native.

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    1. Huh. I had heard that he didn't speak a word of Esperanto and had to learn his lines phonetically.

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  3. No joke too stupid, no reference too obscure.

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