The Return of Count Yorga/The Curse of Count Yorga/The Abominable Count Yorga (1971) *½
Ugh. Look, I realize the movies are, first and foremost, a business, and with them as with any other business, the bottom line is the bottom line. But they are, in some sense, an art form too, and for that reason, I really wish producers would have a little patience when it comes to making sequels. Some folks oppose sequels as a matter of principle, so pleasing them is obviously impossible. Most of us, though, just want our sequels to be worthy of the original film. This can be pretty tough under the best of circumstances, but when the man with the checkbook says, “Look, here’s some more money; I want you to make another movie like that last one right away,” it becomes damn near impossible. You have to give the creative team some time to get a good idea and figure out exactly how to turn that idea into a worthwhile flick. Otherwise, no amount of studio money is going to have any effect. Case in point: The Return of Count Yorga cost nearly twice as much as its predecessor, but looks much cheaper and never comes anywhere close to meeting the artistic or entertainment standards set by Count Yorga, Vampire.
For one thing, when you go around bringing back characters who were unambiguously killed the last time around, you’d goddamn well better have some kind of explanation to offer. The Return of Count Yorga does not. When a young orphan named Tommy (Philip Frame) runs into Count Yorga (Robert Quarry again) and his half-dozen vampire girlfriends while playing in a graveyard at sunset, we in the audience are apparently just supposed to forget about that stake that got driven through the Bulgarian vampire’s heart at the end of the last movie.
I really wish I could say whether the huge adobe mansion where Count Yorga is living is supposed to be the same pad he occupied in the previous film, but I’m afraid I just don’t know. It kind of looks the same, especially on the inside, but it also kind of looks different, and in any event, there sure as hell wasn’t an orphanage operating out of a big-ass Victorian on the lot next door in the original Count Yorga, Vampire. There is now, though, and Yorga puts in an appearance there on the night of the orphanage’s annual fundraising talent show and costume party. (Why do I get the feeling the costume party is a holdover from an earlier draft of the script?) Yorga makes quite an impression on orphanage manager Reverend Thomas (Tom Toner) and his staff, most of whom are members of a single large family, the Nelsons. Cynthia Nelson (Mariette Hartley, from Marooned and Mystery in Dracula’s Castle) is especially taken with the mysterious stranger who claims to have moved in recently to the place next door. But her friend (or maybe boyfriend— the fact that I’m not sure is symptomatic of a more general problem with this movie), Dr. David Baldwin (Roger Perry, from Count Yorga, Vampire, who is theoretically playing a different character this time, though the role is functionally the same) thinks Yorga is kind of a nut, especially when he starts talking about how he not only believes in vampires, but has actually seen one. (This odd conversation begins when a man dressed as Count Dracula wins the costume contest.)
Yeah, well, a few hours from now, Yorga won’t be the only one. After the party breaks up and the Nelsons (who seem to live in the orphanage building) are getting ready to go to bed, Yorga’s harem stops by to give them the Night of the Living Dead treatment in the living room. The older members of the family are merely killed, while the young and good-looking Cynthia and Ellen (Karen Ericson, from The Boston Strangler and Night of the Demons) are hauled back to Yorga’s place to be turned into vampires. The only member of the family who was not present at the time of the attack, the deaf-mute Jennifer (Yvonne Wilder), is the first on the scene the next morning, and it falls to her to get help.
Unfortunately, that help ends up not being very helpful, because by the time detectives Lieutenant Madden (Rudy De Luca) and Sergeant O’Connor (Craig T. Nelson, from Poltergeist, who also provided the voice of the big rubber monster in Flesh Gordon) arrive, along with Dr. Baldwin and Ellen’s fiance, Jason (David Lampson), Yorga’s servant, Bruda (still Edward Walsh) has already been by to clean up the mess and destroy all the evidence. With nothing concrete to go on, the detectives go back to the station, leaving Baldwin and Jason to puzzle out the situation by themselves.
Meanwhile, Count Yorga has hypnotized Cynthia into forgetting all about last night, and believing that she got into an auto wreck on the way to visit him. And just for good measure, he also has her believing that she and the count are close friends. Obviously, this is because Yorga wants her to fall in love with him, to be the only member of his harem who came to him willingly (in which case it seems to me that the whole hypnosis thing constitutes some serious cheating). The count has Cynthia stay at his place for the next several days, while she “recovers from her accident,” and he does his damnedest to charm the pants off the girl, at least within the constraints dictated by his nocturnal lifestyle. But the plan isn’t working (as indeed the vampire voodoo priestess [!] Yorga keeps in his basement had warned), and the undead boyar gradually comes to realize that he’s just going to have to do this the old-fashioned way.
Of course, a vampire has to eat, so all the while that Yorga’s been keeping Cynthia stashed away, he’s been going out on the town and snacking on strangers. And because David Baldwin works as a medical examiner (or at any rate, that’s the only explanation I can think of for his close relationship with the cops, and his presence at the scene of every one of Yorga’s crimes), he is in a position to notice certain similarities among the victims— the pair of puncture wounds on all of their throats, especially. I’d like to be able to say that it is this pattern of evidence that convinces David that a vampire is on the loose in San Francisco, but the fact of the matter is, he’d already reached that rather drastic conclusion long before he had any reason even to suspect it. Not only that, he’d also fingered Count Yorga as the vampire just as prematurely. So in the great vampire-movie tradition, Baldwin sets about trying to convince Reverend Thomas, Jason, Madden, and O’Connor that his whacked-out theory is correct, while these men go along with him every step of the way despite their constant protests that what they’re being asked to do and believe is ridiculous. Eventually, everybody ends up at Yorga’s place, and damned near everybody ends up dead. And of course, there’s a twist ending, mainly because the original Count Yorga, Vampire had one too.
I swear, just once, I’d like to see the good guys in a vampire movie come around to accepting the existence of their undead foes in a gradual, believable manner. The abruptness with which Dr. Hayes convinced himself that vampires were real was the thing that bothered me the most about the first Count Yorga movie, but that was nothing compared to the headlong leap into credulity carried out by David Baldwin in The Return of Count Yorga. And the worst part about it is, there was a perfectly logical way to sell us on Baldwin’s belief right at the filmmakers’ fingertips. After all, the man’s (apparently) a medical examiner. As such, he ought to know that there are a few pathological types running around who believe themselves to be vampires, and that from time to time, one of these people will turn to serial murder to slake their thirst for blood. It would have been the most reasonable thing in the world to have Baldwin go into his investigation of Count Yorga thinking he was one such madman, only to be presented with increasingly weighty evidence that the count was, in fact, the real thing. And failing that, it would have made just as much sense to have the doctor pretend that’s what he thought when he was making his case to the detectives. But no— instead it’s, “Hey, Madden, I’m pretty sure we’ve got a vampire in the city, and I think I know who he is.” And Madden, for all his scoffing, acts as though he believes Dr. Baldwin’s story from the very beginning!
Along with all the ill-justified plot developments and the total failure to provide an excuse for the vampire’s survival from the previous movie, another clear sign of the filmmakers’ desperation is the multitude of half-developed curlicues hanging off the main story. I grant you, it’s a pretty cool idea that Yorga would have an undead voodoo priestess living in his basement, but where in God’s name did she come from?! Why are the older female vampires of Yorga’s harem so decayed and pustulent this time around— isn’t freedom from bodily corruption part and parcel of that whole “immortality” thing? Why does Yorga treat his infatuation with Cynthia as something he’s never had to deal with in all his long unlife when the first movie was so upfront in portraying his vampirism as a sort of lechery gone bad? And just what is the nature of Yorga’s relationship with Tommy after their meeting in the cemetery? The kid can’t be a vampire, because he walks around during the day, but he definitely serves as one of the count’s agents, even to the extent of killing some of Baldwin’s vampire-hunters during the final confrontation in Yorga’s mansion. There are some decent ideas lying buried in the muddle of this movie’s script, but in their mad rush to get a Count Yorga sequel made, AIP didn’t allow their creative team an honest chance to make any of them work.