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    From Bela to Yorga

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    To honor the happily haunted 134th birthday of Bela Lugosi (1882-1956), who definitively incarnated one of the screen’s most immortal vampires, Bram Stoker’s Transylvanian Count Dracula, and spawned a legion of tales of the undead stalked by the bloodthirsty likes of Christopher Lee, John Carradine, Frank Langella, Klaus Kinski, Gary Oldman, Francis Lederer and many others who have left their fangmarks on the role, we turn the spotlight on an American offshoot who looms large in the nosferatu tradition, because it gave the genre a needed transfusion. TCM.com’s Jeff Stafford writes: Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) stood out from the rest because of a casually hip approach to the traditional vampire film conventions, placing them in a believable modern context while injecting occasional moments of black comedy and tongue-in-cheek dialogue. It didn't hurt that the film was briskly paced with several memorable key sequences – a nighttime attack on a couple in a van, a vampirized woman feasting on a kitten, the climactic raid on Yorga's castle – and that the death scenes were appropriately gory. There were even a few moments that jolted moviegoers out of their seats with unexpected shock cuts of vampires lunging toward the camera. The final shot, in particular, rendered as a freeze frame, ended the movie on an appropriately ghoulish note, even if it was a direct steal from Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Most important of all to the film's success was Robert Quarry's performance in the title role; he was genuinely sinister and projected the right mix of cultivated charm and menace that worked well against the almost lighthearted and disbelieving nature of his would-be victims.” Speaking of almost lighthearted, the film started out as a soft-core porn project, but as Stafford documents, “Once producers Michael Macready and Bob Kelljan (who also directed and wrote the screenplay) signed Quarry for the title role, this approach was dropped in favor of a more straightforward treatment. Filmed on an ultra-low budget of $64,000 and shot at night so that Quarry would be free to work on the Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward film WUSA (1970) during the day, Count Yorga, Vampire became a surprise hit for the distributor AIP (American International Pictures), which trimmed some of the film's more excessive violence (the kitten-eating sequence) to earn a [GP, later updated to a] PG-13 rating.” Across 46 years, Quarry has gathered legions of admirers, including film historian Steve Biodrowski, whose Cinefantasique Online review observes that “he somewhat resembles a shorter version of Christopher Lee, but he gets more opportunity for dialogue and characterization, which he exploits to blackly comic effect as a subtly mocks the mere humans trying to destroy him. He is aided and abetted in this endeavor by a script that gives him some good lines, especially during the confrontations with Hayes [Roger Perry], wherein both characters maintain their pretense of a civilized conversation while each knows what the other is up to (Yorga toys with Hayes’ ‘stake’ while bragging that a vampire, having the wisdom of the ages because of his immortal life, can make a fool of any man).” There’s more Quarry Love in abundance on Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray: a detail-oriented Audio Commentary with TT experts David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan, My Dinner with Yorga: The Robert Quarry Rue Morgue Interview, as read by Del Valle and Sullivan and a Fangirl Radio Tribute to Robert Quarry with Sullivan. In the eternal beyond, birthday celebrant Lugosi and successor-in-fandom Quarry are likely enjoying the affectionate attention.