The calendar page has turned and we once again stand on the threshold of a fresh October. That means one thing: it’s time to brush the dust off this blog and delve into another installment of “31 Days of Horror!”
I began the tradition some years ago of watching 31 different horror films throughout October and providing brief, hopefully useful and humorous, reviews of each film on social media. That yearly celebration has since moved to this blog, starved for content as it is. The rules of 31 Days of Horror are simple. I try to watch 31 frightening films before November 1st arrives, with the stipulation that they can’t be movies I’ve seen before. There’s usually an over-arching theme to each year’s choices, and 2022is no exception. I try to watch one film a day, but sometimes life gets in the way and I have to catch a double-feature here and there to get caught up. Last year, I didn’t finish in time, but did manage to complete the challenge before the New Year arrived. Let’s hope I do better this time around.
The theme for this year’s 31 Days of Horror is vampire movies. On the one hand, this might be challenging, because I’ve seen A LOT of vampire movies over the years. On the other, however, there’s A LOT of vampire movies out there, being one of the simplest horror films to make. All you need is some fangs and red food coloring and you’re all set. When it comes to horror movies, my tastes run towards the vintage, preferring films from the 1960s and 1970s over more modern fare. Luckily, this time period saw a boom in vampire films and I haven’t’ quite drank that vein dry yet. Expect Jean Rollin to make at least two appearances before the month is through.
Given both this year’s theme and my predilection for the 1960s and 1970s, I’m including a bonus feature this time around: the Dark Shadows Sidebar. Dark Shadows, the seminal gothic soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971, has long been on my “must watch list.” But with 1,225 episodes, it’s a bit of an undertaking. I’ve worked my way through a small portion, but I’m still in the black and white era. Hoping to make headway and because they’re short, I’ll be watching an episode of Dark Shadows each day during October to help speed me along my journey through Collinsport.
OK, are we all clear on what this is all about? Let’s dive in then with Movie #1: Count Yorga, Vampire!
The year is 1970 and a suspiciously coffin-shape crate arrives at the Port of Los Angeles. After a meandering drive through the City of Angeles, the box arrives in a mansion in the hills overlooking L.A. Count Yorga has arrived and all Caucasian, somewhat affluent people, beware!
We first meet the Count as he leads a séance for a trio of couples as they attempt to contact the spirit of one woman’s mother. Donna has recently lost her mom, who had been dating Count Yorga at the time of her death (from pernicious anemia, of all things). When Donna goes into hysterics during the séance, the Count calms her with hypnosis—while also inserting hypnotic commands into her subconscious—despite the protestations of Donna’s boyfriend, Michael, and friends Paul and Erica. Order then restored, Count Yorga departs the party (“I believe I brought a cape.”), driven home by Paul and Erica. At the gate to Yorga’s home, the bestial Brudah, who I’m fairly certain is related to Torgo from Manos: the Hands of Fate, greets his master, and the Count invites the pair in for a drink. Paul wisely declines, but unfortunately their VW microbus gets mired in the one patch of mud in the entire Los Angeles area as he and Erica attempt the drive home. Their efforts to free themselves unsuccessful the couple decide to have some “adult time,” only to be disturbed by a fanged Count Yorga rapping on the microbus’ window. Paul is knocked out before he gets a look at his assailant and Erica strangely can’t recall any details of the attack. The following day, suffering from blood loss, Erica visits Doctor Jim Hayes, who finds some strange sediments in her bloodstream. And with that, we’re firmly in low budget Dracula knock-off territory, with Erica playing Lucy, Donna as Mina, and the bumbling men folk as the bumbling men folk. Can they thwart Count Yorga and save Erica and Donna from his insatiable thirst? My money’s on “unlikely.”
Count Yorga, Vampire began (un)life as The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire! and is still sometimes credited that way. The Loves of Count Iorga was intended to be a soft-core porno, but somewhere along the line the decision was made to go for outright horror. Honestly, I think this was the right call as it’s much more enjoyable as a bad horror film than it would have been as an earnest soft-core skin flick.
The somewhat seedy origin of the movie is visible throughout. There’s not much budget up there on the screen and most of the cast was never heard from again. The plot is laughable at times, but I honestly can’t say for certain how much of that was intended and how much was accidental. Our fearless vampire killers aren’t the most cunning of hunters (their initial plan to destroy Count Yorga involves making him stay up past his bedtime by failing to take the host’s hint it’s time to go home). This might be a conscious decision by the writer and director—the same person in this case—to underline these are modern people trying to wrap their heads around an antiquated superstition come to life. These are people who don’t even own a crucifix, after all. Their less hunting their quarry than flailing around in the dark, hoping for results.
Count Yorga is played by Robert Quarry, who has a string of low budget sci-fi and horror films on his CV. Quarry is actually quite good when the script allows him to be. He’s delightful in the film’s final act as he lords over the bumbling hunters who’ve come to kill him about how utterly they are out of their depth. Yorga goes so far as to ask to see one of their stakes, made from a chair leg, then return it to him as a gesture of their impotence. I can’t say much for the rest of the cast aside from there being a distinct resemblance between actor Michael Murphy (who’s still working today) and a very young Ron Pearlman.
Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Count Yorga, Vampire. I’m a bit of sucker for any vampire film that takes place in the greater Los Angeles area, so I was half-sold from the moment I saw the Port of Los Angeles sign. The film is entertaining enough and it got a few laughs out of me, which is perhaps not what the cast and creator was hoping for. I won’t be revisiting the Count anytime soon, but I found it amusing enough during our time together to give it 2.5 skulls out of 5 (2.5/5)
Dark Shadows Sidebar: Episode 207
Jason McGuire’s scheme to blackmail Elizabeth Collins Stoddard into marriage is thwarted when it comes to light that Elizabeth did not in fact kill her husband Paul Stoddard 18 years ago. Despite Elizabeth’s promise not to press charges against McGuire, the conman is given 24 hours to leave Collinsport for good. Robbed of the fortune he expected to be his as Elizabeth’s husband, Jason heads out the Old House on the Collins Estate, hoping to finagle funds out of his old partner-in-crime Willie Loomis. Arriving at the rundown manor, he overhears Willie and the vampire Barnabas Collins plotting.
Having failed to brainwash Maggie Evans, a local waitress, into assuming the identity of Josette du Pres Collins, Barnabas’ long-dead lover, the vampire has chosen a new vessel to transform into Josette. The first step of this new scheme is to ply the unnamed target with choice pieces from Josette’s jewelry chest. McGuire spies the jewels as Barnabas selects the first piece and quickly decides his money woes are over.
Cornering Willie outside of the Old House, McGuire threatens to reveal Willie’s role in the abduction of Maggie Evans and expose the plot to brainwash the new Josette (who Willie believes will be Victoria Winters, the Collins family governess) unless Loomis steals some of the jewelry for him. Willie begrudgingly agrees to do so and the two con artists plan to meet at noon at the Blue Whale, Collinsport’s favorite bar down by the wharf.
As McGuire waits for Willie to meet him, Victoria Winters comes to the Blue Whale looking for Carolyn Stoddard, last seen when she learned her mother purportedly murdered her father. Carolyn fled before it was revealed that Paul Stoddard is still alive, and Victoria has been seeking her all around town. McGuire attempts to talk things over with Vickie, but she wants nothing to do with him. Never one to let another get the best of a conversation, McGuire drops hints that he might know something about Victoria’s past and identity, facts that even Vickie doesn’t know (and setting us up for a plot line to come, I’m sure).
Willie arrives and is eager to depart, but McGuire forces him to sit down and give him the stolen goods. Rather than the hoard McGuire expected, Willie hands over a single broach, claiming that was all he could steal without Barnabas noticing. McGuire is enraged and decides to take matters into his own hands. The episode closes with McGuire breaking into the Old House, utterly unaware he’s entering into a vampire’s lair…