‘No playing hero – the first one to find a vampire screams his ass off.’
The first Count Yorga movie was such a hit that AIP alotted a larger budget to the sequel, though – like Dr Phibes Rises Again and Scream Blacula Scream – it did less well at the box office, which squelched the possibilities of sequels. It’s a shame we never got Count Yorga vs Blacula, though Quarry gets into his Count Yorga outfit for a party scene in Madhouse.
Set in San Francisco rather than Los Angeles, The Return of Count Yorga is an even chillier film (there’s much talk of the Santa Anna wind unleashing supernatural evil) – with a Plague of the Zombies-style mass rising from graves, a home invasion by ferocious ghoul-faced vampire women inspired by the Manson Family murders, an exceptionally unpleasant kid minion (Philip Frame), a swathe of sympathetic characters casually murdered, and useless, doomed authority figures (a drunk priest, doltish cops, etc). Even the humour is snide – Count Yorga sneers at ordinary people throughout. When he responds to an inept young rock pianist’s ‘you like this kind of music?’ with ‘only when played well’, he gets a laugh but he’s also a smug grown-up putting down a child at an orphanage benefit party. After the manner of Barnabas Collins, Yorga is smitten with a mortal woman – winsome Cynthia Nelson (Mariette Hartley) – but he’s less a gloomy romantic than a controlling, gaslighting, domineering creep. Again, nobody gets a happy ending.
Director-writer Bob Kelljan called in his wife Yvonne Wilder to co-write and she gave herself a plum role as a mute woman unable to get anyone to believe that she’s seen the aftermath of a massacre. With familiar faces Rudy de Luca, George Macready (as a hard-of-hearing, past-his-prime vampire hunter), Walter Brooke, Michael Pataki (later in the Yorga-inspired Grave of the Vampire and Dracula’s Dog) and Craig T. Nelson. Roger Perry, the savant of Count Yorga – Vampire – returns as in a similar, but different role. It goes for unease rather than camp, though there’s a self-aware moment as Yorga watches a Spanish-dubbed clip from The Vampire Lovers on TV in his well-appointed mansion. Some of the signature horror effects of the first film are reused with variations – a slow-motion Yorga attack as Quarry runs open-mouthed down a corridor, a fanged freeze-frame downer at the finish – but Kelljan and company work hard to come up with fresh, unsettling business.