Horror films about vampires in the present day are kind of interesting to me. We live in a time where the concepts of how vampires “work” are common knowledge enough that on the one hand, you don’t need to explain the concepts to an audience. That said, we also are in a world of skepticism, so characters generally shouldn’t buy into the idea of vampires being real at first glance either. Count Yorga, Vampire is probably one of the earlier films I’ve seen that takes on this concept, even pre-dating Hammer’s attempts at the concept.
Count Yorga, Vampire basically re-imagines the latter half of the Dracula Story (after Dracula has arrived in London), through the lens of late ’60s-early ’70s proto-New Age mysticism. The titular Count Yorga is a vampire who sets up shop in the hills of Los Angeles and does seances and other mystic services so he can find victims on which to feed, and additional women to add to his brides. Our Harker and Seward figures (there isn’t a Van Helsing proxy in this film) are people who have fallen into this orbit and discover their friends are being preyed on.
A good vampire horror story will tend to re-imagine the Vampire myth in the context of a fear of that age. For example, Nosferatu re-contextualized the rampage of the vampire in the context of the Influenza epidemic, and the Vampire stories of the ’80s (including the remake of Nosferatu) basically did the same with AIDS. With Count Yorga, it’s clear that Yorga is playing into fears of Charles Manson – without donning the ratty stinky hippy attire.
Other than that, the film is a fairly deliberately low budget affair. Not a lot of sets, and a lot of location shooting, with Yorga’s mansion appearing to basically be an actual disused mansion that appears to have been redressed for the film. It works well enough, but it means the film definitely feels like it’s towards the lower end of AIP’s output. Additionally, Robert Quarry, who plays Count Yorga, is alright but his performance lacks the level of control of a scene that some of the other previous Draculas have had.
In all the story Count Yorga works, the acting is okay, and the presentation stumbles somewhat. I’m glad I watched this, and I’m interested in seeing the sequel – but I do definitely get why Yorga never became the horror feature that Dracula is.