Review: Count Yorga, Vampire

Screen Shot 2019-01-27 at 5.39.52 PM.pngCount Yorga, Vampire / The Return of Count Yorga

Count Yorga and its sequel were an American attempt to ape the Hammer Horror aesthetic.  On the surface, they more-or-less succeed in that goal; but dig deeper and you’ll find none of the style or depth that made their British counterparts legendary.

When I say the Yorga films look like those from Hammer; I don’t mean the great Hammer films, but the later ones that take place in the ’70s, like The Satanic Rites of Dracula.  Hammer, of course, was at its best when it was doing period pieces.  The studio mastered the art of Gothic horror, and typically stumbled when it reached into the future; because characters like Dracula and Frankenstein are Gothic in origin, and that’s where they fit best.

But I’m supposed to be talking about Yorga, or Iorga, as the title card reads.  Yorga is Dracula.  I don’t know why they didn’t just call him that.  Maybe there was a competing film at the time, or maybe they just wanted something they could trademark; either way, there’s nothing unique to set Yorga apart from the other count.  Actually, there’s nothing defining about Yorga at all.  He doesn’t seem to have any larger goals beyond sucking off a few women.  He’s boring, with a stilted speech pattern and no visible emotion.  He mentions that he’s from Bulgaria, but we don’t see his homeland, nor are we told how or why he came to America.

Most of the story in the first Yorga movie is lifted directly from Dracula.  Yorga is a mysterious foreigner who installs himself in society and targets its ladies one by one.  One of the women is slowly drained over the course of the movie (just like Lucy Westenra), complete with in-home blood transfusion and a doctor who hazards the word ‘vampire’ and is scoffed at.

The second movie is a little better.  According to the film trivia, this one was supposed to have a lot of nudity, but the star, Robert Quarry said no.  It’s still the same set-up.  Yorga arrives at an orphanage, and installs himself in its society (the staff and clergy).  But then, Yorga creates a small army of vampire ladies and one brainwashed boy to do his bidding (whatever that is; he still doesn’t have a purpose in life).  The extra help leaves Yorga time to sit around watching TV (no, really).  Ironically, what he watches is The Vampire Lovers, a Hammer Horror film which is far better than Yorga’s outings.  It seems gives the film a meta-fictional element; where neither the star, nor the audience is particularly interested in what’s going on in the film.

The Count Yorga films capture the superficial elements of Hammer Horror; but leave behind everything that makes them great.  Yorga himself is a painfully dull character.  He does virtually nothing, and yet Quarry still finds a way to over-act the part.  The plots are equally shallow, with no real direction or reason.

Review: Countess Dracula

Countess Dracula.jpgCountess Dracula

Countess Dracula is a Hammer Horror film based somewhat loosely on the story of Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian Countess who, in the early 1600’s was accused of torturing and killing between 80 and 650 young girls.  It was said, though not confirmed, that she bathed in the girls’ blood in the belief  that it would restore her youth and beauty.

Countess Dracula centres on the blood bath story, suggesting that not only was it true, but that it was also genuinely effective.  So effective, in fact, that the widowed Elizabeth has to masquerade as her daughter to explain her now youthful appearance.

The film opens with the funeral of the Count.  His death doesn’t bother Elizabeth that much, as she has been carrying on a secret affair with the castle’s steward, Captain Dobi.

From the very beginning, we see the contempt the nobility shows to its people.  As the Countess’ carriage rides to the castle, a poor man runs along it, asking for a job and is knocked down by Dobi in response.

This goes a long way to explaining the ease with which Elizabeth starts to kill.  She first discovers the curative powers of virgin blood as she violently reprimands a servant girl for filling her bath with overly hot water.  They are essentially property to her.  When the mother of the servant girl expresses concern for her missing daughter, she’s told not to worry because she still has five more (in other words, the servants are cattle).

The Count leaves his prized stables and horses to one of his war buddies, Imre Toth.  Toth is relatively young, and the Countess, in her rejuvenated body, lusts after him.  He feels likewise, and they begin a relationship.  However, the effects of the blood are short lived, and Elizabeth finds that she must keep killing to continue her relationship with Toth.

Dobi is bitter.  First because he didn’t get the stables (receiving only old weapons and armor, instead), and second because the woman he loves his now with another man.  To add insult to injury, Elizabeth orders Dobi to procure victims for her; victims whose blood is fueling her new relationship.  Being treated with little more respect than the girls he’s ordered to kill does not sit well with him.

Despite being a horror movie, the crimes of Elizabeth are greatly toned down from the ones she is actually accused of.  Of course, it was made it 1971, long before the rise of torture porn; also, Hammer was always more interested in atmosphere than they were with shock or gore.  Most of the violence is off screen, but Elizabeth is an sufficiently villainous monster to keep a horrific tone over the film.

Review: Decadent Evil

Decadent Evil.jpgDecadent Evil

The official run time of Decadent Evil is 67 minutes, but the end credits start at the 59 minute mark.  Add to that two or three minute long opening credits and the seven or eight minutes of reused footage from an earlier movie called Vampire Journals, and you’re not left with much time to develop anything of great depth.

A red dressed woman named Morella leads a vampire clan consisting of two subordinate vampire girls who work as strippers.  They’re named Sugar and Spyce (with a ‘y’).  There is some kind of vampire legend that says if a vampire can kill 10,000 people and ingest their souls, they will become a super-vampire with invincibility and the power  to control other vampires.  Soon after the start of the film, Morella needs just three more.

Morella used to be in love with a human, but he cheated on her, so she turned him into a homunclous, which she explains is a prehistoric half-man/half-reptile (though I only have a layman’s knowledge of evolutionary theory, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t represent a part of our history).  For a character with such a prominent role, the puppet they made for him is rather cheap and unconvincing, which makes it hard to sympathize with him later on.

Her failed relationships of the past have made her bitter, so Morella is upset to learn that Sugar has fallen for a young human man and orders her to call it off.  Morella is hard to understand.  If she were simply evil and power-mad, why not force Sugar to bring her boyfriend to the house to be the next victim?  It’s like she wants to protect Sugar’s feelings, but that’s not trait worthy of an evil vampire.  But then, no one’s motivations in the movie are considered that deeply, everyone seems to be moved by base emotions, instinct, or the needs of the plot.

Into this mix comes Ivan, played by Phil Fondacaro, a vampire hunter who shares a past with Morella.

I don’t have anything particularly bad to say about the movie.  The acting is fine, the plot is serviceable.  But the fact that it’s only about 50 minutes long prevents anything from being developed.  The characters aren’t so much people as they are tools to move the plot forward.

Ivan wants revenge, Morella wants power, Spyce (I’m not sure what she wants), and Dex and Sugar are in love.  That’s all we really learn about any of the cast.  And we don’t even learn it so much as we are simply told it.  We never really see anyone being ‘human’ and thus, we never connect with any of them.

Once again, director Charles Band has produced a competent but undistinguished effort.  There’s a few neat twists to the vampire genre, but a short run time and pervasive shallowness keep Decadent Evil from ever becoming special.

Review: The Vampire Lovers

Scream Factory (Blu-ray)

Hammer Films, famous for its costume drama gothic horror, decided to sex-up its offering with this film, the first in a loosely-connected ‘Karnstein Trilogy,’ based on the 1872 novella Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by a full 25 years, tells of a female vampire named Carmilla, who preys on a series of young girls.  At its heart, it’s story of isolation.  Specifically that of Laura, a girl who lives with her father, a retired general, in a castle in the forests of Austria.  As the novella opens, Laura learns that another young girl who was to visit her has suddenly died under mysterious circumstances.  Laura is heartbroken, since this other girl was her only hope for a friend and human companionship.

It is when Laura is at her weakest that Carmilla arrives.

Carmilla seduces the girl, but not in a strictly sexual way (though it’s implied about as strongly as a 19th century novel can).  Carmilla is worldly, mature, and confident; the opposite of Laura in every way; and she shows Laura affection (the only true affection she has ever received from someone who wasn’t required to like her).  The combination is intoxicating, and soon Laura falls to the strange girl’s charms.

Hammer’s adaptation doesn’t really delve into the more interesting aspects of Laura’s character; the loneliness that grooms her for the vampire.   Instead, Laura (and the second girl, Emma) are merely generic ‘innocents;’ whilst Carmilla (or Mircalla) is the ‘bad’ girl.  Hammer productions have always had a slight ‘morality play’ aspect to them; and the virgin/whore dichotomy of the two female leads comes from that tradition.  The characters are fine and well-acted; but the movie could have been so much more if Hammer had drawn more out of the original story.

The Vampire Lovers tends to jump around a lot.  Carmilla’s encounter with the first girl (the one only revealed in a letter in the original novella) is presented in full, basically killing the surprise reveal at the end.  At the same time, the slow build-up of the original, as Carmilla’s true nature comes into focus, is largely skipped over; she shows up and is sucking girls off within minutes.  Basically, anything that would serve to build tension or create mystery has been stripped away.

Aside from the addition of some light girl-on-girl frolicking; The Vampire Lovers sits very comfortably within Hammer’s oeuvre.  It has the same look and feel as all their other films; and the ‘adult’ aspects of the movie are handled with class and subtlety.  It’s sure to satisfy hardcore Hammer fans, as well as those that find the studio’s earlier work to be a little too family-friendly.

Review: Hammer’s Last Foray into the Vampire Genre, Vampire Circus

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 6.41.51 AM.pngVampire Circus was one of the final Gothic horror films produced by Hammer Films.  The 1970s saw audiences’ tastes moving towards gorier fare, which made the atmospheric costume dramas offered by Hammer seem downright quaint in comparison.  Still, this late effort was one of their more imaginative vampire films, even if its production values were a little weak.

The film opens with an old-fashioned castle-storming.  Count Mitterhaus, a vampire, has seduced the schoolmaster’s wife, Anna.  She in turn picks up little girls in the woods to present to her new master.  As the count says, after feeding on one of the children in a very creepy scene, ‘one lust feeds the other,’ upon which he takes Anna to his bed.

Anna’s husband rallies the townsfolk into an uproar, leading them on a mission of vengeance.  It doesn’t go quite as planned, as the townsfolk make no distinction between Anna and her master, despite the schoolmaster’s attempts to save her.  In the end, the count curses the people of the town that the blood of their children with revive him.

Fifteen years later, the town still lives in the shadow of its past.  It is besieged by a plague (though we never really see that in the film, it’s only talked about, and the healthy townsfolk don’t seem all that concerned).  The surrounding towns have set up roadblocks to quarantine the infected, which makes acquiring medicine somewhat more difficult, and the Burgomaster is fretting.  In these dark days, comes a traveling circus.

‘Circus’ is probably too strong a word.  It’s a small troop of performers; some acrobats, a lion tamer, dancers, a strong man, and a little person.  It’s more of a carnival sideshow, really.  But it is impressive, almost magical.  Of course, it’s all black magic intended to distract the townspeople as their children are taken.

Anna is the Ring Mistress of this circus.  She’s joined by Mitterhaus’s cousin Emil, who’s more odd looking than scary.  He seduces the schoolmaster’s daughter, though I can’t imagine how.  Anna has also brought twins, a boy and girl, her children (presumably with Mitterhaus).

Vampire Circus includes a lot of the features of Hammer’s classic period horrors, but feels a little less substantial.  The sets are simpler, the costumes aren’t as nice, the visuals are less lush.  It’s still a big production compared to most horror B movies, but a step down from Hammer’s heyday.  The plot structure is familiar, but the set up is more original than the typical Hammer film.  The circus breathes a lot of life into the old formula.

DVD Review: Life Blood

Life Blood

Lionsgate

A lesbian couple (who don’t seem all that interested in each other) dies in a car crash in 1963.  God, who works part time as a waitress, offers them a second chance at life, on the condition that they use it to ‘devour’ evil.  In doing so, they will live forever.  It’s all a convoluted way to say that they’re vampires.

Continue reading

Blu Ray Review: Breaking Dawn Part One

 

Breaking Dawn

Part 1

The Twilight Saga

EOne

 

 

Edward’s continence makes him appear distant and disinterested.  Not unlike Pride and Prejudice‘s famed romantic hero, Mr. Darcy.  Darcy, of course, was restrained by the strict manners and social expectations of 19th century England; while Edward’s emotions are held in check by the internal fear that he may lose himself to his vampiric, animal tendencies.

Continue reading

Blu Ray Review: True Blood The Complete Third Season

 

True Blood

The Complete Third Season

HBO

 

 

 

Season three of True Blood introduces us to werewolves, although they aren’t really a power unto their own.  They’re very dog-like in that regard, only capable of structured action when directed by a master.  In this case, their master is the king of Mississippi, Russell Edgington, a 3000 year old southern dandy.

Sookie is largely disconnected with her old life.  She spent half of last season in Dallas, and half of this one in Mississippi, all in the interest of vampire business.  This time around, she heads off to find Bill, who was kidnapped by Edgington for use in his plot to take over Louisiana.  Sookie and Bill seem to have a bilateral parasitic relationship driven more by need than want.  It’s a hunger, or addiction that keeps them together, despite the fact that being together has only caused them both pain.

Sookie is aided in her quest to save Bill by a werewolf named Alcide.  They actually come off as a healthier couple than Sookie and Bill, perhaps because of Alcide’s dog-like faithfulness.  Though, he too is stuck on a woman that is terrible for him, she being an addict and caught up in evil werewolf doings.

Sookie’s friend Tara, who has largely been left behind as Sookie explores her new supernatural world of wonders, has had a very hard time since the series began.  Last season she found ‘love’ only to discover she was under a spell the whole time, leading to the death of her lover.

This season she is kidnapped by a vampire, Franklin, who uses his vampire glamor power to force himself on her.  Being controlled by supernaturals seems a fate she is unable to escape.  Ironically, it’s Franklin that inadvertently brings Tara and Sookie back together, though it’s under the worse circumstances possible.

This sets up a conflict for the two, when Sookie chooses to stay involved with vampires even after one of them hurt Tera so badly.  Tera can seem the obsession in Sookie, and perhaps equates it with her own loss of control when dealing with monsters.

Jason, Sookie’s brother, has really come into his own.  After his swat mission to save Bon Temps from the Maenad in season two; he fancies himself a hero, and sets out to become a police officer.  This is complicated when he falls in lover with a girl whose family lives on the opposite side of the law, leaving Jason to decide just what he wants to protect.

Sookie’s disconnection with other humans has made her less relatable.  She’s so drenched in the vampire world that she’s become a part of it, so we can no longer see it through her eyes.  That said, the rest of the characters have developed to the point that they can carry the human part of the story along enough to keep the series somewhat grounded.  Tera offers a stark contrasting view of the vampires to the one we get from Sookie, and Jason provides a small glimmer of hope that people can do well and better themselves.  Edgington was a compelling villain for the season suitably threatening, but also relatable, at least on some level.

Video and Audio quality on the Blu Ray are flawless.  Many extras are included, including a database of the characters and various species of the series.