Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Denied his place in history as a true genre icon, Robert Quarry starred in numerous '70s exploitation features, including Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Sugar Hill, Madhouse and Rollercoaster. Here we profile probably his best-known pic, as well as a personal passion project of Quarry's which never got its due recognition.
Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)
Considering its low budget feel and camp qualities, writer/director Bob Kelljan’s little shocker has no right to work as well as it does. One of the first films to place a vampire in a modern setting, Quarry cuts an impressive cape-whirling figure as the titular count moonlighting as a hypnotist to seduce swinging chicks into his bloodsucking harem. While the film has not aged particularly well, the '70s attire and attitudes lend a kitschy charm, actually enhancing the viewing experience. The performances will win no acting awards, but manage to carry off the story ably enough, and despite minimal nudity, the film packs in enough sensuality (the females really like being bitten) to get the blood racing. Quarry operates out of a gothic castle outside Los Angeles, deftly mixing scenes of apartment track lighting and close encounters in the backs of vans with candlelit drawing room confrontations.
Kelljan gets the most out of his few dollars, throwing a fair amount of blood and violence around with authority, yet sustains a well-grounded story and interesting characters. The script is intentionally funny at times, which cannot be said of many genre films from the period. The scene in which one of Quarry’s quarry eyeballs her cat as a source of nourishment is worth the price of admission alone, and the finale is satisfyingly exciting and bloody. Originally conceived as a full-out adult offering, the film was trimmed for general audiences and became a surprise hit, both stateside and abroad. Followed by a sequel, The Return of Count Yorga.
Best described as “What if Charles Manson had been a vampire?”, Robert Quarry stars as Khorda, a mysterious figure who shows up at the local hippie commune and turns them on to a different groove. R.L. Grove's wannabe hip n’ groovy dialogue was probably already pretty ripe at the initial release, and time hasn’t been kind. But Quarry (who also served as executive producer) has screen presence to burn and his longhair fanged fiend is a welcome twist on the caped gentility that had been skulking about onscreen for years.
On the flipside, John Fielder – yes, the voice of Piglet on Winnie the Pooh – is the least likely Van Helsing character you’re likely to find. (That's also Bobby "Boris" Pickett - he of "Monster Mash" novelty song fame - as one of the goofy hippies.) Throw in a little kung fu, some scantily clad babes, and Khorda’s big creepy drum-lovin’ familiar, and you’re in for some deliciously cheesy '70s programming. A reasonably rewarding curiosity piece, unfortunately released to little fanfare then buried by Sam Arkoff and AIP (but available on DVD thanks to Fred Olen Ray and Retromedia).