I think that the 1970’s was a decade that gave us several fantastically good horror movies, some examples of the genre began to explore new ways to scare via the more traditional means but more often than not the Horror movies from the 1970’s began to experiment with quirky twists in plots and storylines and it was around this time that we began to see various degrees of real gore and shock creeping into productions, some say gratuitous violence was also making a more pronounced and regular appearance. But the gothic and traditional horror scenarios were still the mainstay of the genre. At times these established and familiar horror elements and tales were updated and moved into a more modern timeline. The decade that also gave us disco also brought to screens some made for TV affairs but even though they were produced for the small screen with at times extremely low budgets their quality still shone through. In the 1970’s we were treated to movies such as Count Yorga Vampire, which although in the UK was shown as a B feature (I saw Yorga with Vincent Price Poe influenced movie The Cry of The Banshee) was well made and had to it an interesting and at times even thought-provoking storyline.
Yorga, I think is one of the more classier vampire movies that was produced in the 1970’s. It seemed that almost everyone at that start of the seventies wanted to uproot the Vampire from its more traditional Gothic settings of Transylvania or Eastern Europe and place it into a more contemporary one.
I suppose it was Yorga that led the way for the updating of the Vampire legend as it was released in 1970, and its sequel The Return of Count Yorga (Vampire Story) followed in 1971. Dracula AD 1972, and The Satanic Rites of Dracula made by Hammer films soon hit the cinema screens in 1972 and 1973 respectively, but I think that once Hammer had committed to placing their star Vampire into a modern environment the franchise became tired and woefully inadequate for audiences, with even Christopher Lee becoming disenchanted with the way the studio were going in the cycle, the thing was that once they did it how could they go back? (Dracula meets Dr. Who maybe?) Yorga however was different why? Well because audiences had not seen him in any other setting so the timeline for this vampire seemed fitting and I think there could have been maybe at least another in the series easily. Other releases such as Blacula (1972) and Scream Blacula Scream (1973) also made it to the big screen, with the first movie being quite successful but its sequel falling under the radar after its initial release. Then there was an often-forgotten movie, Vampira or Old Dracula which starred David Niven in the role of Count Dracula, who was attempting to bring his bride Vampira back to life and make here even more beautiful by using the blood of several highly attractive models.
But his plan goes slightly off the tracks as the blood he has collected turns Vampira from a beautiful white vampire into an even more stunning Black Countess. The trend of updating the vampire legend continued into the 1980’s with movies such as Fright Night (1985) and more recently in the not so atmospheric re-make of that movie and in the odd and rather annoying Twilight Saga where vampires shimmer in the daylight (what’s all that about). Then there was Blade and its subsequent sequels, which brought the tale of the vampire right up to date including a trance music soundtrack as well as the original score. Vampire movies will always hold a special place in the hearts and minds of cinema audiences, they seem to be fascinated by the legend of the living dead as they were called, fixated and mesmerized even and drawn to the mysterious and complex personas of these blood sucking predators.
For me personally any updating of the Vampire legend had not been successful and had failed to work until Yorga came on the scene that is. The movie which was low budget in comparison to other horrors around at the same time and on occasion looking as if it could have been a TV movie made for late night viewing in certain scenes. But the movie its plot and cast were superb, and the film was like a breath of fresh air as Vampire movies went. The score by Bill Marx was too something of an eye opener, rather than a full-on booming, grandiose, and thundering soundtrack all’a say Hammer films, the music was visceral and more avant garde than what we had come to know as a typical horror score. But it suited the film wonderfully and created nerve jangling tension and even added a greater depth of atmosphere and created a mood that was undeniably effective.
Sadly, the superb score for Count Yorga Vampire has never been released and the only way you can hear Bill Marx’s atmospheric music is to either watch the movie or buy the Blu ray edition that contains the isolated score. It seems a bit unfair in a way that this movies score remains unreleased the Marx soundtrack being superior to so many others that were around during this period. Listening to the music from Count Yorga without the images is just as chilling and harrowing as it is when underlining the action on screen, in fact I would go as far as to say maybe it’s a little more unsettling.
Marx who is the adopted son of Harpo Marx scored the movie under the name of William Marx. The composer penned a sinister and suitably virulent sounding work to punctuate and enhance the Count as he went about his deadly business in 1970, s Los Angeles. Scored for a chamber orchestra or a relatively small ensemble, it is in my opinion one of the most innovative soundtracks for a horror movie that was released in the early to mid 1970’s.
The composers rather sparse and forward-looking approach worked wonderfully and the musical score at times became the driving heartbeat of the action, and it was the music that would make the audience gasp or jump out of their seats, rather than any of the actual horrific jolts that were happening on screen.
Of course, the film contained shocking scenes and turbulent twists and turns but these were all aided greatly by the music. The movie itself was successful in the US, the UK, and Europe so it was a surprise that the score was not released at the time of the film’s release, but there again the soundtrack market was a little different in those days, with record labels not really being interested in music from horror movies. Bill Marx, is in my view an underrated composer, and his score for Count Yorga Vampire is proof of the composers incredible talent and obvious gift for underlining scenarios and making them work more effectively and specifically in the case of Yorga making various doubly harrowing. So, I thought why not review the score from the isolated score tracks on the Blue Ray DVD, because I doubt very much if the score will now ever be released onto a CD or even made available on digital platforms but saying this it could still pop up somewhere one day. I must mention and thank critic and radio presenter Tim Ayres who was kind enough to record the isolated score for me and also subsequently put me in touch with Bill Marx for the purpose of an interview which Movie Music International will be running someday soon we hope.
The score opens with the brief but highly atmospheric Main Titles track, (M1) which commences with organ chords and a central theme that ushered in the titles of the movie being performed by two violins and punctuated by a plucked piano, the violins then announce the beginning of the movie by literally rushing into a crescendo, I remember the title coming up on screen and the audience gasping and literally jumping, because of the urgency of the violins there is also a short performance by oboe, that makes a statement after the initial violin performance, which adds a calmness to the proceedings and allows the audience to recover slightly, the calmness that the composer realizes here is why the opening music is so effective. One knows that this is a horror movie, but the music is subtle and sinewy initially not announcing anything urgent. It is so effective because it easily lulls the watching audience into a false sense of being safe and secure. But this introduction is nothing and little did they know what there was in store for them, both visually and musically.
The Vampire Legend, (M102-T1) is the music that underscores the opening scenes where we se Yorga’s coffin being transported from the docks on the back of a station wagon driven by his faithful servant Brudah, the music is in the background to a narration about the Vampire legend.
(M103-T1) The Séance, is a mysterious piece for Harps and I think I can also detect the subtle use of organ in the background, but it is just a hint that underlines and embellishes the performances of the harps. Understated but again like the remainder of the score effective and affecting, creating a nervous tension and an apprehensive air.
Erica’s Apartment is an interesting piece, it begins with timpani, just a lone snare drum tapping out a beat that increases in tempo, but soon slows to single taps and just when one thinks the cue is coming to its end, the track erupts with string stabs that are edgy and taught creating an excellent and striking wake up call for the audience or listener, the strings are punctuated by sparse but noticeable percussion which adds a sense of foreboding and urgency to the piece.
Yorga’s Mansion (M403 T2) is a brief cue, with organ and breathy woodwind, that establishes an atmosphere that is thick with a mysterious mood. Yorga’s Storm (M501 T1) is hypnotic with the composition being for organ and strings, the strings becoming spidery and at the same time slightly sensual.
Whilst listening to the score as just music I was amazed how Marx was successful in realizing music that although was not that thematic still had to it an alluring and attractive persona, which I suppose is like the films central character, as in we know he is evil but are unable to resist his mesmerizing charms for want of a better phrasing.
This is something that is more noticeable in the cues Erica at the Window (M502 T3) which is basically an introduction to the more developed and expressive sounding Eternal Love, (M503A T2) with its romantically slanted melody for solo violin woods and harp initially being played at a slight kilter.
As the composer emphasizes the woodwind and adds a second violin the cue becomes even more romantically laced being utilized in the love scene between Erica and Yorga. as it is utilized to enhance a love scene of sorts between Yorga and Erica, but at the same time it conveys a sinister and darkly menacing undertone as we know that the Count is about to add Erica to his growing harem of Brides. The score is filled with numerous short, sharp but effective cues, which underline and support the scenarios being acted out on screen. I can only guess that at the time of the film’s release a soundtrack album was not even considered, because if at this time the Hammer scores had not seen the light of day on a recording what chance did Yorga have? And studios simply were not interested in the “Background Music” as they referred to it. I think the attraction to the score for Count Yorga Vampire is its originality, its freshness, and vibrancy, with the composer placing a unique musical stamp upon the film, never over scoring but always supporting.
The music that Marx wrote to accompany the character of Brudah played by actor Edward Walsh, is filled with an ominous air, the composer utilizing low strings, that are punctuated with harp and given added menace by the introduction of additional strings some of which are plucked that make an appearance alongside a scattering of percussion and a line here and there from subdued and breathy woodwind. The music captured perfectly the lumbering and raw mindless brutal actions of the Counts servant, who is loyal to his Master at all costs. This type of scoring manifests itself in Brudah and Donna (M803 T3) and in Michael Finds Paul/Brudah Attacks with the composer also working timpani into the latter track to increase the tension.
There are some electronic stabs and effects within the score, but I am not sure if this is something that was the work of the composer or something that was added after the scoring session had finished. also working timpani into the latter track to increase the tension. These are short and sharp mainly and feature in Paul’s Death (M603 T1) and Michael Opens Coffin. The end scenes of the movie are scored almost continuously in Final Fight (M1002 T4) as Michael attempts to escape with Donna after he has driven a stake into Yorga.
But little do we know or indeed is Michael aware that Donna does not really want to be saved. The brides of Yorga are even more terrifying with the score underlining their actions, as they rush towards Michael hissing and fangs bared blocking his way on the staircase.
The score for Count Yorga Vampire is in my opinion a gem of a soundtrack, its tones, motifs, nuances, and phrases are accomplished, and its overall sound and style has to it a sustained and malevolent atmosphere that is perfectly suited to the storyline. Check out the DVD with the isolated score tracks, and why not re-visit both the Yorga movies.