Saturday, April 23, 2016

Movie Reviews: Count Yorga, Vampire, My Son The Fanatic

Count Yorga, Vampire
directed by Bob Kelljan
This AIP movie is similar to what Hammer later tried to do with Dracula AD 1972. It updates vampires for the modern era. The difference is that Count Yorga ,Vampire takes its subject matter more seriously. This film is an example of how low budget doesn't necessarily need to mean low class. The special effects are few and far between. The blood looks fake as can be. But nevertheless this film gives a pretty good bang for the buck as far as scares go. In addition, this is a pretty interesting trip in time back to the days of doctors who chain smoked, women who found bras to be too constraining and men who thought that tight gaudy polyester pants just screamed out macho masculinity. So there's that. The early seventies were a different time. As the title gives away there isn't any real mystery as to who the bad guy is or what he is. Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) looking and sounding like a Continental mix (even though he's American) between Dracula and Hugh Hefner is the titular bad guy. Yorga's making ends meet as a medium and hypnotist. He claims to originally be from Bulgaria. Yorga is conducting a seance for a woman named Donna (Donna Anders). Donna wants to contact her recently deceased mother. Donna's mother died suddenly from anemia shortly after she became Yorga's girlfriend. The Count didn't come to the daytime funeral. But he did convince Donna to bury her mother instead of cremating her as her will instructed. Donna doesn't seem to find this strange. At Donna's request many of her friends attend the seance even though they don't take the seance or the strange count very seriously. As the seance gets going Donna sees something and becomes hysterical. Count Yorga calms her down and hypnotizes her to forget whatever it was she saw. He also takes the opportunity to implant some naughty post-hypnotic suggestions in her head. Needing a ride home Count Yorga prevails upon Erica (Judy Lang) and her boyfriend Paul (Michael Murphy) to offer him a lift. Paul's not crazy about the idea; he doesn't like the glances the Count is giving his woman. Erica seems oblivious. Arriving at the Count's neo-gothic LA mansion Paul declines the Count's offer to Erica and him to stay the night. Paul is anxious to be away, especially after seeing the Count's silent moronic looking servant Bruda (Edward Walsh). 

Leaving the estate their VW van gets stuck in mud which wasn't there before. Since this is before cell phones and neither of them wants to go back to the mansion they settle down to do what boyfriend and girlfriend normally do when they are alone. The Count crashes their party, throwing Paul out of the van and having his way with Erica. The next day neither Paul nor Erica can remember what happened. But Erica is sick. She has a sudden fondness for eating live animals. Even in the wild seventies this was beyond the norm so Paul calls his best bud Michael (Michael MacReady), Donna's boyfriend, and the aforementioned chain smoking hematologist Dr. Hayes (Roger Perry). It's a weakness of the movie that Hayes is very quick to seize on vampirism as the culprit. I mean if you visited your doctor and told him you had a sudden coughing fit would you expect him to immediately pronounce that you were infected by Aliens? To be fair though once you see a woman eating her pet I think you might be open to some unlikely theories.This movie is not really a remake of the original Dracula story but it is very similar to it. A group of men must protect their women from the foreign menace. Again, unlike today's vampire movies, this film isn't driven by special effects. There's a lot of talking punctuated by long bouts of silence. There's also a fair amount of cleavage. The Count is a strictly heterosexual vampire. Only women, and good looking ones at that, are among his victims. I mean if you're intending on living forever you might as well do it in style, right? The best that men can hope for is a quick death. Yorga's not into sharing his growing harem. Because the special effects are minimal, paradoxically this film, low budget and all, has its creepy moments. It extracts fear from things like finding someone watching you, missing a wake up call, or realizing that your vehicle is stuck. Robert Quarry doesn't have a lot to do but he does it well enough. This film is not action heavy. I believe I first saw this movie way back in the day on either Creature Feature or Thriller. This movie will likely only be of interest to horror movie fans.

My Son The Fanatic
directed by Udayan Prasad
I think that the question of nationalism is going to be more, not less, important in the 21st century and beyond. Although there are some people who believe that nation states and their trappings are crutches which humans need to evolve beyond there are also those who think that a strong nation-state with sovereign borders and independent economies is still required. People do not organize themselves by markets and economics alone. I might have more to write on that on a later date since I tend to align more closely with the second group. Anyhow the reason I mention that is that those questions are becoming more and more urgent as poor economic prospects, weak states, the fallout from colonialism, overpopulation and even climate change drive more people to move from the Global South to the Global North. The problem with this is that people and cultures are not fungible. You can not move millions of people from Area A into Area B without problems. If Area B has traditionally been peopled by humans who do things very differently from humans in Area A there will be some issues. There will be conflicts. Some of these will be minor. But some will be pretty serious. We see that today in the controversies over immigration to Europe from Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean. We've also seen people from Eric Clapton to John Cleese point out that London doesn't look like it used to look (and they don't like it). The events in this older movie (it was made in 1997) presaged many current discussions about Belgium, France, the U.K. and even the United States. Why are some people who grew up with European citizenship rejecting it in favor of something else. My Son The Fanatic is also a pretty decent love story.
Parvez (Om Puri) is a Pakistani immigrant to the U.K. He's a pretty decent fellow. Maybe too decent. He drives a taxi. Parvez is happy to be in the U.K. and considers himself English--or at least Pakistani-English. He's a Muslim but he's not going to freak out if he should have bacon or drink alcohol on occasion. And because he sees himself as not like those people in Pakistan he won't automatically immediately take offense if white Englishmen or Englishwomen make accidental or even deliberate racist comments about Pakistanis. No, Parvez thinks that if you work hard and keep a positive attitude, good things will happen. His son Farid (Akbar Kurtha) was born in the U.K. So he has no basis for comparison to anything else. He has a much lower tolerance for racism, deliberate or not. Based mostly on his father's wishes Farid is betrothed to marry a white Englishwoman, the daughter of the local police chief. But although Farid is too young to have a midlife crisis he's still having trouble trying to define himself in a country which doesn't feel right to him. When Farid detects some racist condescension from his putative wife and in-laws he calls off the wedding, chastising his father for naivete and lack of pride. More ominously Farid re-dedicates himself to fundamentalist Islam, sells off his guitar, rejects Western culture and starts hanging out with some dodgy characters. The father and son realize that they don't know each other that well and may not like each other that much. Farid's frustrations are long standing. They are as much personal as they are ideological.

Parvez has met the call girl Bettina (Rachel Griffiths). He drives her around from appointment to appointment. He tries to protect her. They talk and start to hang out. The duo realize that they might have something more than a transactional relationship. But it's then that Parvez discovers that his angry and possibly violent son may not be wrong about everything. This is a movie that is full of humor and heartbreak, just like life. There's a lot to be said for how different generations respond in varying ways to conflict. This movie raises a lot of questions about assimilation and identity-religious, racial, national. Parvez is a jazz fan. He is a man of South Asian descent living in the U.K. He is a Muslim. Are those identities necessarily all mutually exclusive? Parvez thinks not. Farid thinks that he can find the answers to life by returning to a mythical lost past purity. He also thinks that he should be able to exert power over people who don't meet his religious standards. Nevertheless, this film is not as simple as tolerance good, fundamentalist bad. Give this one a look see if you can find it.
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