Subspecies: The Official Nerfed Llamas Review – The “we’re smarter than we look” edition…
As we sprint into the home stretch on my month long tribute to Full Moon Features, I wanted to be sure to highlight at least one more of the classic franchises. I had already reviewed Demonic Toys (and will likely review Dollman Vs. Demonic Toys tomorrow), so I didn’t necessarily want to review a Puppet Master film, as they have a number of similarities. There are quite a few Full Moon gems from the late 80s and early 90s, but seeing as I wanted a classic, I landed rather comfortably on Subspecies, a tale deeply steeped in Romanian culture and stories of vampires and other such supernatural events. With all of the micro shrunk people, big headed mutants, aliens, and magical creatures from previous reviews done this month, it seemed good to take on Full Moon’s new wrinkle on the age old tale of blood and power.
What is Subspecies: Subspecies is the tale of the 2 Romanian vampire brothers, Stefan and Radu Vladislas, who are embroiled in a battle for the Bloodstone, a relic that eternally drips the blood of saints. the Bloodstone is a means for Stefan to live a relatively normal life without drinking from the humans around him, but for Radu, a hideous vampire born of sorcery, it not only offers him nourishment but power as well. At the same time, 3 young college students are visiting Romania to conduct field research on Romanian culture and to hear the folklore and superstitious tales firsthand. As the fight for the Bloodstone draws more intense, the 3 college students get caught in the middle and their lives will be forever changed. Created by Charles Band (creator of Full Moon Features and many of their franchises), directed by Ted Nicolaou (Bad Channels, TerrorVision), from a script by Jackson Barr (Bad Channels, Trancers II) and David Pabian (Dollman, Puppet Master II), Subspecies stars Angus Scrimm (Phantasm, Mindwarp), Anders Hove (Critters 4, Nymphomaniac: Vol I), Laura Tate (Deadspace, Diggstown), Irina Movila (Hotel De Lux, Diplomatic Siege), Michelle McBride (The Masque of the Red Death, Prey of the Chameleon), Michael Watson (Prophet of Evil, Fear), Ivan Rado (Mac and Me, Mask), and Mara Grigore (Vulpe, Weekend With My Mother).
What I Liked: Subspecies was filmed entirely on location in Romania and the results are terrific. Every location looks authentic and feels rich with history and a sense of the “old world”. There is a ton of medieval architecture and wonderfully gothic tones to all of the scenes that is something that would be hard to replicate otherwise for a low budget film. Speaking of film, it would appear that Subspecies was filmed in 35 mm, and it shows as the movie looks more cinematic than many b-movies filmed by other low budget studios. Ultimately, this film was scouted and filmed exceptionally well.
Radu is an immensely interesting villian. Whereas I would stop short of calling him chariming or likeable, Anders Hove’s portrayal of Radu has a magnetism to it. He draws you in immediately, and puts just the right amount of dedicated creepy into his movements and facial expressions to keep you glued on his every move. Radu is a vile creature, self serving and only wanting to hold the power and take treasured things away from his brother Stefan. The reason the Subspecies series has lasted for 3 additional main series sequels and a spin off film is because of the performance put in by Anders Hove in this film.
Stefan and Michelle, portrayed by Michael Watson and Laura Tate respectively, are also well done in the first film. Neither actor returned for the additional Subspecies films, which is a bit of a shame as they did an admirable job working together against the villainous Radu. Stefan has a dreamy quality to him, and is many ways the embodiment of the ideal male circa 1991. He had nice clothes, wind tunnel tested hair, and a charming demeanor. Michelle, a college student and Stefan’s love interest, is smart, compassionate, and sensible. Together, they show a side of vampirism that is hopeful for a unity between vampires and humans, and also a human that is willing to accept a vampire as a contemporary and not only as a monster. It is a stark contrast from Radu’s need for power and human blood, and lends much needed gravitas to the overall narrative.
I’d also like give props to Ivan Rado, who portrayed Karl the keeper of the Inn where the students are staying, and a friend to Stefan. Repeatedly, Karl has to put his life on the limb to help Stefan or the college students, and each time he does it with a shotgun in one hand and a stake in the other. Karl is essentially, a bad ass. When not helping with the vampire menace Radu and his minions, Karl offers much needed exposition for the story and knowledge of the Romania of the past and how it is still so in the present. He is a noble hero and a wise counselor to the students and to Stefan. Were the film to focus solely on the students and Stefan, it likely would have fallen apart. Karl is the glue that keeps this film firmly put together.
On a final note, the soundtrack for Subspecies is tremendously entertaining as well. Scored by Stuart Brotman, Richard Kosinski, William Levine, Michael Portis, John Zeretzke and performed by the Aman Folk Orchestra, it is rich with music that highlights a wide variety of moods and atmospheres. From the upbeat and tribal-like music for the festival, to the eerie tunes that play while sinister things are happening in the shadows, and even back at the Inn for the more relaxed times with the students. The music fits the tone of each scene and is a wonderful complimentary piece for the film.
What I Didn’t Like: This ends up falling in the “ain’t nothing wrong it” b-movie category. It’s a gothic tale of vampires and the humans who get tangled in their webs, filmed on location in Romania with an amazing soundtrack. Given a bigger budget and a box office draw actor in either the role of Stefan or Michelle, and Subspecies could have been a box office cult classic. Sure, the special effects have not stood the test of time and some of the dialogue is a tad hokey, but even still Subspecies is truly the kind of b-movie that reminds me why I like to watch these charmingly low budget films in the first place: occasionally one gets it all the way right!
Bottom Line: Subspecies is a fun and spooky take on vampire mythology that has both heart and solid production values. It tells an interwoven tale that connects a large cast into a story that casts humanity in the balance for whether an altruistic vampire who means to protect humanity will hold the power of the Bloodstone, or if a mad vampire hellbent on feeding and gaining more power will terrorize all that he meets. There are no sparkling vampires to be found in Subspecies, and certainly no whining emo girls, just good ol’ fashioned blood, lust and the macabre. I highly recommend Subspecies, which can be watched on Blu-Ray, DVD, and via Full Moon’s Streaming service.
Check out the trailer for Subspecies, and see if you would like to taste a drop from the Bloodstone: