Film Review: Subspecies (1991)

SYNOPSIS:

Three young women travel to Transylvania to do some research on the local myths and legends. Little do the three of them know that soon they are going to be in the presence of one of Transylvania’s most infamous superstitions.

REVIEW:

Director: Ted Nicolaou
Starring: Anders Hove, Laura Mae Tate, Michael Watson
“Make me like you, Stefan. There’s no other hope for me.”

In an era where vampires are portrayed on film as emotionally distraught pretty boys and girls it is hard to believe but at one time viewers were actually scared of them. In the 1990’s there was a straight to video released series of films that were found all over mom and pop stores video shelves across America that once again brought the scares back into the vampire genre. That film series was Ted Nicolaou’s Subspecies!

Some interesting tidbits about Subspecies are that it was the first American movie to actually be filmed in Bucharest, Romania and it definitely shows. The sets for the film are truly breathtaking when the characters are outside, when they are inside the sets almost kind of mirror a cheap period pieces kind of set but it still doesn’t hamper the film. The actual name Subspecies actually also refers to the tiny demon like creatures that the main villain Radu is able to create by tearing off his own fingers! The subspecies creatures are actually stop motion and once again do remind the viewer about just how much fun a vampire movie can be.

The main plot behind Ted Nicolau’s Subspecies is that three young female college students are arriving in Romania to witness ages old superstitious legends. Most of these legends of course involve vampires, but one of the first stories a viewer hears plays the vampires almost as heroes. It is told while the three girls are exploring that nearly five hundred years ago some peasants hid themselves from the Turkish army, when the peasants ran out of supplies they ventured from their fortress to find that the Turk army had all be slain by vampires!

The locals also share a story about a legendary Bloodstone. The Bloodstone is said to contain the blood of saints and for vampires who are good it can sustain their existence without getting involved in the mortal world. Luckily for us viewers the main vampire in Subspecies isn’t of the good variety. The students travel to some ruins and witness some rituals that the locals use to deal with vampires throughout the film (a lot of these sequences are really well done and scholars of the vampire can truly appreciate the way they are shown on the screen).

The girls eventually find that there is another resident in the hotel where they are staying a young man named Stefan. One of the girls in the group Michelle immediately develops a crush on Stefan who conveniently shows up throughout the film to protect his crush from any harm from the main vampire of the film who appears not to long after the girls start to hear some of the local legends. Once the main vampire shows up though the film is suddenly filled with wonderful suspense, some decent gore effects and a whole lot of chasing around.

The main vampire in the film (and the entire series) is a vampire named Radu. Radu isn’t a pretty boy dressed up like a member of Duran Duran, nor is he an emotional creature. Thankfully Ted Nicolau delivers us a vampire that meets up to all of our nightmares. Radu doesn’t even look human, his skin is white and his features are twisted into that of a monster. His mouth is full of razor sharp fangs and he constantly seems to be drooling fresh blood out of the side of his mouth. His fingernails are also exceptionally long, which leads to an unintentional funny swordfight near the end of the movie. When Radu speaks his voice is a harsh whisper, and luckily he delivers most of the best lines in the entire film.

Like most vampires of film Radu is scared of sunlight (even though there are a few scenes where Radu is walking around and it is obviously not night time) and apparently crucifixes and stakes through the heart also take care of the menace he also sleeps in a coffin and it is implied that the vampire does indeed have to sleep in their own crypt lest the sun destroy them. Radu doesn’t change into a bat or anything like that but he can turn into a shadow and travel very quickly from place to place, there is one scene where this power is capitalized into a great scare!

Another power that Radu seems to have is that he can tear off parts of his body and turn them into miniature demon creatures that do his bidding, the budget of the film does hamper some of these scenes involving the “subspecies” but the film does still remain fun. Like other vampires in stories and film Radu also can create progeny by killing a victim and having them come back as one of the undead themselves, this leads to a very great scene where Radu watches as his progeny digs her way out of a shallow grave. Radu isn’t the nicest creature, before the credits even roll the viewer gets to witness Radu killing his father (a cameo by horror legend Angus Scrimm) and stealing the Bloodstone for himself.

Radu isn’t the only vampire in the film either his half brother Stefan is also there in a power struggle to avenge his father and get the Bloodstone back. Stefan doesn’t embrace his vampire heritage and instead chooses to hide among normal mortals. He also has some mommy issues since one of the main reasons he starts to follow the three young students around is because one of them has his mother’s eyes.

Stefan is almost the stereotypical type of vampire that one can find in a lot of movies these days and he describes the difference between Radu and himself and its source (they had different mothers). In one scene with Michelle Stefan explains to her the power of the Bloodstone, to a vampire like him it is a way to coexist with mortals but to a vampire like Radu it is almost like a drug that continues to allow the evil vampire to grow stronger and stronger. Stefan doesn’t travel by himself though, he has a mortal servant who follows him around and also is quite handy with using a shotgun filled with rosary beads!

Subspecies has spawned three actual sequels and one spin off film (The Vampire Journals), and it is very similar to film series like Phantasm where each film picks up where the last film left off so of course there are a lot of unanswered questions when one first watches Subspecies, these unanswered questions are of course answered when one views the sequels.

Subspecies is an independent film that was released straight on video by Full Moon pictures in the 1990’s so of course it was all done on a budget. Some of the scenes are so hampered by the budget that the viewer almost has to use their imagination to see the scene as it might have originally been intended but the action and story move along so nicely that these budget restraints really do not hurt the film which really is just a set up for the rest of the series. The characters move from film to film and Radu is continually played by Anders Hove though Michelle’s role is replaced later on.

Subspecies definitely is a welcome addition to any fan of the vampires film library as it actually goes more into the folklore aspect of the creature. The gore fx are done fairly decently for the budget of the film and the red stuff does seem to fly so gore hounds will truly appreciate this one. I still have to say though one of the highlights of the movie is the actual location (some locals were actually cast in small roles!) and the portrayal of some of the rituals that the locals go through for dealing with the vampire menace not to mention the inclusion of one of the most bad ass blood suckers in the history of cinema Radu! Seriously see this movie and when you are done go ahead and watch the sequels too.

Subspecies is available now in a 3 pack set per Echo Bridge

Subspecies (1991)

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