Prolific B-movie whiz Charles Band has boasted that for the budget of one James Cameron extravaganza he could "make movies forever." Despite the assembly-line sentiments, Band's films, produced under his Full Moon Entertainment banner and released directly to home video, show considerable
ambition, imagination and mood. Yet few Full Moon efforts really succeed. Too many fall apart at the script level, as if Band's stable of auteurs worked from treatments instead of completed screenplays. Another disappointment is SUBSPECIES, promoted as the first vampire tale to be filmed on
location in the Transylvania region of Romania, right in Dracula's own backyard.
Dracula in fact makes a guest appearance in the prologue as a feeble-looking "King Vlad" (Angus Scrimm). His history, recounted in the dialogue, is more interesting than the rest of the storyline. Back in the 15th century, his nocturnal minions decimated an invading Turkish army. In gratitude a
gypsy presented the vampire king with a treasure stolen from the Vatican--the Bloodstone, a rock that oozes the blood of all saints. While Vlad happily suckled at the relic, a truce held between man and vampire down the centuries. Now Vlad plans to pass his crown on to son Stefan (Michael Watson),
a semi-human halfbreed who could continue the peace. But Dracula has another son, a voracious fiend named Radu (Anders Hove) who will not be denied. He kills Vlad and seizes the Bloodstone.
Meanwhile, three pretty college girls have encamped nearby, ostensibly to study Transylvanian folklore. "We're smarter than we look!" chirps one; famous last words, as fun-loving Yank Lillian (Michele McBride) gashes her arm while exploring Radu's castle. Drawn by her blood, Radu bites and
enslaves the damsels one by one. Stefan, masquerading as a hunky zoologist, has fallen in love with beautiful Michele (Laura Tate), and he's taken prisoner and forced to watch as Radu vampirizes her. Suddenly Stefan's human guardian Karl (Ivan J. Rado) attacks with stakes and bullets seeded with
rosary beads. The evil vampires are destroyed, but Michele is dying. To ensure she does not become Radu's eternal disciple Stefan bites Michele, transforming her into his own mate.
In narrative terms SUBSPECIES is a mess. Vlad is supposed to be king of all vampires, but where are his subjects? Only three seem to exist: himself, Stefan and Radu. No wonder, then, that usurper Radu seems more interested in converting sexy, half-clad babes than reigning. Stefan is a good guy,
but still a bloodsucker, and the film sidesteps the notion that he too has been feasting on humans all his life. Romanian peasants, as shown here, haven't changed one bit since medieval times. The three scholarly heroines have the attributes of giggly teens in a high school slasher pic, and
Michele apparently has no family or future plans to clash with her new career as queen of the undead. Editing is ragged, with disjointed scenes ending abruptly in blackouts.
The film's strength lies in some bold stylistic strokes from director Ted Nicolaou, inspired by the 1919 German expressionistic terror classic NOSFERATU. The ghoulish Radu is a feral figure of graveyard dread, chillingly batlike in visage and gesture. Nicolaou cues the creature's entrance with
shots of its spreading shadow, accompanied by a noise like a creaking coffin lid. The "subspecies" of the title is a squad of devilish imps who serve Radu, spawned from his own snapped-off fingertips. Oddly, both advance publicity and coming-attraction trailers indicate the beasties would be
portrayed by Romanian stuntmen in elaborate costumes, but in the final film they're depicted via David Allen's stop-motion animation of demonic miniature figures.
The atmospheric Transylvanian locations certainly enhance the material, and the girls even drive one of the notorious East-German-built Trabant cars. Charles Band planned to film the Nazi-era PUPPET MASTER III in Romania as well, until civil strife in that revolution-wracked country led Full Moon
to shift the production from Bucharest to Universal Studios in California. (Violence, profanity, nudity.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Prolific B-movie whiz Charles Band has boasted that for the budget of one James Cameron extravaganza he could "make movies forever." Despite the assembly-line sentiments, Band's films, produced under his Full Moon Entertainment banner and released directly… (more)