MOVIE - “Subspecies”
DIRECTOR – Ted Nicolaou
WRITERS – Jackson Barr, David Pabian, and Charles Band (idea)
SIX DEGREES OF CAST & CREW
- The most notable feature of Subspecies is the beautiful filming location. If it looks authentically Eastern European, that’s because it is. Subspecies was the first American production to ever take place in Romania after the fall of longtime communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Indeed, the hotel room where the production stayed inBucharestwas the main route for the protests and parades, since the revolution was not quite over by the time the cast got there.
- Subspecies is a classic in the vein of Full Moon Pictures, as exhibited by the presence of producer Charles Band. Band is the genius behind dozens of epic (and epicly bad) movies which feature stop-motion animated monsters, like Puppetmaster and Demonic Toys, as well as other great 80’s sci-fi like Trancers. Band has produced 244 movies to date, and he’s not slowing down.
- Actor Anders Hove would go on to play the evil vampire Radu in three other Subspecies movies, including Subspecies II: Bloodstone, Subspecies III: Bloodlust, and Subspecies IV: Bloodstorm. He was not part of the fifth spin-off Subspecies Movie, Vampire Journals. He is quite possibly Greenland’s most famous actor, due to his role on The Killing.
American students Michele (Laura Mae Tate) and Lillian (Michelle McBride) are folklorists, studying the medieval history of folk tales and folk rituals. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, the pair are free to visit their friend from school, the lovely Romanian girl Mara (Irina Movila). Mara has arranged for Michele, Lillian, and herself to stay at an ancient fortress in the city of Prejnar. That’s where a force of only a hundred Transylvanians held off an invading Turkish army, with a little help from vampires.
Or so the legend goes, anyway. Michele and Lillian don’t buy into legends, but the superstitious locals do, and as such they give a certain set of ruins a wide berth. That’s where the vampire king (Angus Scrimm) sleeps. Meanwhile, the vampires and the humans live in peace, as a Gypsy stole the Bloodstone from the Pope and gave it to the vampires to thank them for their help. Prejnar is a vampire safe-haven, or it was safe until Radu (Anders Hove) shows up. Radu wants to usurp his father’s throne and claim the Bloodstone for his very own, and if his brother Stefan (Michael Watson) gets in his way, then he’ll be done for.
If you go into Subspecies expecting nothing, then you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised. The movie is better than it has any right to be, especially due to the filming conditions and the difference between American and Romanian filming styles. The costumes are good, and the filming locations themselves are incredibly beautiful. Seriously, this movie looks gorgeous, and I’d love to visit some of the places where it was shot, because Ted Nicolaou makes great use of the colorful surroundings and the colorful locals. Nicolaou takes a lot of his movie’s cues from the classic 1922 German Expressionist horror flick Nosferatu, right down to Radu’s giant fingernails. Nicolaou recreates a lot of great shots from that movie, and makes good use of light and shadow to show the approaching evil specter of Radu and his quick escapes. It’s a competent, inexpensive way to be stylish, and it really works given the surroundings.
Since this is a Charles Band movie, there’s going to be stop-motion animation. The stop-motion stars of this picture are the Subspecies, little red devil monster guys created in a pretty epic scene by Radu to be his mini-minions. They’re awesome in the Harryhausen way, and credit goes to Dave Allen and the special effects crew for combining awesome rod puppets with marionettes to create some pretty effective scenes of motion. Granted, there are some issues with the puppets. The original scenes were shot on large-scale sets with guys in rubber suits and masks; when Nicolaou and Band decided this didn’t look as epic as it should, they had to capture still images and snaps of frames where the men in suits weren’t involved, then use those stills to green-screen behind the puppets while recreating what the guys in suits were supposed to do. No doubt it was a very difficult process for the crew to pull off, but they did as well as can be expected. For those with a soft spot for puppetry—like me—the results are charmingly effective.
The whole movie can be summed up as charmingly effective, honestly. The acting isn’t great, but Anders Hove is a great villain as Radu. The actresses are mostly there to take up space and be menaced by Radu, but that’s okay. You need good vampire bait to set up for the battle of good vampire versus evil vampire, and they do their job. Not that Stefan is much of a hero, but he does the job despite looking like a refugee from The Lost Boys.
It’s not the best movie ever, but as vampire movies go? It’s pretty good. I like that they attempt to make a vampire that looks, acts, and is evil, rather than simply have a pretty vampire fight another pretty vampire. Radu is mean, and he looks it. That’s why Radu is a great vampire villain, and why Subspecies is a decent movie worth tracking down.
RATING - 3 Subspecies out of 5