Subspecies (1991)

Starring Anders Hove, Laura Tate, Irina Movila, Michelle McBride, Michael Watson, Mara Grigore, Adrian Valcu, Ivan J. Rado, Angus Scrimm

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-Movie scale:
threehalfstar


It had to happen at some point. With all the horror films coming out of Full Moon, it was inevitable that they’d pump out a vampire flick sooner or later. Subspecies came around fairly early in their life cycle and ended up being one of their most popular series, spawning three sequels and side story spin-off film. I’m getting ahead of myself though, as today I’m only here to answer the question, “Is the original Subspecies worth all that fuss?”

Subspecies opens with a great scene between the evil exiled vampire Radu (Anders Hove) and his father, The King (Angus Scrimm). The King tries to imprison Radu by dropping a metal cage on him, but Radu has a trick up his sleeve in his fingers. Radu is no joke; he fuckin’ breaks off his fingertips, dropping them to the ground. They wriggle and ooze blood, slowly transforming into three-inch high demons called Subspecies! It’s fuckin’ awesome! From here, Radu gains control of his father’s bloodstone, a red crystal that eternally oozes life-giving blood for the vampire that doesn’t get out much. Meanwhile, three college students come to Romania to study the local folklore. They soon find themselves wrapped up in a struggle to stay alive against the evil that is Radu!

Subspecies is easily one of the most atmospheric films in the Full Moon canon. The first of their films to be shot on location in Romania, director Ted Nicolaou makes wonderful use of the ruins and the castles that mark the countryside. It’s amazing how much an old stone structure in the background of your shot can help the feel of a film, and it gives Subspecies a great, Gothic feel. But how does this stack up as a vampire movie? Pretty well, although it’s not going to dethrone Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula or any of the other big favorites. The problem here is that the film, while atmospheric and enjoyable, moves aimlessly through its plot without much tension. There’s also a bit of a bait and switch with the Subspecies appearing early, receiving the title of the film, and then only popping up once in a while. There’s one moment at the end where I had literally forgot they existed when they showed up again, so that tells you how much they factored into the plot. The film ends with a great sequel setup though, and those little finger-demons will definitely have their part to play.

I viewed the recently released Blu-ray of the film which is remastered and presented for the first time in a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, supposedly the intended ratio. Most of the shots translate well to the matting, but every once in a while there’s a shot with things on both the top and the bottom of the screen cropped off, making it clear that the film was intended for a full frame ratio. Honestly though, it only crops up (Rimshot!) a couple of times through the film, and most of the movie benefits quite a bit from the widescreen ratio. Having the film in widescreen does take some of the Full Moon feel out of the film, but surprisingly this one is so full of its own atmosphere that it doesn’t really have much of a Full Moon atmosphere to begin with. This could also be attributed to the fact that it was produced so early in the company’s life, shortly after the demise of Empire International and before they had really developed their distinct low-budget style.

The FX are universally awesome. It’s no secret how much I love stop-motion FX and especially David Allen’s work. The Subspecies look and feel fantastic, realistically moving and interacting with the environment. Where they falter a bit is when they’re in a shot with a human, which requires some compositing to pull off, lowering the imaging quality and making the contrast between the joined images a bit off. It’s not a big concern, but it does show up more often than I’d like. Radu’s makeup looks effectively vampiric, as well as reminding me a lot of that Nick Nolte mug shot released a few years back.

All in all, Subspecies is totally worth checking out for its great atmosphere and the wonderfully over-the-top finger-birthing of the Subspecies. The cemetery festival sequence in the middle of the film is another highlight, with the rhythmic pulse of the folk music driving hard against your fear as Radu stalks the girls from the shadows. The masks that the villagers wear in the scene are folk art masterpieces, equally creepy and impressive. Subspecies may be kind of slow and without tension, but ultimately it has a lot of cool things working in its favor that make it totally worth checking out. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Next week… you guessed it! Bloodstone: Subspecies II!

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