It’s my great pleasure to welcome Gabriel InAstra to TMtV as part of the 10 year celebrations. I met Gabriel through this blog and post comments, which led to email correspondence. Gabriel lives on the other side of the world to me and that underlines the importance of the internet in bringing people together. However Gabriel has also visited England twice since we have been friends, coming over for the Bram Stoker International Film Festival and it was an absolute pleasure to meet him and will be again when he comes over for the festival for the third time. Gabriel’s writes the blog the Convent of Blood and his guest blog is about his love for the subspecies series of films and the trips to Romania they have inspired.
The year was 1993, and my nineteenth year on this round globe had just passed by, Christmas was upon us and I travelled down to Sydney, Australia for a few weeks to spend some time with my grandfather.
Picking up some fast food on the way home, I popped the tape into the machine and settled into my grandfather’s recliner. A crumbling castle stood in the distance. In its candelabra lit throne room was an aging vampire, Count Vladislas played by Phantasm’s Angus Scrimm, greedily drinking from the bloodstone, an ancient relic reputed to drip the blood of the saints. With it a vampire could survive without drinking the blood of humans, but it was also a potent drug, providing extra powers to the vampire who possessed it, and bestowing kinghood like the one who wielded Excalibur.
A gnarled, nosferatu-like vampire entered the room to challenge his father for the crime of bestowing the vampire throne of Transylvania to his younger dhampir son Stefan. Trapped in a cage by his father sprung from above, Radu snapped off his long talons from which grew with some kind of blood alchemy little homunculus: the subspecies from where the vampire series derives its name. Within a short span of time, two Americans and a local Romanian girl, while staying at an old monastery, Prejmar Fortress, became ensnared in Radu’s fight for power against his good natured brother, with the American girl Michelle Morgan becoming a fledgling of Radu by the movie’s end, spending the following three films running from his twisted view of love.
This was the first vampire film to be filmed on location in Romania - in Transylvania and Bucharest - and as I fell in love with the evil Radu and his machinations, I also fell in love with Bucharest, a place that Zachary, the tortured vampire slayer in Vampire Journals – the spin-off from the series – dubbed the “city of mysteries” a place where the old world meshes with the new.
When the film ended, with some glimmer of hope I suffered the summer sun once more (As Radu might say, that’s what you get for pretending that you're human!) I ran back down to the video store to see if there was a sequel. Unnoticed by me before was Subspecies II: Bloodstone on the shelf near where the first film was, and not five minutes later I was watching the continuing horror that was to become my favourite vampire villain, as he terrorised the newly initiated Michelle across the cobbled streets of Bucharest.
Sadly the video store did not have the third film (Subspecies 3: Bloodlust) in stock, but they were made back to back (#2 and #3) and it wasn’t long before I saw that film, the fourth film (Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm) and its spin-off. I was so in love with Radu, his story and his country that I swore to go to Bucharest one day, and I did.
Nine years later in 2004, I travelled to Romania to see where Radu and his ilk walked unto eternity. I had come to awake the devil from his sleep just like the American tourists had in the first film. While I never got to visit Prejmar Fortress or Castle Vladislas (though I am going back to Romania this year so I might this time!!), I was able to find most of the filming locations of the movies. The Athenaeum where Michelle hides from Radu in Subspecies II, and where Zachary, and Ash the Music Lover from Vampire Journals watch with awe as the tragic human pianist Sofia plays with a symphony before Ash forces his dark kiss upon her.
I found Ash’s lair by mere accident a few streets from the Athenaeum, and spent an entire day at the haunted Bellu Cemetery in Bucharest where Zachary hid from the day in Vampire Journals, and where also the secret entrance was that led to tunnels to Ash’s lair.
I fell in love with Romania and didn’t want to leave. After four days in Bucharest I joined the Dracula tour that took me all over Transylvania, through the Borgo Pass and over the Carpathian Mountains. Just like Radu I stayed in crumbling castles, and visited a few more. As I looked out my window at night over the “land beyond the forest”, had my tarot read by local gypsies, and drank palinka in Vlad Tepes’ birthplace in Sighisoara, Radu walked with me, long black coat flapping in the wind, his fanged mouth drooled blood, and his talons extended to tear his foes asunder. His coarse whisper beseeched me to stay and make Romania my home, we could rule Bucharest together, and I wish I could have.
To be in Transylvania was like stepping back in time. The locals still dressed like “peasants” of old, in white tunics and pants, drove in horse and cart with sun-weathered skin from decades of hard honest work. As I walked among them, Radu was by my side, up on the craggy hill of each village was a crumbling castle, most were empty now to become tourist traps, but perhaps inside them, in a crypt somewhere in the lower parts of the castle might rest strigoi and nosferatu, brethren to Dracula and Radu, trapped in their coffins waiting for someone to free them, so they can finally assuage their unending hunger for blood.
Perhaps this year when I visit Romania once more, I could stay somehow, and make the land my own as Radu once did, my shadow also flying over buildings and landscapes. Perhaps like Radu once said to Michelle: “soon your mortal feelings will cease to cause you pain”, with that advice I could find the courage to stay there, to leave my normal life behind and never leave.
Finally, Radu and I would be together unto eternity…