Saturday, July 07, 2007

Subspecies - review


Director: Ted Nicolaou

Release Date: 1991

Contains spoilers

This film is one I’ve been wanting to get my sticky little mitts on for ages, as I have seen it generally hailed as a fantastic vampire movie. The truth, well I did really enjoy it but it is low budget and has flaws – that said I could live with the flaws. So let us explore…

The film begins in Castle Vladislav, in Romania, indeed the film was filmed in Romania, and begins with a rather old looking man, whom we discover is King Vladislav (horror legend Angus Scrimm). using the bloodstoneHe lifts a strange stone in bronze affair to his mouth and drinks the blood which drips from it. This device is the bloodstone and one thing the film does really well is play with vampire lore, both by using traditional lore and inventing lore. We discover a little about the bloodstone later but I will give you that back history now.

The Turks were invading Transylvania and a peasant army were holed up in a nearby monastery. They awaited death but it did not come and, when they emerged, they found many of the Turks dead, with bloodied throats. The vampires had saved the people. In return for this they gave the ruins to the vampires but they were still thirsty. A gypsy stole the bloodstone from the Vatican, a holy relic that dripped the blood of Saints, allowing a peace to settle between human and vampire.

Anders Hove as RaduA creature enters, the King’s eldest son Radu (Anders Hove). Now the look of Radu is fantastic, sallow complexion, permanently fanged, drooling blood from his mouth with long fingers – slightly reminiscent of Orlock in Nosferatu, he talks with a wonderful rasping voice. I should mention that some of the shots, through the film, of Radu look (in composition) very reminiscent of shots of Orlock in Nosferatu also, not accidentally one feels, there is also some impressionist style shadow work involving Radu. Radu is outcast but has returned for the local festival of the vampire as his brother Stefan (Michael Watson) has been summoned. He has guessed that his father is to pass the bloodstone to the younger son and wants it for himself.

tasting the blood of the fatherThe King drops a cage around his son but Radu breaks off three of his fingers which change into mini demonic minions and release him. He stabs his father (presumably through the heart), relishing the taste of blood on his blade and then has the minions retrieve the bloodstone.

One of the minionsIt is here that we hit a couple of the problems with the film. Firstly the inactivity of the king, once the minions are created, is a little unbelievable. Worst is the minions themselves who look more than a little poor. They are a good idea but seemed too false, not seeming part of the environment but matted to it.

Michael Watson as StefanWe should also note that Radu and Stefan look very different. The younger brother is human looking (and the good brother) and is likely (though it is not stated) a dahmpir, in that his mother was human. As for Radu, well his mother was a sorceress who bewitched his father and made him impregnate her as she wanted to create an unusual offspring. It has been said that the little minions are the subspecies of the title but to me it would make more sense if Radu is the subspecies, being a cross breed of vampire and sorceress, thus, presumably, why he can do things such as create the minions.

the heroinesInto the mix come two American students, Lillian (Michelle McBride) and Michele (Laura Tate) who are visiting local Romanian, and school friend, Mara (Irina Movila). They intend to do their thesis on Romanian folk legend and are staying at the nearby monastery. Essentially Stefan, who wishes to avenge his father, falls in love with Michelle and Radu decides he wants, as well as the bloodstone and the castle, the three girls as concubines – a nice homage, given the numbers, to Dracula.

traditional vampire detectionThe other nice bits of lore we get are such things as a white horse being used to detect vampires, though in this case it is shown as part of the festival, in fact the inclusion of the festival, despite crap looking masks, was a film highpoint as it gave a very authentic feel to the movie. The story of a plague cure that consisted of staking the undead and removing the heart, boiling it and the population drinking the water to be saved, is given. In a twist on needing an invitation to enter a home, this lore is used but specifically around churches. Monastery caretaker Karl (Ivan J Rado) creates a new vampire slaying weapon by emptying the pellets in a shotgun shell and replacing them with beads from a rosary.

Lilian's graveThe lore surrounding sunlight was a little confused as the vampires had to hide in their coffins during the day and yet we do see them in the light, albeit at dawn and dusk. We get a lovely bit of slaying lore when a killed peasant woman is staked and beheaded, holy water is then pored over the head to cleanse it. Around this point Lillian has died and is buried without such precautions leading to a nice emerging from the grave moment.

sword fight at the climaxThe story is simple enough but it doesn’t matter, the main reason for watching the film is two fold. Firstly for Radu, played with gusto by Hove and thoroughly evil, although you have to feel sorry for the actor having to swordfight with those fingers. Secondly for the atmosphere. This is helped, in no small part, by the excellent soundtrack composed of orchestral and choral moments.

Radu takes a biteThe film drips with melodrama and this is part of its charm. This is Gothic vampire filmmaking – no bad thing – and I was utterly drawn into the experience despite the flaws. One questions the sense of the night time forest shoot as the lighting involved was so obviously fake.

I can recommend this movie, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching it. 6.5 out of 10 seems fair, as the film is good but it is flawed in places.

The imdb page is here.


The T said...

I just saw the movie now and i liked it a lot, and your review is spot-on. The minions are ridiculous, and they are the only element that makes the movie look slightly cheap (not low budget, which i'd say is different). The few flaws in continuity are more than forgiven when we see the Romanian scenery and the atmosphere. Radu is a good villian vampire, and a liked that there was no Anne Rice-isms here, just plain blood- hungry vampires.

Good vampire film.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

The T, Radu is a good villain vampire and is more so as the series progresses... though the series itself does peak and trough quality wise I'd recommend watching all 4 films in the series and the spin off, vampire journals

The T said...

Yeah.. I saw Vampire Journal a few weeks ago (before discovering this nice blog) and liked it. Then with my girlfriend (who also loves Vampires) we bought the Subspecies Epic Collection (a used one in perfect shape) so I'll be having Subspecies-week in the next days!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

The T, thanks for the kind words about the blog.