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John’s Horror Corner: Subspecies (1991), making a B+ movie out of a B-movie budget

November 30, 2013

MY CALL:  The filmmakers really went for it with their low budget making a worthy vampire movie with plenty of mood and diverse effects.  MOVIES LIKE SubspeciesSubspecies II-IV (1993-1998).

No. Not Amadeus. That’s the vampire king.

Banished by his father, King Vladislav (Angus Scrimm; Phantasm I-IV, Wishmaster, Munchie, Chopping Mall), Radu (Anders Hove; Subspecies II-IV, Critters 4) has returned to dethrone Vladislav and claim his birthright, the bloodstone–a relic that drips the blood of saints.

Since we can’t have a vampire movie without victims, Michele (Laura Mae Tate; Dead Space) and Lillian come to visit their Romanian friend Mara to study the local history and arrangements have been made for them to stay in a fortress conveniently near Radu’s dilapidated castle.  The fortress’ stern caretaker Karl (Ivan J. Rado; Puppet Master II, Mac and Me) reveals the vampiric history of the stronghold.

Dude, that guy has like…a daddy longlegs for a hand!

Also staying in the fortress, a handsome young zoologist (Stefan) is cataloguing the local nocturnal animal life of the region.  Hmmmm…I’m seeing a connection here.  Stefan catches the girls’ eye and we learn he has close ties to the castle, the caretaker and even Radu.  Naturally, there is a romantic link between Stefan and one of the girls whom Radu also fancies.

Stefan: “Annnnnnd I call dibs on the short-haired chick!”

Radu: “I saw her first, bro!”
Stefan: “Whatever! Come at me, bruh!”

Numerous vampire movie staples highlight the lack of originality in the story.  The protagonists encounter a friend who has been turned into a vampiric enemy, there’s an important relic, a birthright, a vampire hunter, a family history, and Radu basically wants to create The Brides of Dracula…but I enjoyed this B+ movie nonetheless.  Bad acting and all.  One neat bit of flavor was the vampires’ ability to move “through” shadows.

Director Ted Nicolaou (Terror Vision, Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys) really went for it with Subspecies.  To capture the Transylvanian mood, a bit more effort than expected went into scoring this DTV film with some culturally appropriate instruments and gothic choral music.

Considering the low budget, the filmmakers went to considerable effort to illustrate a range of effects and light gore (largely blood; some dismemberment).  Radu breaks off his fingertips which then ooze and writhe on the floor until transforming into miniature demons (considered to be the “subspecies”) animated with poor CGI-like green screened claymation (but maybe back in 1991 it was okay).  Thankfully, later scenes utilize some stop-motion claymation “on set” to bring these little Hellspawn to life.  I liked them.

ABOVE: An example of the green screened demons, over color-corrected.
BELOW: Better Claymation demons.

Radu is the real deal.  He cares not for romance like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the annoyingly sparkling Edward, nor blending into society’s upper class like Anne Rice’s Lestat.  Quite the opposite.  His villainy is hammed up and narcissistic, he’s far from handsome, sleek or glittery, and he drools a lot.  Radu’s make-up is interesting, mixing Bram Stoker ‘s undead eccentric with the monstrous Nosferatu.  He has irregularly long fingers, a powder pale complexion, and a gaunt unflattering face with ever-visible fangs.  His movements are rigid, lending credence to his cold, dead body.  His fingers, by the way, are SO impractically long!  He can neither make a fist nor properly grip things yet somehow he engages in a loose-gripped sword fight.  I have no clue how he’d maintain his home without his little servants.  How would he even get dressed?

Look at those fingers…what can you do with them?

RANT SIDEBAR:  The only thing that confused me about this movie was the title: Subspecies.  Are Radu’s little fingerling monsters the subspecies, or are vampires the subspecies?  It would make more sense that vampires be a subspecies of human given the actual meaning of the word subspecies.  However, I don’t recall the term subspecies or any comparisons between mankind, vampires or the demons as biological groups.  Various reviewers and Wikipedia rather convincingly reveal that Radu’s minions are, in fact, the subspecies.  But if that’s true, why on Earth would you name the movie after the creatures a vampire’s broken off fingertips turn into?  They don’t even play a major role in the movie.  That would be like calling Total Recall (1990) “Bug-eyed Quaid”, “Asphyxiating Aliens”, “The Three-Breasted Hooker”, “Johnny Cab Inferno” or “Five Kids to Feed.”  You see what I’m getting at here?  Perhaps this subspecies issue will be more transparent in parts II-IV (1993-1998) or the spinoff Vampire Journals (1997).  [END RANT]

The ending offers multiple outlets for an obvious sequel and there are several.

Overall I enjoyed this.  It’s a B-movie, but the filmmakers kept things serious and really tried to make the most of their budget.  I’d say their efforts showed and paid off!  See for yourself.

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