Saturday, October 23, 2010

Subspecies (1991)

In the late 80's and early 90's, home video had become the place to go to for horror. Freddy and Jason had played themselves out, slasher movies were yesterday's news, and the big studios wanted little to do with horror. So that's where guys like Troma and many an independent distributor came in. Sure, the product wasn't always great (I'm pretty sure not many people hold fond memories of the likes of "Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator", no matter how great the title may have been), but it was still a product that people wanted.

Then there was Charles Band. A producer who had struck gold with the likes of "Re-Animator", "Trancers" and other titles with Empire Pictures, he eventually created Full Moon Pictures. Unlike other Direct to Video studios of the time, Full Moon movies felt like movies. They didn't rely on the cheap vomit and fart jokes Troma indulged in, nor did they count on cheap gore and enthusiasm over skill like many Direct to Video movies of the time. Their movies had an air of professionalism to them. They also gave the world two beloved franchises-"Puppet Master" and "Subspecies." So let's take a look at the first "Subspecies" movie, shall we?

"Subspecies" deals with an evil, ugly vampire named Radu (Anders Hove), who wants possession of an ancient relic called the Bloodstone, which holds the blood of saints. Oh, and he kills his father King Vladislav (Angus Schrimm, sporting a hilarious fright wig.) Meanwhile, three girls-two American and one Romanian-are in Romania to study it's culture, when a zoologist falls for American Girl Michele (Laura Mae Tate.) However, the zoologist is actually Radu's good half brother Stefan (Michael Watson) in disguise, and he must find a way to stop Radu.

"Subspecies" works mostly thanks to Hove as the evil Radu. In spite of his bad early 90's hair, he's a creepy, evil son of a bitch with very long fingers, bad hygiene issues (dude tends to drool) and creepy features. He's like an updated Nosferatu, and Hove plays the guy to a T, making him a memorable villain. Then there's the genuine authenticity of the whole thing. The castles, villages, ruins and graveyards all breathe life into the proceedings, and create an atmosphere that at times reminded me of a Hammer movie. It's also well directed by Ted Nicolaou, and has a great score, and you have a decent movie.

Wait, a decent one? Surely Joe, you make it sound excellent!

Well, apart from Hove and Schrimm (and Ivan J. Rado and Karl), nobody here really stands out. In fact, all of the females are really bland, and Stefan feels far too much like the kind of vampire that had been made popular by Anne Rice at the time-though the fact that he dresses like Dave Gahan circa "Violator" put a small smirk on my face. The ending is also leaves room for a sequel (it lead to several in fact), albeit in the lamest way imaginable. I'm sorry, but you shouldn't end a movie feeling like it has the intention to be a franchise. Then there's the Subspecies themselves. They are these little demon like things that come from the blood of Radu's fingers, and they're more cute than creepy. It really doesn't help when your instincts tell you to go "awww" when you see monsters.

"Subspecies" is decent enough though ultimately uneven Gothic horror fare made for weekends in which you have little else to watch. I wanted to like it more, as this is the second time I've seen it, and it's ultimately a movie I enjoyed more the first time than I did the second.

Rating: 6/10Ted Nicolau has directed many a movie for Charles Band, including all four "Subspecies" movies, their spin-off vehicle "Vampire Journals", many titles for Band's kids label Moonbeam, and the pre-Full Moon venture "Terrorvision." He also directed the awful "Blair Witch" ripoff "The St. Francisville Experiment."

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