Franchise Corner Entry: SUBSPECIES
SUBSPECIES (USA, 1991) ****
Although interchangeable, the SUBSPECIES films represent the best of Charles Band’s Full Moon Pictures output in the 90’s, starting with this decent, old-fashioned Gothic horror. Evil power-craving vampire Radu (Anders Hove) can sever his own elongated fingers at will and transform them into an army of stop-motion creatures. He kills his Vampire King father (Angus Scrimm in a Jimmy Saville wig) and menaces two American girls in Transylvania while in search of the “Bloodstone” that will give him supreme power. In this age of pretty-boy pin-up vampires, Hove’s feral, Max Schreck-inspired creature of the night is marvellously malevolent, and the Romania location shooting helps add significant atmosphere and production value. It has the look and feel of Hammer horror despite the modern setting, with its nutty peasant women, vamp-hunting old-timer and female characters who have their clothes conveniently torn to expose their breasts. Peter Cushing may have approved of its lively sword-swinging, head-lopping fiery finale. The weird creatures of the title, courtesy of David Allen’s FX, reflect Band’s fetish for small weird monsters and, although just a plot device, are very handy to have around when your villain needs his head reattached in time for the sequel.
BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES II (USA, 1993) ***
This effective sequel – directed, like all the SUBSPECIES movies, by Ted Nicolaou – gets a laugh straight away just because its production designer sports the name “Radu”. It picks up right where the original left, except original heroine Laura Mae Tate’s character is now played by a hotter actress (Denice Duff) without an unbecoming K.D. Lang haircut. She flees to Bucharest with the coveted Bloodstone, and new additions include Melanie Shatner as her sister and dishy Kevin Blair as a Mr Rational character. Anders Hove again snarls and grins his way through the movie as the superbly unpleasant Radu, though Pamela Gordon steals it as his skeletal, grotesque old mum – the kind of woman you can imagine the Crypt Keeper coming on to during a speed date evening. There’s more humour than before – even a reference to Zsa Zsa Gabor! – and fun scenes of the freshly vampirised Duff noshing on anonymous Goths in Eastern European metal clubs. There’s another busy, gory climax, outdoing the plain old beheading Radu suffered in the earlier film: here, he’s stabbed repeatedly in the body and face even before being staked. The open ending sets the scene for the third chapter, which was shot back to back with this one.
BLOODLUST: SUBSPECIES III (USA, 1994) ***
Again resuming the action from the previous film’s finale, the third movie boasts a rousing, gruesome opening as Radu’s cadaverous mummy revives him from his splattery demise, while surviving characters from Part II dominate: Captain Rationality (Kevin Blair) patronisingly disbelieves Melanie Shatner’s “vampire stories” even at this stage, though he does concede “there’s definitely something weird going on”. No shit! Returning anti-heroine Denice Duff sinks deeper into the vampire lifestyle, while Radu strips local girls for her to munch on. Returning Inspector Ion Haiduc – he of the big comedy moustache and OTT hand gestures – says things like “You Americans, crazeee!” and the subspecies creatures are used again only as a means of resurrecting Radu. It offers nothing new, but Hove is great value as always: mugging like Marty Feldman and with his talons never far from Duff’s cleavage, he has a particularly fine moment in which he rips off his mum’s desiccated head. As usual, the script affords him a spectacular demise, employing a combination of gunshots, sunlight, fire and very pointy tree branches.
SUBSPECIES 4: BLOODSTORM (USA, 1998) ***
Although made four years after the preceding entry, this SUBSPECIES comeback picture still picks up directly where part 3 left off. Almost everybody from that film who didn’t want to return are conveniently written off in a car accident, though Denice Duff, Anders Hove and the comedy Inspector (now a rat-eating creature of the night) are all back. There’s a lot more plot than before, adding suave but evil vampire Jonathan Morris (playing a character he essayed in THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS), who covets the bloodstone with the same intensity as Radu, while scientists apparently set about trying to cure Duff’s vampirism, albeit with the ulterior motive of finding the secret to eternal youth. It’s cheaper looking than the more lavish-appearing earlier films, but Ted Nicolaou keeps it well paced, even if long-standing cast member Duff spends most of the film strapped to a gurney and Hove only gets intermittent chances to do his Radu shtick. This time around, the “subspecies” creatures that give the franchise its name make no appearance, though Radu does get decapitated for the second time in the series. There’s more closure than usual at the end, so perhaps they knew this was the end of the line.
VAMPIRE JOURNALS ** USA / Romania 1997 Dir: Ted Nicolaou 82 mins
One of the frilly-shirt, moaning vampire movies that followed in the wake of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, this features Jonathon Morris –the twit from British TV’s “Bread” – as Ash, an understudy of Radu, who went in search of the bloodstone in SUBSPECIES 4 (1998). Here, he’s a master vampire with an immaculately maintained perm identical to the one sported by that twit in British TV’s “Bread”. In Romania, he singles out laughably gullible New York musician in Romania Kirsten Cerre, who is not at all fazed by either his stalking or the fact that an equally pallid, sombre good-guy vampire (David Gunn) has befriended her as a “protector”, having been sired by the evil Ash. Opening impressively with boobs, blood and beheading, this meandering, po-faced spin-off is ultimately torpedoed by the dreariness of both the central vampires. Morris plays it like a parody of self-serious vampire movies, but doesn’t convince as the “Master” of anything, while the narration that (sort of) explains the title drones relentlessly, like a film noir on Mogadon. There is much talk of prophecies and strong evidence of an eternal life spent merely moping.