As our review series have headed down some weird paths (the recent swathe of “erotic” “thrillers” has been tough on us) it’s always nice to get back to one of the ISCFC’s grand projects – this time, it’s Full Moon Entertainment. Charles Band’s merry group, while not always right at the top of the quality tree, are like Shakespeare writing for Tarantino compared to some of the movies we’ve watched recently, so I hope you like this review series of “Subspecies” (which will stretch to four movies and a sort-of spinoff that didn’t go anywhere).
Before we get going, because it’s 100% going to be the thing you’re most impressed by with this movie, let’s talk filming locations. There may have been a small handful of others, but this is billed as the first movie allowed to film in post-communism Romania, and the free access they had to some amazing locations makes it looks like the budget was ten times bigger than it really was. Old ruins, amazing castles, forests that look nothing like anywhere in the USA – it’s a bit of a visual treat. Apparently, all the sequels are also filmed in Romania, so there’s no dread with the idea of watching four more of these.
Radu is an evil vampire, the result of a dalliance between the vampire king (Angus “Phantasm” Scrimm, here with a magnificent mane of hair) and a witch. He wants the Bloodstone, which is in the possession of his father, but the King quite sensibly realises Radu is a bad ‘un, so calls his other son to come home and take over the family business. Here’s where the Subspecies comes in – the King traps Radu in a cage, so he chops his own fingers off and the fingers turn into little creatures, freeing him, stealing the Bloodstone and allowing him to kill his father. One might think that the King would know his son had those sort of powers, but his complete lack of self-defence indicates not. It’s also sort of weird that this entire movie series is named after the monsters created by Radu’s blood, bit like calling The Wizard Of Oz “Flying Monkeys”.
The good brother Stefan doesn’t show up immediately, although it’s pretty obvious who it is, when he interacts with our main characters, three college students, Michelle, Lilian and Mara. Mara is Romanian and met the other two at college in the USA, and they’re off to Transylvania to do a bit of study into the local folklore. So they go to stay at the mysterious castle, there’s friendly locals and mysterious ones, a few vampires, all that good stuff that a movie like this needs. Radu takes a shine to Lilian (who, to be fair isn’t aware of his existence), and Stefan and Michelle are making googly eyes at each other from early on.
I like the use of local customs to inform the plot. While it’s not the first movie to be set in Transylvania, the use of the real location, along with the reason for their annual festival (the murder of an invading Turkish army by vampires, back in medieval times) gives it a fresh flavour, I think. It’s basically a tightly made, fun movie, with decent special effects and totally serviceable acting.
Respect to director Ted Nicolaou as well. He shot local stuntmen in rubber suits as the Subspecies, and put them against giant sets to make them look small, but when he noticed that they were a bit rubbish at acting, replaced them with models and special effects. I admire a guy who’s prepared to cut his losses when he knows something isn’t working. We’ve already covered a number of his movies for Full Moon – “TerrorVision”, “Bad Channels” and “Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys”, and he’s among their strongest directing assets.
Time for the traditional “it’s not all good news” paragraph! The Bloodstone is sort of a MacGuffin when the movie doesn’t need one – in other words, you could completely remove it and the end result would be exactly the same. I think it’ll do something in one of the later movies, but that’s no excuse. Radu was a bit too Nosferatu-y, and while the end fight was decent, his little post-movie wink to the camera was just the sort of garbage which makes people not want to watch sequels.
Anyway, this is a surprisingly good movie, and I’d definitely recommend it. Go to www.fullmoonstreaming.com and pay a low low monthly price for access to all their movies and behind-the-scenes videos, why don’t you (I am not getting paid for this recommendation, or any other one I give, although I’m totally happy to be bribed if you make movies and have cash).
Rating: thumbs up