I was about to do our traditional “we come to the end of another series” opening to this review, but it’s not quite true. For no good reason, Ted Nicolaou made another vampire movie a few years before this called “The Vampire Journals” (entirely unrelated, I’m sure, to both the popular “Vampire Diaries” books that had been published several years before, and “Interview With The Vampire”), starring former British sitcom actor Jonathan Morris as Ash. Nicolaou inserted a throwaway line in that movie about how Ash’s creator was Radu, thus providing a link; so when it came time to making what has been, to date, the last “Subspecies” movie, it was simple to slot Ash into a supporting role. If I’d been sensible, I’d have watched them in order of release, but so be it.
A hearty BOOOOOOOOOOOO too this movie, as it joins the tradition of “kill the cast members we didn’t want / couldn’t afford to bring back, before the movie starts”. A young woman is driving down a small road, and glancing over to the side sees the crashed car that was taking our heroes away at the end of the last movie. The US Embassy guy (who is, amusingly, referred to that way in the extra features by Denice Duff, as if he wasn’t worth being remembered), Rebecca (Michelle’s sister), and the random local they rescued from the castle, all survived a vampire attack but couldn’t survive an old car and the Romanian highway system. The rescuer, Ana (Ioana Abur), finds Michelle, alive, in her bodybag, says “I’m a doctor, I can help”, bundles her in the back of her car and drives her away.
And a second hearty BOOOOOOO when we discover just where this doctor works and who her boss is. Ana is a doctor at the Vitalis Institute, which specialises in blood disorders and cleaning the blood of debauched rock stars; also, the boss, Dr Niculescu, is creepy as hell, knows about vampires and the Bloodstone, and can apparently cure Michelle so she can walk around in the daylight. This is such a colossal coincidence that it sort of ruins what comes after, and the original script had the surviving car of people searching for a doctor who might be able to help Michelle and taking her there. This would have at least made sense, but as it was six years since the last instalment had been filmed and the other actors had moved on, this was the substitution we got.
Want one more BOOOOOOOO? If you’d like to cast your mind back to the end of part 3, you’ll remember Radu, on fire due to the sun’s rays, shot with silver bullets multiple times, fall off the side of the castle only to land on a bunch of spikes and remain there. The last scene was the blood dripping down and creating a Subspecies, so it was certainly left open to a part 4. But…the Subspecies were clearly expensive to animate, so they don’t show up; what we do get is Radu burning for a bit, then falling off the spikes and landing in a stream, where he’s able to get up, pick up the Bloodstone and get himself to safety, recovering fully by that evening. It’s even cheesier than those old 1940s serial cliffhangers, where you’d see a plane fly into a cliff but in the next episode they’d tell you “no, they totally swerved at the last second and everyone is fine”.
So, Radu goes to Bucharest and meets up with Ash, his former “protégé”, who’s been running Radu’s family businesses there for a century (a casino, a brothel) along with his own protégé, Serena. The conflict is obvious and immediate, and while he’s dealing with them, we get Michelle dealing with the lunatics at the Institute. The Bloodstone finally becomes important to the plot (it can help humans to become immortal, maybe), and when Radu discovers where his favourite woman is being held, things really kick off. The thing is, I know I’ve just mocked the setup of this movie, but the central meat of the plot is really strong – Radu is a great vampire, the relationships are believable, and while it’s all a bit obvious, sometimes obvious is good.
While the idea behind the movie is strong, sometimes the execution fails a little. The endless supply of lit candles in ancient tombs that no-one goes in, once you notice it, becomes a Rocky Horror-style moment of audience interaction; why 1875 is on the Vladislas tomb when the youngest son, Radu, is a thousand years old; but it’s not all trivial stuff. Marin, the cop from part 3 we all loved, is back…sort of. He gets turned into a vampire by accident and then is on screen a few times, in footage I’d bet was filmed back at the time of part 3 and spliced into this, and it’s just filler – a poor ending for a fun character. Then there’s Michelle’s wildly changing moods. She hunts and kills, but every time is guilty about it afterwards; and then while Radu confronts Ash, she’s on Radu’s arm, smiling as if she’s finally on board for evil. Minutes later, Radu is throwing her around as if she’s there against her will. I think she’s by and large excellent in this series (and has one of the all-time great looks to be a vampire), but something was off here.
Anders Hove, playing Radu, is the strongest part of this movie by a distance. His threat to the staff of the Institute is genuinely terrifying, and knowing what we do about how tough it is to kill him, even the most well-organised attack is probably going to fail, badly. The final battle, while a bit confusing in terms of where everyone is and where the fight is taking place, is good too, even if the various plot strands never really came together. Although that looked like Bergman compared to the very ending, a voiceover which basically admitted “yup, we didn’t really finish this one, sorry”.
This has been a frustrating series. The atmosphere is superb, none of the self-referential comedy that spoils so much modern horror, and the plot is interesting and well done too. But it doesn’t feel like four movies worth of it! “Some girls go on holiday to Romania, one of them gets turned into a vampire, the head vampire guy falls in love with her, she tries to escape”. I’m not leaving a lot out there, either.
Long-term readers will remember me saying this about many different Full Moon movies, so I appreciate it’s a bit boring. Perhaps (after “The Vampire Journals”) we’ll have another long break from reviewing their stuff, because this feeling they’ve made a little go a long way, but gradually alienated all but their hardest hardcore fans, is difficult to shift.
Rating: thumbs down