Seeing FRIGHT NIGHT 3D a few weeks back reminded me how most vampire movies use the longstanding Bela Lugosi as the jumping point for their lead bloodsucker. He’s always charming, charismatic and alluring, a suave individual who owns the night. This has interested me since the first time I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, because he’s not that way in the novel at all. He’s closer to Count Orlock from F. W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU, a hook-nosed, foul creature who repulses. I appreciate the rare vampire films that sell the lead this way, as Full Moon’s SUBSPECIES series does. My favorite of these has always been BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES II, the continuing story of the royal vampire, Radu.
The film picks right on the tail of the last one, with Radu completing his family coup. But a problem arises when his recent victim Michelle takes off with the bloodstone, a talisman of evil that Radu needs. When a maid finds her dead, the police ship her off in an ambulance, but she awakens and bolts. The film follows two threads, as Radu raises Hell in his quest to regain the bloodstone, and Michelle deals with her newfound powers.
I’ve always liked this flick, because as so many vampire films do, it takes the classic theme of the beauty and the beast, then does it in its own style. Though the first focused on another popular theme, the inner struggle of a royal family, this simplified one is actually more enticing. It also follows Michelle’s struggle with coming to terms with her condition, something Radu obviously conquered a long time ago. It’s got a neat villain and an empathetic heroine, something far too many one-dimensional horror flicks lack.
BLOODSTONE II biggest strengths are how it takes advantage of cool makeup effects and camera tricks. Writer/ director Ted Nicolaou combines animation both hand drawn and stop motion, and tinted lenses throughout, which create atmosphere. By far the best technique is his use of shadows, borrowing heavily from the expressionistic period. If this ever got remade, there would be all sorts of CGI tricks, none of which would be nearly as good, and would ruin the charm. This is a low budget affair, and Nicolau turns weaknesses into strengths.
Radu’s makeup, though simple, helps to create a terrifying character. His overly long fingers and bony, white face transform actor Anders Hove into a foul creature of darkness, disgusting instead of suave. Radu reminded me of Count Orlock, intentionally I’m sure. The opening minutes also involve the crumbling corpse of Radu’s brother, and his mother’s appearance as a mummified monster is another nice effect.
Poor Denice Duff has to suffer through a lot, as her character turns. She does a solid job of selling how emotionally painful it is, giving Michelle a tragic sense that her beauty may have otherwise belied. Even a shower scene, with which Nicolaou likely means to titillate, plays against the grain, as Duff cries through it. Hove is great as the raspy voiced, ugly vampire; he sells the power of being a vampire against the desperation to regain the bloodstone. Melanie Shatner’s acting leaves much to be desired, and would have been a lot more fun had she inherited her father William Shatner’s histrionics. Slasher fans will appreciate Kevin Spiritas’ solid performance. Romanian locals comprise the rest of the cast, giving the film a local color that a Hollywood production would have passed over for people doing phony accents.
Romania itself is enchanting and mysterious, and Nicolaou does a great job of building atmosphere by way of his camerawork. Though Dracula is never a character, knowing it’s filmed the homeland Vlad once dominated with bloodshed enhances the horror. Nicolaou occasionally tints scenes red midway, an effective trick that sells the vampire POV. The use of actual castles and scenic landscapes play well on camera, giving the film an authenticity that no studio back lot ever could.
It does suffer from a few problems. Modern audiences may not be able to sit through some of its slower parts, as it’s not a fast paced piece. I don’t mind this, because the atmosphere carries through even those scenes that drag a bit. The other issue is the subplot involving Michelle’s sister and a U.S. official as they try to solve the mystery of what happened to the heroine, and how Radu’s family ties in. The audience already knows Michelle’s fate, even if it hasn’t seen the first film. The dramatic irony goes to waste. But that shouldn’t stop you from seeing what is a very entertaining horror flick.
BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES II is a nice take on a very old mythology. It adheres to many of the vampire film’s tropes, but does things its own way, and I applaud that. It furthers the evils of the far-from-suave Radu, a vampire thankfully not in the tradition of Lugosi. If it hadn’t been a Full Moon production, it probably would be better known and more popular. But it also would likely have had a bigger budget and a Hollywood take, things which would have robbed it of the elements which made it good. Even if you’re not a Full Moon fanatic, give this one a look. It’s worth it.