When you meet Ted Nicolaou at this October’s Chiller, you can get him to sign stuff from SUBSPECIES and TERRORVISION.  Denice Duff will also be there, and you can discuss with her how she played Michelle in SUBSPECIES II.



Amid all the demonic toys, doll men, evil puppets and bongs, in 1991 Full Moon added a vampire saga to its lineup with SUBSPECIES.  The first film stood out from the rest of their product, because it was a less comedic effort that benefited from location shooting in Dracula’s homeland Romania.  It introduced one of Charles Band’s iconic characters, the vampire Radu, and his nemesis Michelle, and spawned three sequels that followed the relationship between the evil nosferatu and the heroine;  all four films displayed the vision of writer/director Ted Nicolaou.  It all started here.  The first flick in the franchise is decent fare, but the series didn’t really pick up until the second.


Things begin with the ancient vampire King Vladislav, an old Romanian in a Beethoven.  He’s ready to pass on his crown to younger son Stefan, but older son Radu plans on throwing a monkey wrench into the succession, and planting himself in power.  Escaping entrapment, he kills his father, and begins to plot against his brother.  The film then transitions to two American college students, Michelle and Lilian, who’ve come to study the country with their Romanian friend Mara.  They find boarding from an old man who also rents to a young zoologist… named Stefan.  The plot pits Radu against both Stefan and the girls, with the superstitious peasants ever vigil.





Superficial Stefan




SUBSPECIES is a pretty good flick, but it suffers from serious pacing problems.  It’s way too slow.  There are lots of discussions about Romanian history (of which I’m not sure how much is accurate and how much is fabricated), but even once things get going, very little action.  Nicolaou attempts during many of these scenes to build atmosphere, but it’s still a drag.  Much of it plays out with the three girls, amongst themselves and with others, talking about lore instead of doing much with it.  The script punctuates these with scenes of Radu, but much of the time he’s standing around looking evil instead of acting it.  The most interesting notion is that the peasants are thankful to the vampire for saving them during an ancient siege.  If only I’d have been able to see a flashback of this, instead of hearing it from an old crone.  The flick is low budget, but come on.


The performances of the two hero leads don’t help to excite.  As good brother Stefan, Michael Watson is competent, but strangely superficial.  Had he brought the depth of character that Anders Hove brings to Radu, his charisma would have driven the plot.  Instead, he’s too nice.  As Michelle, Laura Tate is competent and blah.  She’s attractive (despite her boyish haircut, which makes her look more like Stefan’s brother than his lover);  but unlike the also beautiful Denice Duff, she lacks any sort of gravity in the role.  The forbidden romance  between vampire and living female is okay, but would have been so much more compelling with better actors.





She only gets better in the sequels




The rest of the cast fares a little better, especially Ivan Rado as Karl, the old man.  He’s on top of his game, and becomes a real ass kicker in the final act.  Michele McBride is good playing the other American college girl, and Mara Grigore is comely and alluring as the exotic Rosa.  In an interesting casting twist, Angus “Tall Man” Scrimm plays patriarch King Vladislav.  It’s a shame his screen time is minimal, as Radu knocks off dear old dad almost immediately.  My Full Moon fanatic buddy Dom told me this is because Scrimm didn’t want to work in Romania, so they changed the script.  Thankfully, he’s awesome, as always, mainly because of that distinct rasp.





Radu revels in evil




Best of all is Hove.  I’m sure that Full Moon fans love this flick and Band made a franchise out of it because Hove throws himself into Radu, and in the mix creates one evil antagonist.  His drawn out, white face and overly long fingers remind me of Count Orlock in NOSFERATU, and his raspy, hideous voice makes the spine tingle.  Radu enjoys killing, but even more so playing with his victims.  Hove portrays his lust for power and thrills masterfully.  Nicolaou’s use of expressionistic techniques, stretching out his shadows, enhances Hove’s work greatly.





A family feud of Shakespearean proportions




SUBSPECIES also deserves its place because of its plot.  It’s a little deeper than the usual Full Moon fare, as it works on two levels:  a vampire tale, that also focuses on the inner struggles of a royal family.  The power play between the father and his two sons is Shakespearean in size and dimension, and echoes everything from TV soaps to Dallas. Having a brother of my own, I can speak directly to just how accurate the sibling rivalry between Radu and Stefan is.  Thrust Dad into the middle of things, and it’s a complex lacework that brings something tangible and real to the mythic vampire stuff.  This is the kind of depth we don’t usually get from thousands of superficial horror films, and anyone who thinks Full Moon is cheapjack junk need only look at SUBSPECIES for proof of just how wrong they are.


The film also benefits from being filmed in Romania.  The crumbling castles and forests add to the atmosphere Nicolaou is going for.  Just look at the scene where the girls wake from a long nap and cut through a graveyard, with its thin, tilting headstones.  A big Hollywood production would have spent millions to create a graveyard set that could never bring the authenticity an actual locale does.  For a low budget film, this one sports some beautiful scenery in Dracula’s actual homeland.


Two years after SUBSPECIES, BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES II would follow.  It’s a more ambitious work, with a more active plot and Denice Duff’s superior performance as Michelle.  The first sequel is the favorite of the franchise for many, including myself.  As for the original, it’s still a good flick, if slow.  If only to find out how Radu and Michelle started their blood war, give it a look.  And know that things only get better from their solid start here.


-Phil Fasso





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