Starring: Laura Mae Tate, Irina Movila, Michelle McBride, Anders Hove, Ivan J. Rado and Michael Watson
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Producer: Ion Ionescu and Charles Band
Rating: Six of Ten Stars
Three pretty grad students (McBride, Movila and Tate) working on disertations are in Transylvania to study the local legends and folk customs, only to find themselves in the middle of a vampiric family feud that's been brewing for centuries and that is now reaching it's brutal, bloody finale.
"Subspecies" is one of the better vampire movies to come out of the 1990s, despite the obvious budget constraints it was made under. It's an interesting merging of the hideous monstrosity vampires from the real legends and early movies and the sexy vampire that grew increasingly popular during the second half of the 20th century, reaching the pinnacle of pop culture success by the mid-1990s.
The story feels a tad slow-moving, partly because the film telegraphs where it's going by leading with the vampires and their blood-feud and then cutting to our three soon-to-be damsels in distress--two very cute blonds and an androgynous brunette--for extended sequences as they wander around old castles and a beautiful countryside, broken only by scenes of the very creepy and disgusting vampire Radu (played by Anders Hove, in a fashion that makes Max Schreck's Count Orlock in "Nosferatu" look like a GQ cover model) rising from his coffin. Radu is so vile that you know he's going to be chewing his way through the cast, so you're going to be feeling a bit impatient with the film as it works its way toward the expected carnage.
However, the film is never dull, nor will you likely be tempted to turn it off. The cast are all good actors and they all play their parts well. The camerawork is excellent and the true Romanian settings lends an atmosphere of realism to the film that few modern-day vampire films can muster.
But when it gets going, it delivers vampire material running the gamut. We've got a disgusting, drooling taloned vampire that's a late 20th century take on the "Nosferatu"-style vampire, we've got sexy vampire babes in nightgowns who might have just flitted over from one of Hammer's Dracula movies, and we've got the male model modern vampire hunk love interest of one of the girls (played by Michael Watson, who was a soap-opera star when the "Subspecies" movie were made).
With all of the good things I'm saying about the film, why am I only giving it a Six Rating, you ask? Well, it's because of the inconsistencies and strange logic surrounding the pint-sized monters that are a mainstay of Charles Band-produced films whether they belong or not. Here, the tiny creatures are nasty demons that are created from severed tips of Radu's fingers, but they fail to seem real because of the truly crappy effects used to bring them to life. For example, in all but one scene, no one bothered to trick in shadows under the creatures, so they appear to be floating over the floor instead of walking on it. They look exactly like what they are: Puppets that have been placed in the scenes via special effects, and they ruin almost every scene they're in because of it. (The bad effects and near-pointlessness of the creatures isn't the worst Band will deliver in this department--that comes much later in 2009's "Skull Heads".)
Despite its flaws, "Subspecies" is a vampire movie that has a little something for everyone, including bare breasts. Those of you who enjoy vampire movies with more of a gothic flavor to them than we've seen in recent years will be especially appreciative of the tone and nature of the film. It's a good start for a series features some of Full Moon's most accomplished releases. It's a shame it's not been as popular as some of their other creations, such as the Puppet Master films.