March 15, 2016

TWO-FER: SUBSPECIES & BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES 2


Howdy, boys and girls! It’s time yet again for another Two-fer! Today’s entry will be the first of a two-part Two-fer covering all four of the popular Full Moon Entertainment Subspecies films, starting with Subspecies and Bloodstone: Subspecies 2. We’ll finish up this horror quartet with Bloodlust: Subspecies 3 and Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm in the next Two-fer. Let’s get started!

Subspecies is a 1991 horror film written and directed by Ted Nicolaou and stars Andres Hove (General Hospital), Angus Scrimm (Phantasm), Laura Mae Tate, and Michael Watson (General Hospital). It has the distinction of being the first ever American movie to be filmed in Budapest, Romania, which is quite fitting given that the plot involves a centuries-old power struggle between the vampires of the Vladislas Family. Director Nicolaou was given free rein to shoot footage at the castle ruins and forests surrounding the area, which benefits the film immensely by adding a certain old world aesthetic to the finished product.

The film kicks off with the return of the ghoulish vampire, Radu, who had been exiled, to his ancestral home, the castle of King Vladislas. Centuries ago, this Vampire King made a peace accord with the surrounding villages, promising to never feast on humans. In return, the King was given an immensely powerful and ancient relic, the Bloodstone, which is said to drip the blood of the saints. Being the King’s firstborn son, Radu believes the Bloodstone is his birthright, and that it is his place to assume the mantle of power. Naturally, he is unhappy that the King has sent for his favored son, Radu’s brother, who has been abroad, to come and assume the mantle of power. In an attempt to capture his son, the King drops a cage from the ceiling which confines Radu. Radu, however, has an interesting trick up his sleeve; he breaks off the tips of his long, clawed fingers, and they morph into tiny, demonic creatures (the “Subspecies” which, despite the title of the film, have very little to do with the overall story), which then engage the mechanism to lift the cage and free Radu. Radu then kills his father and takes the Bloodstone for himself.

Meanwhile, two graduate students, Michelle (Tate) and Lillian (Michelle McBride) arrive in the nearby town of Prejmer to meet up with their Romanian friend and former classmate, Mara (Irina Movila) to continue their studies of Medieval Europe for their theses. As they set up their temporary living quarters in the converted Prejmer fort, they discover another scholar, Stefan (Watson), has taken up residence as well, and there is an instant attraction between Stefan and Michelle. We learn that Stefan is actually the vampire child to King Vladislas and brother of the evil Radu.

Radu begins his reign of terror by turning both Lillian and Mara into vampires. Michelle resolves to aid Stefan in defeating Radu and reclaiming the Bloodstone. In a climactic showdown in the halls of Castle Vladislas, Stefan succeeds in staking and beheading Radu, but not before Michelle is bitten by Radu. Stefan gives her some of his own blood in an effort to prevent her from becoming like Radu, and the two lie down in coffins to sleep as the sun draws nigh. But what’s this? The blood that has spilled from Radu’s body is turning into more of the Subspecies creatures, and as the film draws to a close, they set about removing the stake from his body and reattaching his head as a sinister smile spreads across the ghoulish face…

Bloodstone: Subspecies 2 is written and directed by Ted Nicolaou and stars Andres Hove, Denice Duff, Melanie Shatner, Kevin Blair, Pamela Gordon, and Ion Haiduc, and picks up right where the first film left off, depicting Radu (Hove, reprising his role from the first film) coming back to life and staking Stefan. (Michael Watson does not return for future installments—sorry early 90’s General Hospital fans!) He then tries to stake Michelle (played throughout the rest of the series by the luminous Denise Duff), but the sun rises just in time to save her and he retreats to his crypt. The next night, Michelle rises before Radu and finds her love destroyed, and retrieves the Bloodstone from his dusty grasp, now resolved to keep it away from Radu at all cost. She then retreats to the bustling city of Bucharest with Radu close behind and enters a hotel to get a room. She attempts to call her sister in America, Becky (Shatner), for help.

Before Becky can arrive, a couple of maids discover Michelle seemingly dead in the bathtub of her hotel room, which is the only place she can sleep without a window to let sunlight in, and call the police. Inspector Marin (Haiduc) is on the case. Since Michelle is an American, Mel Thompson (Blair) of the American Embassy also becomes involved. As the ambulance is transporting Michelle, daylight wanes and gives way to dusk, and she suddenly wakes up in the body bag, causing the ambulance to crash, and she runs away into the night, finding solace in what is apparently an old theater. Meanwhile, Radu seeks the counsel of his mother, “Mummy” (Gordon), a withered, dry husk of a woman, and suddenly it all makes sense—his mother is a witch! This is why Radu looks so different from other vampires and has magical abilities.

Becky arrives in Bucharest and meets up with Marin and Mel, who explain the bizarre situation thus far. Though she is worried sick about finding her sister, Becky manages to strike up a brief romance with Mel. Meanwhile, Michelle begins stalking the night, pressed on by her ever-growing bloodlust, and is horrified with the monster she is becoming when she manages to kill a couple of people. Radu, having been the one who originally started Michelle on her road to darkness, has taken a liking to her and intends to make her his fledgling, much to Mummy’s chagrin.

Once Radu finally manages to capture Michelle, Becky follows and is also captured. She is presented to Michelle as a means for Michelle to embrace her vampiric nature, but she refuses and instead stabs Radu multiple times in the face and body, and sets fire to Mummy, who flees. Becky manages to finish off Radu with a spear to the heart. As the two flee the crypt, Michelle is prevented from leaving by the rising sun. Becky states that she will wait until sundown for Michelle and heads out. As Michelle retreats into the crypt, she is suddenly captured by Mummy, who has recovered from being set on fire, and is dragged into the darkness toward an unknown fate.

It’s not hard to see why the Subspecies films have such a loyal cult following; for me personally, the first entry in the series is honestly one of the weaker ones, but not without a significant amount of respect for getting the ball rolling on the mythology. It’s part two where things get interesting, especially with the addition of Denice Duff to the cast. While Laura Mae Tate turned out a serviceable performance as Michelle, Duff brings a presence and vulnerability to the character that easily matches, scene for scene, the menace Hove brings to Radu, and the result is a character who is easy to become invested in. Shatner, Blair, and Haiduc all turn in decent performances as well. Their characters, in addition to the change in setting to Bucharest, are what elevates this film to a higher level than the first; instead of the standard, over-played superstitious villagers and crumbling battlements of broken down castles, we get a lively sense of early 90’s life in Romania, and characters who are engaging and interesting to watch. Filming of the first movie was fraught with production difficulties, ranging from remnants of the recently collapsed communistic government to a serious drinking problem that Andres Hove reportedly had. By comparison, the production of the rest of the films in the series seem to have fared much better.

Another of the films’ strong points is the music. Composers Richard Kosinski and Michael Portis have created a beautifully sweeping and haunting menagerie of sound for the world that has been created, performed masterfully by the Aman Folk Orchestra. There is a bounty of wonderful themes present in the music, particularly Radu, whose presence is noted by a deep, forbidding note played by some exotic wind instrument which I can’t seem to identify; however, it is effective, and instantly recognizable. For the second film, Wayne Toth and Norman Cabrera stepped in to flesh out some of these themes and take the music even further while also pulling double duty on special effects makeup.

It’s also worth noting that, in 1991, Full Moon partnered with Eclipse Comics to produce a four-part comic series that serve as a prequel to the first film, illuminating much of the backstory of King Vladislas, Stefan, Radu, and Radu’s mother, which can be frustratingly hard to put together even after watching all the movies in the series. I get the feeling that, with the differences in several characters (Mummy is depicted here as a winged demon creature as opposed to what is essentially a walking corpse), I get the feeling that the comics were created while production was still going on with the first film, and many of the elements were changed to suit the needs of the later productions, but the story nevertheless is illuminating and worth checking out if you’re lucky enough to find the copies online.