Subspecies Boxset (1991 - 1998)
By: Devon B. on October 20, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Big Sky Video | All Regions, PAL | 4:3 | English DD 2.0 | 413 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Starring: Anders Hove, Laura Tate, Denice Duff, Melanie Shatner, Kevin Blair, Jonathon Morris, Angus Scrimm
Screenplay: Jackson Barr, David Pabian; Ted Nicolaou
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB Subspecies Box SetPurchase YouTube
I'm not a huge fan of vampires, but I have an interest in Subspecies that I find difficult to shake. I think it's because an issue of the Subspecies tie-in comic was given to me without the usual content screen being conducted by the parental units. Its more risqué content was of great fascination to me in my early pubescent years…that is until a friend took it upon himself to colour in the women's nipples because he wanted to see what they'd look like after he'd made them more "realistic." The comic made me really want to see the film of the same name, because I assumed it was an adaptation. I was saddened when I finally saw Subspecies to find that it was not, but at least there was still a bit of nudity. For some reason, I always thought there were only three films in the series, so I was a bit surprised when I got this set to find there were five, though one is actually more of a spin-off than a part of the series proper.

Despite being named after them, the movies have very little to do with the subspecies; the films focus more on the vampire that they're sub to, Radu. Radu is a bad vampire, and you can tell that because he is pasty, whispers menacingly when speaking, and drools almost as much as El Homely Lobo himself: Paul Naschy. Radu is the son of the king of the vampires, but he's the bad son because his mother was an evil sorceress. Radu can also call forth the subspecies, but how he does this is inconsistent at best. In the first film he rips off the tips of his fingers and they morph into the subspecies, a collection of badly blue-screened puppets that do his evil bidding. However, the subspecies hang out for the rest of the film, and Radu has his fingers for the remainder as well, so maybe they're not bits of his fingers or maybe he can regenerate himself or I don't know what. Later in the series he doesn't even need to rip off his fingers, just a bit of blood can form them. So what are these little puppet guys? In the commentary Charles Band explains they're his familiars, so I guess I can't get too caught up in the practicalities of their being if they're a part of Radu's magic. I'm not sure if it's a mistake or not, but Radu also seems to be able to withstand more sunlight than other vampires, only getting into trouble when he stops and looks at the sun.

The first film starts with Radu challenging his father, Angus Scrimm, for the Bloodstone, some old foo foo looking thing that drips the blood of the saints and would give Radu additional power. Radu acquires the Stone, but his brother, a good vampire, wants to end Radu's newly begun reign of terror. Meanwhile, some friends have come to Transylvania (why do foreingers never learn that it's dangerous there?) to do some research. They happen upon Radu and he sets his sights on the trio, taking particular interest in one.

Subspecies is a bit jumpy and not a lot happens. The movie's okay, but it benefits greatly from being shot on location in Romania. The sets are absolutely fantastic and it's a shame the story doesn't do them proud. I realise saying the sets are great when the story isn't is akin to saying I had an ordinary meal at the local pub but the plate it was served on was wonderful, but Subspecies does soak up some atmosphere by default just because of where it was shot.

Watch out for: The woman's top that rips in such a way that the tears continuously expose her nipples.

Subspecies' lacklustre finale leads directly in to...

Bloodstone: Subspecies II begins immediately after the climax of the first film. As such, it's impossible to discuss the storyline here without revealing spoilers for the first film. You have been warned. This warning applies to all of the remaining Subspecies films in this set.

The subspecies bring Radu back to life after he was killed at the end of the previous movie, then proceed to fuck off for the remainder of the run time. The revived Radu makes short work of his brother but is unable to destroy his brother's new underling Michelle, the lead woman from the first movie. Michelle has some really weird shit happen to her in this movie. Firstly, her hair grows a massive amount in the few hours between the credits rolling in part one and opening in Bloodstone, and becoming a vampire has completely altered her face so she looks like an entirely different person. She absconds with the Bloodstone, and Radu wants to reclaim the Stone and take her for his own fledgling. She phones her sister, played by William Shatner's daughter Melanie, who comes to Romania to help Michelle. Fortunately the help doesn't require acting lessons because Melanie is less of a thespian than her father. Melanie gets some help of her own from a guy that works at the US Embassy and they get drawn into a rather plodding storyline as they battle Radu and try to rescue Michelle.

I recall Bloodstone being an incredibly dull film, but it was better than I remember. Still, it wasn't a good story, but it seems of higher quality than it is because it was shot on location.

Watch out for: The intense fury of Bucharest metal gig.

Bloodstone's lacklustre finale leads directly in to...

Bloodlust: Subspecies III begins immediately after the climax of the second film. Shat's daughter is worried about Michelle because they were separated by sunlight. Radu is still infatuated with his would-be fledgling, so kidnaps her and tries to teach her his vampire ways. Radu's mother isn't too happy with the situation, and Shat's daughter continues to try and rescue her sister. Shat's daughter is still being helped by Mr US Embassy Guy, who must have the best job in the world 'cause he never seems to need to go to work.

Shot at the same time as previous instalment, Bloodlust and Bloodstone work better as two different films than say, Toxic Avenger II and III, but with just a bit of tightening these could've been one movie. Even with all their padding they're both only about 80 minutes each, so it wouldn't have been too hard to combine them. Anyway, Bloodlust offers the viewer what has come to be expected from this series, namely meandering around Romania. Bloodstone was better than I remembered, but this one is tired and dull, and the slow moving story was really annoying by this point. Some poor FX offer a few laughs, but otherwise there's little of interest.

Watch out for: The most conspicuous thievery ever.

Bloodlust's lacklustre finale leads directly in to...

Ha! Fooled you, this time we're off to a spin off called Vampire Journals.

The movie opens with some stunning gothic imagery, and the opening scene has more action than the first three movies in the set combined, so my hopes were up.

A very bad actor (unfortunately the lead and also the narrator) is a Blade type of hero named Zachary. He's seeking out a very old, very powerful vampire named Ash (who is suffering from the vampiric accelerated hair growth that plagues Michelle at the start of Bloodstone, so is in desperate need of a haircut). Zachary is secretly a vampire looking to destroy the bloodline of the one that turned him. He and the bad vampire both get interested in the same woman, so the film is kind of a love triangle with pointy teeth.

Like the other Subspecies films, Vampire Journals earns massive atmosphere points for its location shooting, and this time the story, while not groundbreaking, is a bit more interesting. Things actually happen, there's quite a bit more nudity and some of the vampire shadow FX are better done. You can't have it all, though, because the in-camera FX are worse.

Watch out for: The actor in the credits merely listed as "vampire."

The connection to Subspecies is that Radu is mentioned fleetingly when Ash explains that he was turned by Radu. This presumably means that Radu is the head of the bloodline (because Radu was conceived, not turned, remember) that Zachary seeks to destroy. Therefore I would expect this movie to lead directly to...

Nope, I was wrong, Subspecies: The Awakening starts immediately after Bloodlust. This one was originally titled Subspecies IV: Bloodstorm, keeping with the "blood" title theme. Probably would've been a good idea to take the Subspecies out of the title if it was being changed since they aren't in it at all.

Radu's back and so's Michelle, but the others she was with have copped it in a car crash. A doctor happens upon the crash, finds Michelle, and takes her to another doctor who luckily knows a lot about vampires. He says he wants to help Michelle, but seems to have hidden, ulterior motives. Radu's history has been rewritten so that he DIDN'T die at the end of Bloodlust because he fell into a puddle. This put out the flames the sun had caused him to burst into (despite the fact we see him clearly burn sans puddle at the end of the film, but whatever) and so Radu recovered once the sun set. Once again he's after Michelle, but has to watch out because everyone else in the movie wants to kill him.

Awakening is better than the previous two proper Subspecies films but still isn't great. It seems the cheapest of the lot, and is about TV movie quality, with the credits and some of the fade outs looking really tacky. Radu's makeup is a bit better than before, but still lacking and looks cheap, too.

The ending of Awakening is seriously anti-climactic, so I'd imagine fans were disappointed with it as a series wrap up. Unless what they were after was great background scenery because once again there's lots of atmosphere from the sets.

Watch out for: Radu's clearly human scalp which the makeup team forgot might show up on camera.

Awakening's lacklustre finale leads directly in to...NOTHING, it's all done!

I like the concept of the subspecies, but this series really shouldn't be named after them because they get very little screen time. It should just be named after Radu, because he's actually not a decent vampire who takes several cues from Nosferatu. His makeup isn't always top notch, so his long fingers often look silly, but overall he's a worthwhile baddie.

The movies only have smidges of gore and nudity, but to be fair they were made when the MPAA was at the height of its horror movie censoring. Maybe Charles Band would've done more with a bit more freedom, but that would've probably cost money and clearly he used all his on airfares to Romania.
Video
All five films are presented full frame, which would be the original aspect ratio since these were direct to video releases. The first film looks really bad, with specks, spots, dirt, light flicker and heavy grain. It's maybe a little sharper than a VHS. The second film is much clearer, but still has some spots, heavy grain in dark scenes and the occasional artefact. The third looks pretty clear, but still has some specks and spots and can get grain haze in the darker moments. Vampire Journals looked a bit softer than Bloodlust, but is still mostly a clean print. There's still grain, and some spots and specks. Awakening looks about the same as Bloodlust at night, but seems grainer in the daylight scenes. There are some spicks and specks, light flicker and moments where it looks shot on video. The quality is variable in the set, but I doubt any remastering has happened, particularly on the first film.
Audio
The audio for all five films is presented in a 2.0 mix which is presumably the original mixing. The sound is clean, so there're no real complaints here unless you were hoping for 5.1 remastering. Vampire Journals has a few bits of dialogue that are out of synch.
Extra Features
Subspecies comes with a roughly 10 minute behind the scenes; a commentary; the trailer; and trailers for the first sequel, Puppet Master II, and for the only good movie in the whole Full Moon universe, Future Cop. The behind the scenes featurette is presumably the relevant section of the VideoZone that originally accompanied Subspecies. VideoZone was kind of like a Full Moon advertisement that was included on a lot of their videos and would have behind the scenes stuff, as well as interviews and info on other titles. This featurette is pretty cool because they go on the street and ask the local Romanians about their belief in vampires (they lie and say they don't believe). Director Ted Nicolaou makes an appearance, and man does he have some 80s hair. The commentary is with Band and Chris Gore of Film Threat. They discuss the concept behind the subspecies; the production, the story of which is more interesting than the film itself given the political turmoil in Romania at the time; and the cast. This feels more like an interview than a commentary because they rarely comment on the action on screen, but is worth a listen. Some info repeats from the featurette.

Bloodstone comes with a roughly 10 minute featurette; the trailer; and trailers for Bloodlust, Future Cop II, and Tourist Trap. The featurette gives insight as to why the band at the metal gig sound like bad Danzig.

Bloodlust comes with the trailer and a 7 ½ minute featurette. Because Bloodstone and Bloodlust were made at the same time, some footage repeats between their two featurettes.

Vampire Journals comes with the trailer and a roughly 13 minute featurette. Nicolaou has sadly cut his hair, but at least the fact that he was able to get it under control proves he's not a vampire. He discusses one of Vampire Diaries niftier vampire concepts and explains why it hadn't appeared in the series before.

Awakening has the trailer. There is a US release which also features commentaries, but they aren't to be found here.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Some people love these movies, and of the five, three are okay, which is a better average than a lot of franchises. By the end I was tired of watching Radu chase Michelle, so that may be why I preferred Vampire Journals. Scoring this set is a bit hard to do just numerically, so I'll explain my reasoning for the counts. Subspecies, Vampire Journals and Awakening would get a three each, and Bloodstone and Bloodlust would get a two each, so that averages out to about 2 ½. The DVD presentation is a bit trickier to score. The films were out of print for years, so just being on DVD is a bit of coup, but they haven't been cleaned up much, if at all. However, given all of Full Moon's legal issues, maybe accessing materials isn't particularly easy, so I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt here, and rate this as an okay release.

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