Monday, January 2, 2012

Subspecies I

Subspecies (1991)
Written and directed by Ted Nicolaou

The Subspecies series (1-4) and its spin-off "Vampire Journals" are the greatest vampire movies of all time, and I don't say that lightly. Nothing comes close to them in atmosphere, chararacterisation or authenticity. After all the films were shot in Transylvania and Bucharest, a wondrous country filled with gorgeous mystery if I do say so myself.

This is one series where the villain, The Vampire Radu played by Anders Hove carries on in all 4 films as more of a mix of a antagonist/protagonist and even though at the end of each film he meets his demise (and no-one I know wishes that), it's his curious mix of vampiric and sorcerous heritage that allows him to cheat death at every turn. This is aided by the assistance of Subspecies, small demonic type creatures that are summons from Radu's blood, usually from his self-dismemebered finger joints.

The films begins with Radu returning from exile to murder his father, Count Vlad (Angus Scrimm from Phantasm), the King of the Vampires partly in revenge, and also because he heard that Vlad intends to pass the throne and the sacred Bloodstone to his half-vampire brother Stefan. The Bloodstone is an ancient artefact that drips the blood of the Saints, and while it allows a vampire who possesses it to go without killing, for an evil creature like Radu it's more of a drug and a power symbol.

Radu and the Bloodstone
Two American students: Michelle Morgan and Lillian join their exchange student friend Mara back in Romania to study the folklore of the region, in particular the history of Vampires in the area and how they aided the people in preventing the incursion of the Turks. They stay in Prejmar Fortress, which also served as a monastery and is near Castle Vladislas, the home of the country's vampires, though no villager will utter its name or mention it.

Soon enough the girls get caught up in the family feud for the Vampiric crown between Radu and his brother Stefan, and in traditional vampire fashion become Radu's Brides. Stefan is the victor in the end after a lengthy sword battle, claiming the Bloodstone and the throne for himself and giving Michelle his own blood in the hopes that it will dilute the evil blood of Radu inside her. Stefan takes her for his Bride and they retire to the royal crypt to await the sunset, though unbeknownst to them, Radu is a special vampire and is not down for the count.

Radu is a magnificent villain. He's just not a one-dimensional caricature like Dracula has become in some instances. He is evil yet pitiful. He wants love and acceptance but is too addicted to sadism and power to achieve that. He's wispy snarl makes him sound like a vampiric Godfather, and his dark sense of humour is a welcome addition to a film's antagonist. He is almost a vampiric drug lord per se, addicted to the Bloodstone's power and will try to sell its reputation to garner favour or manipulate. In this way his downfall is almost similar to Pacino's Scarface, where in that film his downfall was partly to becoming addicted to his own drug that he sold for power.

Michelle and her newly turned Bride friend Mara
This film is sublime and for once I do not need to finish off this article with a "What I would have done" section. Everything about these movies is perfect. The atmosphere and setting of Transylvania. The direction and script of Full Moon Studio's Ted Nicolaou, who I believe is unmatched when it comes to this genre. The musical score of Richard Kosinski and The Aman Folk Orchestra is spellbinding, and adds a further gravatis to the atmosphere.
Filming on location was a perfect move for Full Moon studios. This studio was the first American film company to film in Romania, and also using Romanian actors for smaller parts, it added an authenticity to the vampire tale that studio lots and fake accents cannot match.

Stefan who is now King makes Michelle his Vampire Bride
The vampires of this series are of the classical kind. They sleep in coffins to avoid the sun, are warded off by holy symbols and holy water, cannot enter churches and are essentially immortal. They cannot shape shift though possess the power of flight, becoming shadow-like and gliding over the landscape much like Nosferatu whom Radu's appearance was based upon.
To create a vampire they have to mingle their blood with a humans, and it seems the Master holds some kind of psychic sway over his fledgling. The older a  vampire gets, the more his power grows. It is forbidden in Vampire Law to kill your own kind, but it seems that the evil inside their hearts almost makes following that law impossible though we do see vampires living together in a Bucharest coven in the film Vampire Journals, where the main villain is a spawn of Radu's.

Subspecies is seminal vampire viewing, and is recommended to all fans of the genre. I will finish this review here and leave you with the wonderful score of the film by the Aman Folk Orchestra to further whet your dark appetites.

Subspecies Main Title

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