The Subspecies franchise starts off awesomely cheesy, intriguing, creepy, campy, and gory all at once. But it begins to fall apart at the halfway mark. When it first came out in 1991, it was premature for the exposure the Internet can offer…so every time customers came into the video store I worked at and asked if we had this movie, they left disappointed. It just wasn’t mainstream enough to be worth the 90-dollar price tag (can you fricking believe VHS tapes used to cost 90 bux???).
In an effort to attract horror fanatics, the first Subspecies featured an appearance by Angus “Tall Man” Scrimm of Phantasm fame. And by appearance, I mean, you hardly know he’s in it. He has about a 2-minute cameo and is sporting this bizarre white afro.
The plot is simple. There’s this king (Angus) who has 2 sons. He is in possession of this bloodstone thing. His ghoulish vampire son Radu wants it, but it’s going to instead be given to Radu’s sexy brother Stefan (who looks like a member of Duran Duran circa 1982). So Radu kills dad and plots to do the same to his brother.
Enter into Transylvania two clueless American chicks (actually, they’re not clueless….they’re well-educated, in the country on a grant to do studies). They get, um, sucked into the crazy world of this vampire sibling rivalry. If for no other reason, watch this vampire film for Radu, the scariest vamp I’ve seen since Salem’s Lot. He’s got a gruesome face, super long fingers and press-on nails, eerie eyes, a pervert’s husky voice, and a pervert’s constant drooling problem (although, he drools blood). Plus, the setting of sweeping hillsides and castle ruins are stunning, totally upping the atmosphere.
Favorite horror clichés abound, including organ music, candelabras, drafty dungeons, moonlight and fog, vampiric women in flowing white dresses, and vampire coffins that seem to be lit from beneath. Just pay no mind to Radu’s ridiculous claymation-like demon troll minions…and gay guys, beware the gratuitous boobage! Speaking of boobs, Radu sets up a literal “booby” trap to capture his brother Stefan! Plus, there’s a super grisly beheading. But the best part of the series is only hinted at in the first film—the vampire shadow.
The vampire shadow is the star of Subspecies II: Bloodstone. Radu is back. He looks different, but he’s the same actor, Anders Hove, whose credits also include time on General Hospital in the 90s! Also back is the lead female character Michelle from the first film…now a vampire, and played by a different actress! Although it’s supposed to pick up right where the first one left off, the lead chick’s bull dyke hairstyle from movie 1 is now a long curly bush of beautiful auburn locks. I guess your hair not only continues to grow after you die, but it grows instantly.
Anyway, Michelle is on the run from Radu, who is officially her master. She’s got the bloodstone now, which, like her hair, has magically quadrupled in size over night. She’s not adjusting well to the vampire lifestyle (it isn’t a choice, but you’re also not born that way….), and fricking calls her sister to Transylvania to help her! When her sister arrives and you first see that butch haircut, you’ll be convinced the chick who played Michelle in the first film is now playing the sister in the second movie. But it’s not her, it’s actually—William Shatner’s daughter! I guess she felt that if her dad’s inside-out face could be the star of Halloween, she’d 1-up him.
The sister is the focus this time, and her love interest is a cutie I recognized immediately as the love interest in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (I love my scream kings).
But like I said before, the star is Radu’s shadow. With just the simplest of lighting tricks, this movie is loaded with visuals of Radu’s presence as gnarly shadows stretch to huge proportions against walls and sides of buildings, accompanied by an eerie whooshing breath sound. Once you’ve witnessed this completely overused effect, you will be sold on this film. It doesn’t even matter what the plot is, just as long as they continuously exploit the shadow, which they so do. The shadow seriously makes part 2 better than the first film.
And then there’s one last addition to part 2. The zombie momma! Yep, we get to meet Radu’s mom, and she is this nasty little zombie bitch who is seriously the perfect bride for the crypt keeper. And wait until you see her twirling fire dance at the end of the film. Zombie momma is a hoot. And she also sets the stage for the third film….
Subspecies III: Bloodlust picks up right where part 2 leaves off. The police raid the tomb, Shatner Junioress tells them about vampires, they don’t believe her, she sneaks in to the tomb—and sees zombie momma bringing Radu back to life. This undead dude just won’t die!!! This is when things start to fall apart. A lot of nothing happens in this one, and the eeriness of the series starts to falter. There are way too many ridiculous changes from day tonight. I barely exaggerate when I say it’s almost like someone will turn a corner in daylight and when they round it, it’s nighttime. And the creepy shadow effect has become this silly giant skeletal hand puppet that appears on walls—and even over the moon!
This movie also introduces heavy use of the vampire needing to rip off a chick’s top to show her tits before he feeds on her. It’s not vampire erotica at all—Radu’s face looks like shit and you don’t even want to imagine it latching onto a nice big tit-tay! It seems like an attempt by the weakening series to keep male viewers’ attention. Amazing how I’ve been devoted to horror for 4 decades despite it being predominantly loaded with boobs, yet straight male viewers will give a horror movie one star if it doesn’t feature any (trust me—I see tons of postings of this nature on message boards).
A small group of heroes raids the castle to save Michelle at the end, manage to get the bloodstone from Radu and toss it out of the castle…and then throw that sucker over a wall into the sunlight and onto a bunch of wooden spikes. As he burns up, they drive off…and then the little claymation demon trolls return. COME ON. REALLY?
Apparently, the creator of the series began to realize how lame those little devils were getting, because when Subspecies IV: Bloodstorm begins, the trolls don’t appear to revive our vamp as setup in the previous film. Instead, Radu’s BBQed bod falls off the spikes…and into a puddle of water. Yep, his fire is put out. And it so happens the bloodstone they tossed out of the castle in part 3 is sitting on the ground right next to him, allowing him to suck its nutrients to repair himself!
Meanwhile, our group of heroes that drove away at the end of the last film, with Michelle (still played by the second actress) in a body bag to protect her from the sun, had a deadly car accident! A woman driving by stops and finds Michelle “alive” in the body bag. This woman happens to be a doctor, so she brings Radu’s fledgling to a nearby hospital, where the sleaziest, creepiest doctor ever has plans for her vampiric existence…setting himself up for a serious problem with the incredibly possessive Radu.
The shadow trick is now nothing more than a stick figure shadow on the wall and then the vampire materializing like Scotty beamed him up. Boobage is in high count with every feeding, there are a bunch of wacky new characters in the mix, and Radu suddenly has an entourage of vamps, including male vamp Ash, who has apparently been his fledgling all along. This character is to become the lead vampire in the fifth film. So you know what that means for Radu. FINALLY. But boy is it a weird finish to the official Radu story. The movie ends so abruptly with little fanfare.
This is where things get confusing. The unofficial fifth film is simply called The Vampire Journals. But, from what I can tell, it was released a year before Subspecies IV, so I’m not sure if that’s where it belongs in the timeline. This film is pretty much a redo of the original Subspecies. Ash, from Subspecies IV, is the lead vampire in this film and becomes drawn to a specific woman he wants to seduce (just like Radu in the first film). Problem is, he’s not of Radu gnarliness. He looks like he would be the lead singer of some bad 80s hair band—wait, I take that back. There’s no such thing as a bad 80s hair band. They all rock.
Meanwhile, there’s this “good” vampire named Zachary who is trying to protect the new heroine from him (just like Stefan tried to protect Michelle in the first film). This time, there are also no creepy decrepit castles. This takes place in the high society world of the arts. And it’s BORING. Too many characters and too much plot (kind of like an Anne Rice vampire movie adaptation), plus actors from past series, some in the same roles, some as completely different characters. In fact, there’s an entire opening that SEEMS to be a quick recap of the Radu/Michelle story, with different actors. Unless it’s not supposed to be them—I don’t even know for sure. The lame shadow/materializing effect from Subspecies IV is used, and the excessive tearing open of shirts to expose boobs seems to be a last ditch effort to make this film interesting to the right kind of viewers. Dare I say that for me, it was the last nail in the coffin of this once captivating vampire series?