Retro Review: ‘Subspecies’

In the 1990’s the most popular vampires in pop culture were cool and sexy ala’ Interview with a Vampire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But the idea of the monstrous Nosferatu-esque bloodsuckers still lingered in the shadows. Whereas Lestat would charm the pants off someone, these creatures of the night are comfortable tearing their throats out without remorse. Charles Band’s Full Moon Features, the fan favorite B-movie studio behind movies like Puppet Master and Leprechaun would bring this type of vampire back to screens in 1991. Collaborating with Romanian studio Castel Films they produced the direct-to-video cult classic Subspecies.

In a remote Romanian village three young students, Mara, Michelle, and Lillian discover the remnants of the long forgotten Castle Vladislas. Within this castle is the centuries old vampire Radu Vladislas who holds the powerful Bloodstone after murdering his father to obtain it. He is not the only undead as Stefan, Radu’s hunky brother, meets up with the girls while seeking to reclaim his birthright. This puts the three of them in the middle of the conflict between two vampires over who holds the Bloodstone.

This is a movie which has come from a studio with a storied history of churning out cheap tongue-in-cheek horror flicks. Yet somehow Subspecies is a far better made movie than one has come to expect from Full Moon Features. Given the authenticity of actually filming in Eastern Europe, the production values. Granted it helps that they have actual castles and dungeons etc. for locations but the make-up fx are flawless, the acting is solid and the ominous score is downright haunting. I will give a pass to the poorly CGI’d blood ghouls, Radu Vladislas because they were made on a low budget using early 90’s technology. Director Ted Nicolaou, could have easily phoned it in, he had done it before, but with Subspecies he truly goes above and beyond crafting an effective vampire flick. With the character of Radu Vladislas, he and screenwriters Jackson Barr and David Pabian strip the vampire mythos back to its roots. Radu does not have the charm of Dracula nor the coolness of David nor the sexiness of Lestat. He is cursed hideous sadistic creature of the night and he is proud of it.

A number of sequels to Subspecies have been produced over the years, and like the original they are surprisingly far better than one would expect. This movie is a gothic blood-soaked feast for horror movie lovers. It has just enough cheese to justify its status as a Charles Band production, but overall stands as a fantastic vampire flick.