Saturday, 4 January 2014

Subspecies (1991)

Charles Band strikes again with another franchise-starting, low-budget, brief (83 minutes) movie featuring little creatures - the SUBSPECIES of the title. Apparently director Ted Nicolaou’s original concept for this vampire movie didn’t even feature them, but all it took was the producer of PUPPET MASTER, DEMONIC TOYS, GHOULIES and DOLLMAN amongst others to suggest that little creatures can equal big profits, for them to be included here as well.
SUBSPECIES begins in a Transylvanian castle, where Tall Man Angus Scrimm (playing the “king” as he is described in the credits) has been spending his time growing his hair so that he resembles Jon Pertwee’s Dr Who after repeated rinsing with extra-extra-full-bodied shampoo. He spends his days sitting around sucking on something called the Bloodstone, which is (we are later told), a constantly bleeding crystal that’s been pinched from the Vatican and is filled with saints’ blood.
The next thing you know, his naughty son Radu (Anders Hove) arrives, all pointy teeth, long rubbery NOSFERATU fingers and prosthetically swollen forehead. Dad traps Radu in a cage, but his son has a secret weapon up his sleeve, or rather at the end of it, because he can break off the ends of his rubber fingers and turn them into little red men who help him escape. Radu kills his dad, but not before mentioning that he has a brother. This leads any early 1990s exploitation movie savvy member of the audience to wonder if he’ll turn up later, be a ‘good’ vampire, and look like a reject from a 1980s electronica band. We shall see...
Two bright young things arrive in town to join up with local girl Mara (ie the one who’s going to end up stripped, chained up in a dungeon, and subjected to the mercy of the little red creatures in a scene that’s a bit like a Jess Franco film but with children’s cartoon characters). All three of them are doing their PhDs in something that requires them to go wandering around old castles, and it’s not long before one of them has cut her arm on a doorpost and is getting a midnight visit from Radu. Mara gets captured and subjected to...well you already know that, leaving the third girl, Michele to react incredibly stoically to the fact that her two friends have been vampirised, that she has to help kill them, and that the handsome stranger who’s been lurking around and resembles a reject from a 1980s electronica band, and with whom she has fallen in love is in fact...a vampire!!
SUBSPECIES isn’t actually too bad if you’re very forgiving. The authentic locations are beautiful to look at, and one suspects that even dear old Mr Franco would have a time of it trying to make it look dull. Ted Nicolaou manages quite a few atmospheric and creepy shots, including some nice backlighting of the vampire and a supremely weird bit involving a WICKER MAN-like procession of the local townsfolk. There are several of these SUBSPECIES films and I’ll admit I was dreading watching any of them. Now I’m actually quite keen to see what part 2 is like. 
       88 Films’ DVD & Blu-ray is a reasonable transfer and the extras include a commentary track by Charles Band and Chris Gore, cast & crew interviews, a SUBSPECIES montage and the usual barrel of trailers for ropey old films that are a bundle of laughs to watch. This really isn't such a bad package at all.

1 comment:

  1. I like this series for all its cheesiness. The concepts were ahead of its time. Watching this today this seems like a not very clever parody of all those terrible good vampire/bad vampire brother tales which has diluted the genre to the point of obscurity, but actually it was one of the first ones who used it.

    It had some great visual ideas - I like Radu's shadowtraveling - and it actual incorporates its locations into the story instead of being ashamed of them. (Watch any ScFi Channel vampire movie filmed on this location and you know what I mean.) And the sequels are mostly entertaining and keep the level.of storytelling thanks to Anders Hove who is a much better villian then all those poor whining self-doubting vampires glittering in the night.