Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #20: "Subspecies"

In far-off Transylvania, a truce that's protected man from the vampire scourge is about to be shattered. Exiled bloodsucker Radu (Anders Hove) has returned home to do in his father (Angus Scrimm) and lay claim to the Bloodstone, an artifact housing the blood of all saints. The only thing standing in Radu's way of becoming lord of all undead is his half-brother Stefan (Michael Watson), who doesn't look fondly upon his demonic heritage. But just as their blood feud heats up, into frame wander a trio of friends/students who've come to bone up on their Transylvanian folklore. When one of the girls (Laura Tate) starts crushing on Stefan, however, Radu sees it as all the leverage he needs to turn the fight in his sinister favor.

The Full Moon gang is nothing, if not persistent. The B-movie pioneers churned out what their fans craved on a regular basis, whether or not they had the funds and film stock to do so. It was in Full Moon's heyday that Subspecies came about and made surprisingly decent use of the studio's cost-cutting measures. Charles Band movies having been 80% of Romania's economy in the '90s, it's no biggie that Subspecies was shot there too, but what is surprising is how effectively its locations were used; they wanted a crusty, eastern European setting, and dammit, they got one. The mood fits the scope of the story, which is simple and direct without feeling too lazy. You can tell Full Moon was proud of this one, especially when the credits boast a full orchestra, as opposed to Richard Band slamming his head on a Casio for 90 minutes. Even Radu's devilish minions (the "subspecies" of the title) look kinda cool, a product of Full Moon's fascination with all things small and homicidal.

But this is a Band collaboration we're dealing with, so here's the part where I dish on how straight-up mediocre Subspecies is. There was some effort put into this (being the first chapter of a franchise, there wasn't any stock footage to recycle just yet), but the filmmakers burned through what they did have pretty quickly. Hell, Scrimm (wearing one doozy of a Doc Brown fright wig) is dead in two minutes, so the remaining 80 are spent trailing the Baby-Sitters Club until Radu actually attacks somebody. To his credit, Hove's make-up work makes Radu look fairly imposing, but I couldn't tell you what he hopes to achieve from having the Bloodstone other than having the Bloodstone. The rest of the story moves as expected, from an anemic romance subplot to the standard sequel-establishing finale, turning up no surprises and performing no feats of ambition along the way. As horrible as it was, even The Gingerdead Man gets points for pure crazy.

As low-budget vampire outings go, Subspecies is no better or worse than the norm. It's notable for little more than being one of the few times Charles Band was responsible for something that didn't breathe Andre Toulon's name for once. Underwhelming for horror at large and par for Full Moon's course, Subspecies aims to be nondescript and succeeds with flying colors.

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