Review: Subspecies (1991)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #634


Number of Views: Two
Release Date: August 8, 1991
Sub-Genre: Vampire/Fantasy
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Producer: Ion Ionescu
Screenplay: Charles Band, Jackson Barr, David Pabian
Special Effects: Mark Rappaport, Greg Cannom, Todd Tucker
Cinematography: Vlad Paunescu
Score: Stuart Brotman, Richard Kosinski, William Levine, Michael Portis, John Zeretzke
Editing: Bert Glatstein, William Young
Studio: Full Moon Entertainment
Distributor: Paramount Home Video
Stars: Angus Scrimm, Anders Hove, Irina Movila, Laura Mae Tate, Michelle McBride, Ivan J. Rado, Mara Grigore, Adrian Vâlcu, Michael Watson


Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] The Aman Folk Orchestra “Main Title”

[2] The Aman Folk Orchestra “Lord of The Vampires”

[3] The Aman Folk Orchestra “Death At The Mask Dance”


The world needs more guys like Charles Band if you ask me. This veteran American film producer and director has provided the horror droves with countless B-grade delights over the last forty years or so and has only recently begun to take his foot off the gas. My introduction to Band came at an early age by way of affable low-rent delights such as Parasite, The Alchemist and the glorious Trancers. Then at the tail end of the eighties, he formed production company, Full Moon Pictures, which proved rather a nice little earner for him.


The first franchise representing his new label was Puppet Master, inspired by one of his earlier productions, Stuart Gordon’s Dolls, and aiming to cash in on the success of Tom Holland’s Child’s Play a year earlier. It went down a storm with the undiscerning, spawning seven sequels, a mash-up with another of his properties, Demonic Toys, and a couple of lazy bolt-ons barely even worthy of mention. The quality may have become increasingly questionable as the series wore on, but not before achieving a certain level of cult status.


Another of Full Moon’s success stories, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, was Subspecies. This too had some legs, with three bona fide sequels and a spin-off assisting it in gaining its own little faithful following. All five films were directed by Ted Nicolaou, who also brought us the equally hare-brained TerrorVision and Bad Channels. However, while those films opted for a decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach, his take on vampire folklore was played straight down the line and shot on-location in Bucharest, Romania (a first for an American picture) for added authenticity. Critics were mildly impressed by the special effects, which used stop-motion and rod puppet techniques to bring his macabre creations to life, but less so with the cliché plot which made little attempt to tread fresh ground. Which side of the fence do you reckon Keeper perches himself on?


You’re darn tooting. I’ll take all the cliché you can conjure with a side order of Camembert if it translates to a helping of good old-fashioned B-grade entertainment and that is exactly what Subspecies provides open-handedly. There’s little memorable about it and watching won’t make you any more intelligent, but neither will it make you dumber. Instead, this dainty little number will simply wash over you for 90 minutes, do precisely what it states on the tin, then scurry off back into the shadows to gather dust for the next decade or so until you bust it out once more for similar shits and grins. If you’re looking for a deep and meaningful experience, then you’re obviously not familiar with the kind of movies Band churns out for fun, and ill-prepared to take the journey in the first place. For those of us remaining, saddle up as it’s off to southeastern Europe we go.


Our tale follows a trio of bushy-tailed post-graduate college students, Americans Michelle (Laura Tate), and Lillian (Michelle McBride), and native Mara (Irina Movila), whose study of Romanian culture brings them to the sleepy town of Prejmer. No sooner have they taken their backpacks off, than they are then shown to their lodging, which happens to be a dilapidated fortress amidst the ruins of Transylvania. If this sounds at all ominous, then their racing minds are soon put to rest when they meet Stefan (Michael Watson), a fellow bookworm studying nocturnal animals, and he informs the girls that he is also staying at the same location. Alarm bells ringing yet ladies? Well it turns out that Stefan is quite the chivalrous gentleman and takes a particular shine to Michelle, by far the least flighty of the three. However, it’s not Stefan they need to worry about.


You see, his half-brother Radu (Anders Hove) has far more sinistrous designs on the girls and there’s no love lost between the two sparring brothers. He resides over at the nearby Castle Vladislas, the same place where he murdered his own father King Vladislas (Angus Scrimm) centuries prior, before claiming the throne and a ruby-red crystal artifact called the Bloodstone that drips the spent life blood of fallen saints. within no time he has ascertained the whereabouts of his intended victims and is all set to commence the usual nightcrawler shenanigans. It’s worth noting that Stefan is also a vampire, although he’s far more interested in winning her heart than tapping her vein. With one brother looking to destroy the ancient relic, and the other, use it for nefarious use, something has to give and the stage is set for a ghoulish final act.


Hove plays the part of Radu with reptilian relish, rasping his intentions while calling to mind Nosferatu with regards to his skulking prowess and a set of ludicrously elongated fingertips that should make it nigh-on impossible to grasp a sword but curiously don’t hinder him. Meanwhile, the legendary Scrimm gives an equally eldritch turn as the king, albeit in a far more fleeting capacity and the ladies nail the histrionics well enough. One tertiary character worthy of mention is caretaker Karl (Ivan J. Rado), who has been Stefan’s right-hand man since way back and selflessly dedicates himself to the cause. But every time Hove graces us with his presence, all eyes are squarely on him, gargling blood constantly as he casts his dubious spell over our senses.


Cinematographer Vlad Paunescu makes stellar use of shadows throughout, supplying Radu with all manner of darkened recesses to mince about in. The juxtaposition of night and day is critical here and the wide open vistas filmed beneath the sun’s glare contrast well with the spooky sundown shade. This is especially evident in the giddying Festival of The Dead scene which does a marvellous job of disorienting the viewer, along with our three damsels. By far the weakest aspect of Subspecies is the script and some decidedly questionable dialogue, although isn’t that also the charm of movies such as this? It may not qualify as epic and lack any real sense of true ingenuity, but evidently great care and attention has been lavished upon it and it’s therefore fruitless not to offer up those jugulars.


Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: I love me some stop-motion and its crudeness only adds to the charm in my opinion. There’s plenty of it on exhibit here, although the pint-sized minions of the cover art ony appear briefly in book-end capacity. There’s a reasonable amount of splatter on the patter but alas not so much doing on the body count front. As for skin, surely a requisite for any B-grade horror flick, we are catered for to the tune of one of the delectable Movila’s rogue bosoms and you really can’t say any fairer than that.

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Read Bram Stoker’s Dracula Appraisal
Read Castle Freak Appraisal
Read Dagon Appraisal
Read Tourist Trap Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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1 Comment

  1. I remember Subspecies too back in the day. Charles Band always did have a terrific catalogue. Angus Scrimm was a wonderful character actor who could always play menacingly creepy really well. Terrific review, Rich!

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