Subspecies (1991)

If anyone can even come close to Roger Corman‘s record for being able to knock out a horror flick on a budget, Charles Band and his Full Moon pictures would certainly have to be considered in the running for the crown, so it’s best to delve into their back catalogue whenever you’re feeling the need for a cheesy slice of B-movie goodness, and Subspecies (and the subsequent entries in the series) certainly delivers on those terms.

The plot revolves around three female students (two from America and one local girl) who arrive in the small Romanian town of Prejnar where they hope to learn more of the town’s culture and folklore as part of their studies. They discover that history and superstition are intertwined for the local townsfolk, with belief in vampires rife and taken as lore, so much so that it is a part of their customs and celebrations. The trio soon find the legends becoming nightmarish reality when the evil vampire Radu (Anders Hove) returns to kill his father, the King of the vampires (Angus Scrimm – aka The Tall Man from the Phantasm series – who I’d say is in a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo, except for the fact he’s wearing a wig Stevie Wonder would have trouble missing). Radu wants more than just his father’s throne and decrepit castle – the King is the possessor of a relic called the Bloodstone (I still can’t decide if it looks more like an ice-cream or a novelty sex toy), which is filled with the blood of all the Saints and is a source of great power.

Subspecies is unashamedly proud to be a b-movie, and that’s not to be considered a downside so long as that’s the value you’re looking for. In fact, it’s refreshing in a way to have just a plain, no nonsense, badass vampire like Radu (who unlike the other vampires in the movie looks like the bastard son of Max Shreck‘s Count Orloff in Nosferatu, complete with batlike visage and elongated fingers) sticking his fangs into some pretty necks, slobbering blood all over the place as he goes, rather than the countless post-Anne Rice romanticised softy vamps that fans have been made to endure (and in a world in which Twilight is a success, that’s only going to get worse). Even though the girls are rather generic and undeveloped (in the character sense, rather than anything physical…with evidence on film to support that statement, naturally), they don’t grate on the nerves and the real star is Hove’s Radu, who clearly relished the part and is perhaps why this one movie became a series and the character has something of a minor cult following.

The plot is fairly derivative (except that nonsense with the Bloodstone), and it sticks to the usual vampire clichés for the most part rather than trying to reinvent the genre, but again in that familiarity there’s something solid. Worry not, for it’s not all cookie-cutter stuff – something that does distinguish it, adds a unique flavour even to a film as rough and ready as this one, is the backdrop for the action. It was shot on location in Romania and many of the extras were just locals they hired rather than actors, and it truly does make elevate it somehow and make it more palatable. Toss in the fact there are some elements to the story that are completely barking mad – such as the antagonist’s ability to spawn his own personal miniature demon helpers (which have been animated through stop-motion rod puppets and blue screen…cheaply) by biting off his own fingertips – and you have something that will certainly keep you interested until the finale, though wisely it’s paced swiftly enough that it moves along at quite a lick and never outstays its welcome.

Yes, it’s silly, but it’s FUN, a factor that’s often underestimated, and because the film doesn’t take itself too seriously you just go along with it and enjoy it. It’s like the cheap ‘n cheerful, somewhat rickety rollercoaster at the local fair, it’ll never be the star attraction at Disneyland, but it’s not meant to be either and is still fun to ride.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

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