DVD Review: SUBSPECIES (1991)

PrintE-mail Written by Julian White

Review: Subspecies / Cert: 18 / Director: Ted Nicolaou / Screenplay: Jackson Barr, David Fabian / Starring: Anders Hove, Laura Tate, Michael Watson, Angus Scrimm / Release Date: March 18th

This was the first American movie to be shot in Romania after the collapse of Communism, and it's also the opening segment of a unique four-part cinematic vampire saga. A trio of Medieval history PhD students, two American, one Romanian, travel to a remote monastery and soon become fascinated by a nearby castle which doesn't seem to be mentioned in any of the textbooks. Exploring the ruins, they have a glancing encounter with its sole inhabitant, the carrot-topped, long-fingered Radu (Hove), who as it so happens has just slain his father, the King of the Vampires (Scrimm), ending a long era of peace between the undead and mortal worlds.

With that, their fate seems sealed. However, among the monastery's other guests is the palely interesting Stefan (Watson), he of the Flock of Seagulls haircut and long overcoat. Ostensibly a zoologist studying nocturnal wildlife, he is in fact Radu's half-brother, and perhaps the only person who can stand in his way.

The joy of the Subspecies films is that they take a traditional, almost antiquarian approach to vampire mythology – Radu's character design harks back to Murnau's silent-era masterpiece Nosferatu – but somehow make it seem fresh and new. With its sense of being a country adrift from modern times, Romania provides a wonderful backdrop. But it's more than that. Romanian culture and folklore infuse the tale, lending it a unique flavour. The backstory – to do with a holy relic that drips the blood of all the saints, gifted to the vampires by the grateful locals after they repelled the Turkish invasion of 1443 – rings with authenticity. The cast too are all very credible – the girls come across as mousy and intellectual, a refreshing change from the usual horror movie plastics – and there's a sweetly pensive romance between the main female lead, Michele (Tate), and the deeply earnest Stefan. Radu, at this stage, doesn't do much more than skulk about in the shadows, but you would be hard pressed to find a more visually striking villain.

Watching Subspecies, you're aware that it's been made with the most minimal of resources (oh, those dodgy stop-mo homunculi!), but the imaginations behind it are big. The picture quality on the DVD copy we saw isn't as pin-sharp as on 88 Films' recent Puppet Master releases, but it's still pretty impressive. Among the extras is a documentary with some great behind the scenes footage showing the cast and crew roughing it Eastern European style – sticking bare wires into a wall socket to get a hair dryer to work – and having, you suspect, the time of their lives.

Extras: Cast and crew interviews / Killer Montage / Videozone / Trailer / Audio commentary

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