Talon-nailed Radu (Anders Hove) has been banished from his father's castle for being incapable of honouring their vampiric family's pact of surviving in peace. This doesn't stop the pasty-faced Mobius lookalike returning to said castle in a bid to convince his dad, the Vampire King (Angus Scrimm), that - twat or not - he has a right to inherit the family 'bloodstone': an amulet capable of bestowing great power upon its rightful owner.

The King understandably refuses Radu's demands, only for his son to hack three of his own fingers off and watch as they mutate into demonic red servants who slay the old fella. Radu is back home, and he's ready to stir up some shit!

Not so far away, pretty American students Michelle (Laura Tate) and Lillian (Michelle McBride) arrive via train onto Transylvanian soil. They're there to meet up with their local friend Mara (Irina Movila) who's promised to help them with their studies into the country's folklore.

Staying at Mara's house with her humourless father, the girls nevertheless make themselves at home with some food and fine wine. Unbeknownst to them, Radu has taken over the castle just a few minutes away and has all manner of deviance on his mind.

To cut a silly story short, Radu becomes aware of the girls' presence in his hometown and takes a shine to them. However, his handsome brother Stefan (Michael Watson) is a much nicer kind of vampire - the kind who yearns to avenge his father's murder and retrieve control of the stolen bloodstone for strictly honourable purposes, while saving his new tourist friends in the process...

When you think of vampire films from the 1990s, the chances are the first that spring to mind will be BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA or INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. If you like your bloodsucking on the artier side of the fence, you may have also thought of THE ADDICTION, CRONOS or HABIT. Gorehounds no doubt would have the likes of DARKNESS and ADDICTED TO MURDER flashing into their brains. The probability of thinking first of SUBSPECIES is, I'd wager, remote.

And yet, SUBSPECIES was released by producer Charles Band's Full Moon Pictures studio in 1991 and showed real ambition in its attempt to marry the Gothic sensibilities of classic vampire cinema (Hammer, mainly) with an original, modern - for its time - perspective on its folklore sources.

The screenplay is pure hokum, but in an endearingly 'go for broke' fashion. No idea seems to too crazy or leftfield to be given a go. And while not all of the ideas work (Harryhausen-esque stop-motion creatures interspersed between scenes of permed '90s teens preening themselves just doesn't gel), the film deserves plaudits for even attempting to pair together such unlikely bedfellows.

The FX work ranges from the crudely impressive (some of the gore) to the simply crude (vampires with clownish white face paint aren't exactly the stuff of nightmares). The aforementioned claymation monsters are particularly ropy, and look as if they've been awkwardly crow-barred into the film at the last minute (this is more-or-less confirmed in the disc's commentary track). But such is SUBSPECIES' wacky appeal that all of these disparate measures CAN combine to produce an enjoyably trashy, flawed-but-fun whole.

The younger cast members are a photogenic bunch, while the older actors lend the performances loose gravitas (note my use of the word 'loose'). However, the real star of the show is the beautiful Romanian setting. To their credit, director Ted Nicolaou and Band make terrific continual use of their gorgeous surroundings. Exterior shots are consequently much more aesthetically pleasing than a small budgeted genre film shot in the early 1990s would normally be. The castle is a genuine one, and again its imposing Gothic grandeur is put to great use.

Radu is a formidable Nosferatu-like beast, a vampire at loggerheads with the suave Brad Pitts and Gary Oldmans of 1990s cinema, or the sombre dependency interpreted into vampirism at the time via Christopher Walken and Larry Fessenden. Instead, Radu is a creature of pure, embittered evil. And so, as daft and as trashy as the film often is, his character helps it maintain an edge. It's this edge that lifts SUBSPECIES above the usual straight-to-video rubbish of its era. In light of this, its cult following and string of sequels make sense.

88 Films' blu-ray disc serves SUBSPECIES to its fans in an uncut transfer which is correctly framed in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The picture is enhanced for 16x9 televisions and presented in full 1080p HD resolution. Details are nicely rendered in close-ups and blacks are largely stable in what is essentially a good presentation. However, some softness (were diffusion filters employed during the film's making? It looks VERY soft at times) and an occasional washed-out look to colour schemes do prevent this from being a top tier '90s transfer. Minor print damage is also evident but is hardly problematic.

English audio is provided in a DTS-HD Master Stereo mix. This doesn't let the viewer down.

The disc opens with a static main menu which plays out nicely to snippets of the film's atmospheric orchestral score. From there, a pop-up scene-selection menu allows access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

Extra features get started with 8 minutes of involving cast and crew interviews. These include some interesting anecdotes that hardly paint the film's shoot in the most positive light, and are interspersed with some welcome clips.

Next we get "Killer Montage", which is 105 seconds of footage from the film set to a melodramatic score and playing out as being somewhere between a trailer and a music video. Weird.

A 10-minute episode of Full Moon's old cable TV programme "Videozone" follows. This is a fast-moving and shameless plug for SUBSPECIES produced at the time of its initial release. Some decent behind-the-scenes footage helps make this window-boxed, video-quality affair worthwhile.

The film's original trailer is brief at only 77 seconds in length, but it gets the mix of ambition, boobies and clumsy stop-motion effects across quite well.

The most substantial bonus feature is undoubtedly a feature-length audio commentary track from producer Band. This is a fluent, appropriately fast-paced chat with timely prompting and relevant questions from a moderator who doesn't name himself, all of which Band answers in a satisfying manner. This being a Band track, you can expect it to be very detailed and insightful, with a light touch and a definite hint of the self-congratulatory - make no mistake, SUBSPECIES may give its directorial credit to Nicolaou, but Band ensures we know he called the shots on virtually every aspect of the film's making. His commentary is none the worse for being as it is.

We also get a trailer reel of other films from the Full Moon roster: PUPPETMASTER, PUPPETMASTER 2, PUPPETMASTER 3, PUPPETMASTER 10, ZOMBIES VERSUS STRIPPERS, THE DEAD WANT WOMEN and CASTLE FREAK. These are presented in standard definition.

SUBSPECIES is a decent genre picture from a time when there weren't many getting released. While it may have been lost among the glut of straight-to-video shit that was also clogging up rental store shelves at the time, it's nice to see SUBSPECIES emerge two decades later as a film worthy of its minor cult following.

It gets a solid blu-ray release from 88 Films.

Also available on DVD.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by 88 Films
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review