Directed By: Ted Nicolaou
Starring: Angus Scrimm, Anders Hove, Irina Movila
Tag line: "The night has fangs"
Trivia: Radu is named after Radu The Handsome, brother of Romanian prince Vlad The Impaler
Full Moon Pictures, the brainchild of producer Charles Band, continues to impress the hell out of me. After bowling me over with Castle Freak and Dollman, they’ve done it once again with 1991’s Subspecies, a horror movie that features one hell of an eerie vampire.
Three college students: Michele (Laura Mae Tate), Lillian (Michelle McBride) and Mara (Irina Movila), travel to the small Romanian village of Prejmar to study its history and traditions. One of the area’s more interesting structures is a castle that, according to legend, is home to a benevolent vampire named Vladislas (Angus Scrimm), who, hundreds of years earlier, helped Romania in its war against Turkey. As a token of their appreciation, the people presented Vladislas with a very special gift: the Bloodstone, an artifact said to contain the blood of the saints. With this stone, Vladislas had an unending supply of blood at his disposal, which meant he no longer needed to feast on the locals. For centuries the territory has been quiet.
But that’s about to change.
Vladislas has two sons: Stefan (Michael Watson) and Radu (Anders Hove). Stefan’s mother was mortal, and because of this he shares his father’s respect for humanity. Radu, on the other hand, was the result of a torrid affair between Vladislas and a sorceress. Born into evil, Radu is a monstrous creature who longs to possess the bloodstone that his father holds so dear. With the help of his subspecies (a group of diminutive demons no higher than a foot tall), Radu kills Vladislas and claims the bloodstone for himself. Aided by his good friend Karl (Ivan J. Rado), Stefan tries his best to defeat his elder half-brother, only to discover that Radu has set his sights on the three pretty young college students, and intends to make them his vampire brides. Stefan, who is himself in love with Michele, is ready to risk everything, including the bloodstone, to keep the girls from falling into Radu’s hands.
Shot on-location in Romania (the first ever American production to film there), Subspecies takes full advantage of that country’s ancient landscape, which brings a flavor of authenticity to the proceedings (the real-life 15h century castle used for Vladislas’s abode is situated in Hunedoara, and rumor has it that Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, was once held prisoner there by the Romanian military).
Yet as effective a backdrop as the countryside is, it’s Anders Hove’s Radu that makes Subspecies such a memorable horror movie. With a look reminiscent of Max Schreck’s Count Orlok in the silent classic Nosferatu, Radu has extremely long fingers, rat-like teeth, and a face not even a mother can love. To add to his already creepy appearance, Radu, in nearly every scene, has blood dripping from his mouth (much of which comes courtesy of the bloodstone), and talks with a raspy voice that reminded me of Brando’s Don Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather. As for the title creatures (aka Radu’s army of tiny demons), they’re brought to life through a combination of puppetry and stop-motion, courtesy of special effects director David Allen and his team, and for a low-budget film, they look damn good.
Where Subspecies suffers is those scenes when Radu isn’t on-screen; the three female leads, though certainly attractive, aren’t particularly interesting, and the love affair between Stefan and Michele isn’t given enough time to develop properly. But if you’re game for an honest-to-goodness scary vampire movie, Subspecies has what you’re looking for.