Vampires films, despite a few of them being amongst my all-time favorites, usually suffer from either a lack of understanding of the Slavic origins of the vampire or a strong desire to be hip and profitable. Whether it was The Lost Boys then or Twilight now, vampires have been frequently transformed into suave heartthrobs and successful socialites which, of course, is about as far off from their grim origins as one can get. I enjoy the vampiric aesthetic quite a bit so even I like some of the hipper offerings of the genre (namely Interview With The Vampire, Let Me In and The Lost Boys) but, at the end of the day, I see them for what they are. Anyway, I guess I went off on a little tangent there but, to get to the matter at hand, we’re discussing Ted Nicolaou’s 1991 effort Subspecies.
Subspecies, despite being rather campy and corny overall, manages to capture the essence of the vampire rather well. Our antagonist isn’t some guy in a leather jacket who has used too much hair gel, he’s an ugly-as-sin wretch whose desires are misanthropic and, as they say, evil. Despite this, however, Radu Vladislas (the vampiric antagonist) still manages to be seeped in too much corn syrup due to his general posturing, verbal expressions and, yes, his extra-long fingers don’t help matters much either. To top it off Radu’s got some imp-like minions that assist him in his dirty work and they are like Ray Harryhausen gone bad … very bad. These little critters just didn’t do it for me and they are perhaps the one element that strays drastically from traditional vampirism and unfortunately it’s just not a success. Did I mention they are born out of Radu’s detached fingertips? Indeed, it’s no joke!
All right, I’ve highlighted what I didn’t like about the film and, at this point, it probably sounds like Subspecies is substandard in every way possible, right? Wrong. Subspecies hit the stake right on the head in a few ways and it is these factors that undoubtedly save the film from completely falling from grace. Subspecies was shot on-location in Romania and the Romanian characterization, honed through the use of accents and some subtle mannerisms, is a definite success throughout the film. You genuinely feel like you’re in Romania and this kind of escapism in a movie is always more than welcome in my book. Ted Nicolaou’s cinematography throughout the movie’s duration is also quite solid – better than you’d expect – with more than a few references to Murnau’s immortal Nosferatu shot-wise. The subtle, quasi-pagan references are noteworthy also.
Bad script-writing, decent acting and excellent atmospherics make Subspecies something of a mixed bag. If you’re going into this expecting something along the lines of Nosferatu or Nadja then you’re going to be sorely disappointed; on the other hand, if you’re expecting something like a Hammer studio reject than you’re definitely getting warmer. I am a steadfast horror fan who happens to adore vampires so Subspecies, despite its numerous faults, is a flick I enjoyed well enough and is one I will probably even revisit again in a year or two; from what I understand there’s a few sequels so I may check these out in time, also. Recommended to horror and/or vampire maniacs and no one else.