If you're making a list of the all-time scariest vampires in film, there are some obvious choices. Names like Max Schreck's Nosferatu, Bela Lugosi's Dracula, Christopher Lee in Hammer's Dracula films, Reggie Nalder from Salem's Lot, Gary Oldman's Dracula and Chris Sarandon from Fright Night immediately come to mind. One that is often overlooked but still deserving of the title is Anders Hove's portrayal of Radu Vladislas from 1991's Subspecies.
While the film itself may not go down as one of the greats, the nightmarish Radu has helped to cement Subspecies' place as a cult classic. The primal bloodsucker is undeniably creepy, with a raspy voice and long, crab leg-like fingers that bring to mind the iconic imagery of Nosferatu. The movie spawned three sequels and a spin-off. For its 20th anniversary, Full Moon Features released a special edition Blu-ray and DVD of the film.
Angus Scrimm (Phantasm) receives top billing, but he appears merely as a cameo in the prologue. His King Vladislav is the first character to appear, brandishing a chintzy powdered wig. But the cheesiness does not last for long, as Radu is introduced next. The vampire king, having been seduced by a sorceress, is Radu's father. As you can imagine, there is not much family bonding between the two. Radu kills his father in order to obtain the bloodstone, a powerful relic that "bleeds the blood of saints." Centuries later, two American college girls, Michelle (Lara Tate) and Lillian (Michelle McBride), meet up with their European friend, Mara (Irina Movila), in Romania to research the local culture. They stay at a Transylvanian castle in the town of Prejnar, where they cross paths with another guest, Stefan (Michael Watson). He claims to be studying nocturnal animals, but there is only one creature on his mind: his brother Radu. Stefan develops a relationship with Michelle, but the superstitions that the girls were researching become all too real when their blood is sought by the evil Radu.
Subspecies was shot on location of Romania (reportedly the first American film to do so after the fall of communism), which adds immense production value. The rich landscapes, shadowy forests and ominous castles provide a beautifully Gothic atmosphere that would be impossible to replicate with sets. Some locals even appear in bit parts.
The title of Subspecies does not refer to the vampire race, but rather Radu's pint-sized minions born of his body. As characters, they're entirely unnecessary, but Charles Band has a bizarre fetish for putting little monsters in his films (see also: Puppet Master, Demonic Toys, Ghoulies, Gingerdead Man, et al.). They were created by Dave Allen using stop motion and puppetry, which has not aged well. Thankfully, they don't play much of a role in the story, so their distractions are kept to a minimum.
The Blu-ray presentation is nothing to write home about, but the movie still looks better than ever. This marks the first time that the film has been released in its proper 16:9 widescreen format. Despite some softness, the newly-remastered, high-definition transfer is a bast improvement on the grainy, dull DVD. Similarly, while the stereo audio is on the flat side, it gets the job done. It's unlikely that the film will ever look better.
The only special feature (aside from some Full Moon trailers) is the Videozone featurette from the original VHS release. Innovative for its time, Videozone is like an electronic press kit featuring interviews with the cast and crew. They mostly discuss working in Romania. It's also interesting to learn that the subspecies were originally portrayed by actors in rubber suits before making the switch to puppets. Given that this is the anniversary edition, it would have been nice to have some new features looking back on the film or at least a commentary track.
The marvelous filming locations and Radu's eeriness don't excuse all of Subspecies' mistakes. The film was obviously made on a low budget; the script, written by Jackson Barr and David Pabian, is a bit too melodramatic; the acting, particularly that of the three girls, leaves a bit to be desired. Still, director Ted Nicolaou utilized his limited resources to deliver what is arguably the best title best title in Full Moon's storied catalog.