Full Moon is world renown for producing low budget horror movies. Many consider these movies to be downright awful, whereas some consider them to be gems. Me, I'm a 50/50 kind of guy when it comes to Full Moon. I find that half of their stuff ranges from good to great, whereas the other half is just horrible. There's no doubt that most, if not all of the horror fans out there have heard of some of Full Moon's work. The most popular of which is the Puppet Master series, which spawned several sequels. But there is another series from Full Moon that spawned 3 sequels, with a 4th long in preproduction (unlikely to get made due to financial issues). That series is Subspecies, the first of which we're about to take a look at. It deals with my favorite creature of the night - the vampire.
When Full Moon released a Subspecies box set on DVD years back most knew and expected it to be a shoddy release that was simply a port of the laserdisc transfer. Sure enough, that's exactly what it was. No one was more surprised when Full Moon released the original Puppet Master onto blu-ray back in 2010 and with the promise of more remastered blu-ray to come. "Remastered" means nothing if it's simply a DVD transfer slapped onto blu-ray, or a laserdisc transfer slapped onto DVD. Talk is cheap! Show us the final product and let us see for ourself just how good this remastered blu-ray is. Lets dive in and see how Full Moon did with their Subspecies blu-ray.
The vampire Radu (Anders Hove) returns to his hometown of Prejnar to claim the bloodstone, a powerful stone offering an everlasting supply of blood to vampires. Radu is an evil and vicious vampire that was banned from Prejnar by his father, King Vladislav (Angus Scrimm). King Vladislav believes that vampires can live in peace with humans, whereas Radu sees humans only as prey. Vladislav tries to destroy Radu and fails. He is no match for Radu and his minions of subspecies creatures. The only one left who can challenge Radu is Stefan (Michael Watson), Radu's half brother that is part human and part vampire.
Three American women - Michele (Laura Tate), Mara (Irina Movila), and Lillian (Michelle McBride) have traveled to Prejnar to research local folklore. During their research they come upon King Vladislav's castle, which is now Radu's lair during the daylight. Lillian tries unlocking one of the castle's entrances, but is mysteriously bitten by something on the other side. Lillian becomes ill and as days pass, Radu comes to feed upon her at night.
Stefan, well aware of what his brother Radu has intended for the women, introduces himself to Michelle and her friends, while keeping secret who he truly is. After Lillian dies, Stefan insists that Michelle go back to America at once. She refuses; Stefan has no choice but to tell Michelle that he is half vampire. Now Stefan is determined to destroy Radu once and for all. While Stefan and a local shopkeeper prepare for battle, Lillian rises from the dead and captures Michelle. With Radu surrounded by his minions and Michelle in his captivity, things look bleak for the group of mock warriors. Now it is up to Stefan and Michelle to find a way to destroy Radu before they become his next meal.
There are so many things that work in Subspecies. It's certainly not your typical Full Moon movie. There is no low budget feel here, and there are no cheesy, fresh out of acting school actors in it. Visually the film is gorgeous and has a timeless look to it thanks to the fact it was shot on location in Romania. The castles and countless outdoor shots are just beautiful. There are plenty of shots that make great use of shadows and lighting - an absolute requirement for all vampire movies.
The story isn't the greatest and it does move a bit slow at first, which may be a turnoff if you're not all that impressed by the visuals. The bloodstone fails to be impressive thanks to its cheap and low quality look. It's also just not an interesting part of the plot. Fortunately there isn't a huge focus on the bloodstone. Vampires living in peace with humans just doesn't make an appealing story by itself. Fortunately, that is why Radu is here and his actions certainly make the movie enjoyable. Effects wise I give the movie positive marks. The stop motion animation does stick out, but I still find myself enjoying it. Perhaps it's a reminder of the way horror films used to be made, prior to CGI taking over. The subspecies creatures themselves are an interesting mix for a vampire movie. It's unfortunate they didn't get much screen time.
The actors all give a fine job with their performances. While I like Anders Hove as Radu, I find the voice he uses for Radu to be real irritating. That may be his real voice for all I know, but I tend to doubt it. It sounds like one of those scratchy smoker voices. Visually, however, he is a great looking vampire. He has the long, skinny fingers like Nosferatu and the dirty, animal-like look that I always prefer over the sophisticated and debonair vampire found in so many modern movies.
Small bloodstone plot aside, Subspecies works because it sticks to the basics and implements them well. There are no 16 year old vampire slayers here, there are no teenage boys battling a legion of thousand year old vampires, and there are none of the silly plots trying to introduce a vampire to modern day America. This is a vampire movie plain and simple. It's about a vampire and his desire for blood, human blood, and his battle to acquire it. I think horror fans and especially vampire fans will enjoy this one immensely. It's a prime example of how a relatively low budget (not too low, I would imagine, since the film was shot on location in Romania) can be made into a classic. It's highly recommended and is definitely worth checking out.
This is a tough one to review. It's easy to say it's a vast improvement over past releases but those past releases, including a DVD release from a few years back, are all based off the original laserdisc transfer from 1991. While I gave the laserdisc transfer a C+, that was considering the fact it was a laserdisc transfer and it was from 1991. If I had to rate the same transfer on modern day DVD, which Full Moon did in fact put the old laserdisc transfer on the most recent DVD, I would rate it with a D or D-. While it's easy to say this bluray is a vast improvement over that laserdisc/DVD transfer, I still have to rate this as a modern day bluray based off a remastered print. With that in mind, this 1080i 1.85:1 transfer is a bit of a disappointment. The image is much more detailed than the DVD/LD but still soft at times, nor as detailed as it could or should be for a recent print. Colors are soft and there are ample print blemishes, mostly specks of dirt, present throughout. There was little grain present which was a positive given all the nighttime scenes where I was expecting to see some. Finally, when comparing the bluray to that of the MonstersHD transfer that is floating around on the Internet, it's evident that a better transfer still exists. While the two are very close, the MonstersHD transfer has a bit more detail and slightly better colors.
This may be a C transfer but I want to point out that I still couldn't help but be amazed watching Subspecies on my TV and having it looks so good, even with its problems. I think the only explanation is that I had my 'Full Moon glasses' on, meaning I never expected a legitimate half-way decent looking blu-ray to show up from Full Moon. Certainly this is the best we will ever get and the face I can watch Subspecies on my 50" TV and have it look decent probably is in fact amazing given Full Moon's history of shoddy DVD releases featuring nothing more than a LD port.
A stereo track is include and far as I can tell, is indentical to that found on the DVD/LD. It's average with effects and music powerful through the front speakers and dialog is consistently audible. No sound blemishes were discovered.
Yes, there are supplements! Full Moon's VideoZone, a short 'Making of' featurette included at the end of nearly every movie they've released onto home video, is present on this Subspecies bluray. Back in my younger, pre-laserdisc days, I loved watching the VideoZone's. It was always a treat to get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the latest Full Moon release.
The VideoZone begins with an introduction from Charles Band, owner of Full Moon Pictures. Charles discusses several projects Full Moon had in the works back then, which included: Trancers II, Dollman, Arcade, Dangerous Toys (ultimately became Demonic Toys), and a few others.
The next segment is a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of Subspecies. Director Ted Nicolaou discusses the difficulties working in post-communism Romania. In addition, there's a good amount of behind-the-scenes footage that includes castle interiors. From there Ted discusses some other difficulties in creating Subspecies, such as the subspecies creatures themselves. Initially they were using actual men in costumes as the creatures, but the end results were rather disappointing; deleted footage is included that proves that. Ultimately the choice was made to go with stop motion effects instead. This is where David Allen comes in and discusses the stop motion creatures. Owners of The Howling SE laserdisc may recognize him as he created the stop motion werewolves that were ultimately not used, with the exception of a single shot toward the end of the film.
After the behind-the-scenes segment there is an "Actor Spotlight" on Tim Thomerson. Tim briefly discusses the various Full Moon characters he has portrayed, in addition to ones he was currently working on. Next is an interview with the team at Malibu Graphics, who created several comic books based on Full Moon movies. This is an interesting segment that includes interviews and footage of the various comic books. Wrapping up the VideoZone are trailers for Trancers II, Puppet Master III, Arcade, and an offer for the Full Moon fan club.
Full Moon fans love the VideoZone, and rightly so. It was a nice treat back when extras weren't all that common. This one here is no exception.
Several trailers are included but they are all for newer Full Moon movies; none for any of the older classics. It's really a shame we simply get stuck with the same old VideoZone, which I always enjoy, but why not take the opportunity to get a commentary from director Ted Nicolau? It was disappointing to not see anything new.
Subspecies is one of my favorite vampire movies. It's easily on the top five of my list of favorite vampire movies. If you haven't seen it, consider this is a strong recommendation to do so. It is nice to finally have a legitimate and decent looking bluray but I can't help but want more. It should look better and it should have more extras. I have always believed Charles Band sees his movies as a means to some money and that no love from him exists for them, like some of us fans have. It's too bad as the series is the best Full Moon has to offer and should have been given the deluxe treatment on bluray. With that being said, this is the best Subspecies has ever looked on home video and is likely the best we will ever get. It could have been better but this is Full Moon, so fans must remember it also could have been a lot worse.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Great review Dave, and I totally agree. The transfer is a huge improvement over the old DVD, but it's still rather disappointing and you're left with the feeling that it could have been better. But if you're a fan, you gotta have it!
I agree with Katatonia totally. Still I have a huge spot in my heart for this series (and I think it really hits its stride in parts 2 & 3. That's where Radu becomes fully awesome). I really hope that the other installments aren't far behind. It reminds me of a time when direct to video horror meant a good time. It was something to look forward to.
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