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Subspecies




Reviewer: Dave
Review Date: June 8, 2003

Released by: Full Moon | Paramount
Release date: 1991
MSRP: $??.?? (Out of Print)
NTSC
Full Frame



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.

While the first three Subspecies were announced for DVD years back, they were soon canceled due to some rights issues with Paramount, who distributed all of the older Full Moon movies onto home video. With Full Moon seemingly non-existent these days, fans are left with the choice of buying either VHS or laserdisc copies of the first three Subspecies movies. Always preferring laserdisc over VHS whenever possible, I decided it was time to crank out some reviews for the Subspecies' laserdiscs. Lets take a look at the original Subspecies and find out which 50/50 category it falls into.


The Story

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.



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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.



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Image Quality

Released in 1991, this laserdisc is yet another that only slightly beats its VHS counterpart thanks to slightly higher resolution and the fact that there's no quality degradation after repeat viewings. The image is full frame in the film's original ratio of 1.33:1. Colors are flat and the image is soft overall, lacking detail and sharpness. There are a few grainy spots but they are few and far between. There is no evident print damage or other blemishes, besides some occasional white specks appearing here and there from video noise.

Overall it's an acceptable transfer, though far from impressive by today's standards.

Sound

A stereo track is include and it's quite good. The effects and music are powerful through the front speakers and dialog is consistently audible. No sound blemishes were discovered.

Supplemental Material

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 laserdisc. 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. I should note that the only reason the VideoZone is present on this laser is because it's also on the VHS. Paramount and 'special edition' weren't used in the same sentence back on the laserdisc days. No, this laserdisc is simply a direct port of the VHS, hence the VideoZone inclusion.

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.



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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 even laserdisc extras weren't all that common. This one here is no exception.



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Final Thoughts

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. Even if you have to go out and pickup the VHS, you'll still be getting everything discussed in this review, including the VideoZone. Picture and sound quality on this LD are acceptable, and it can still be found on ebay for a reasonable price.

Rating

Movie - B
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B-
Supplements - B

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Stereo
Supplements
  • VideoZone

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