This article contains spoilers for Bloodstone: Subspecies II.
Writer/director Ted Nicolau's Subspecies franchise is one of the flagships of Full Moon Features. With four films and a spin-off (The Vampire Journals, currently being prepped for a Blu-ray release!) plus one of Full Moon's most recognizable characters in Radu the vampire, it's a series that has carved out an identity for itself outside of the company -- there are a lot of horror fans who love the movies but don't know otherwise know Full Moon or aren't aware who Charles Band is. The series is characterized by an authentic sense of place (they're shot on location in Romania), a gothic seriousness that's atypical of Full Moon Features and, of course, Anders Hove's performance as Radu the vampire. There's a lot to like in all the films in the series, but none more so than in the first sequel.
Writer/director Nicolau tells us right up front that this is going to be a very different movie from the first one. The first things we see in the movie are a) Radu's decapitated head, which is gorier and more impressive an effect than almost anything we saw in the original film (the best that one could do was cut off a couple of fingertips) and b) Stefan murdered. Not just murdered, either. It is goopy and messy and violent. Stefan doesn't just die -- he is obliterated, and the exaggeration of his demise is not an accident. Nicolau really wants to wash his hands of the romantic original (either that or he was sticking it to an actor who refused to return, but that's me speculating as I have no knowledge of that being even remotely true) and tell us that this isn't going to be the movie about the brooding, dreamy vampire. Radu is his fucking hero. That Nicolau was making this kind of mission statement 15 years before it came fashionable to shit on Twilight is all the more impressive.
But the real star of Subspecies II is Nicolau. Though he was shooting Subspecies II and III simultaneously, he does his best work in Bloodstone. It is a gorgeously photographed movie, filled with highly stylized shots that use light and shadow to create atmosphere beyond what is already built in to shooting on location in Romania. For the first half hour of the movie (when Radu is really chasing Michelle), there's hardly a shot in which his massive shadow doesn't enter a scene before he does. It's not only beautifully done, but effective, too -- it makes Radu something much larger and more ominous than just his physical form will allow. Bloodstone is one of the most artistically made of all the Full Moon films; it's certainly the one (only?) most influenced by German expressionism.
The score, by Richard Kosinski and Michael Portis (and the Aman Folk Orchestra), is also wonderful and gives the movie an energy that feels different from the majority of Richard Band-scored Full Moon movies (I say as a big fan of Richard Band scores). I've actually been driving around for weeks listening to the main Subspecies theme in my car. I recommend doing the same. It's Full Moon time all the time.
I wouldn't recommend seeing Subspecies II without first seeing Subspecies for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious is because it's a direct continuation of the narrative, and while there's no way you would be lost in the narrative (since the threads of the original are all but cleaned up in the opening scene), the series works better as one long story being told. The real reason, though, is that Bloodstone is best appreciated as a huge artistic leap forward over the first Subspecies -- to really appreciate how good it is, you need to know where it started. That's not to say that the original movie is bad. I like it quite a bit. But Bloodstone is the Spider-Man 2 of the series: the (somewhat messy) groundwork has been laid and now the sequel can be both more ambitious and more accomplished.
I've only seen Bloodlust, the third film in the series, one time, but I remember not liking it nearly as much as Bloodstone despite the fact that they were shot simultaneously. Why that is I cannot say...but that's a story to be explored in another column.
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