Thursday, June 20, 2019

Full Moon Fever: BLOODLUST: SUBSPECIES III

by Patrick Bromley
Do that voodoo that Radu do.

The Subspecies movies are among the best in Full Moon Entertainment's enormous library of DTV genre films. They're all written and directed by Ted Nicolau, giving them not just a consistency of voice but also of style. As Nicolau is one of the best directors in Full Moon's stable, style is one thing for which the Subspecies films are never wanting. Because they're shot in Romania, they have built-in production value. Perhaps their greatest asset, however, is the presence of Anders Hove as the main vampire Radu, who somehow begins the franchise as a kind of Nosferatu-like vermin but gradually becomes almost a romantic figure. That's the special way of horror franchises. They always live long enough to see the monsters become the heroes.
My interest in the Subspecies movies was recently re-energized by the announcement of the Deadly Ten, a series of ten new films Full Moon is producing and simultaneously live streaming the production for release next February. Included in this slate are a couple of new titles, as well as a Blade movie (the first puppet from the Puppet Master franchise to get a standalone film), sequels to Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama and Head of the Family, as well as the long-awaited Subspecies 5, set to reunite Nicolau, Hove, and star Denice Duff for the first time since in 20 years. I have no idea what a Subspecies movie is going to look like in 2020, when Full Moon is already shooting movies in a matter of five days or less and resources are stretched thinner than ever -- on top of which, it will be one of ten titles in production at the same time. I'm curious, of course, and excited to see what Nicolau will do under these constraints, but I'm kidding myself if I think it's going to resemble any of the Subspecies from the company's heyday in the '90s.

Speaking of heyday, Bloodlust was released in 1993 just one year after Bloodstone: Subspecies II and picks up directly where the previous installment left off. Michelle (Duff) is now a vampire, totally unsure of how to survive in this new undead life. Radu is dead but promptly brought back to life by his witch mother using Michelle's blood and an enchanted dagger. Once revived, Radu demands that Michelle swear her unending devotion to him in exchange for lessons in how to be a vampire. Meanwhile, Michelle's sister Becky (Melanie Shatner, yes relation) is still looking for her, enlisting the help of a former CIA operative (played by Kevin Spirtas of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood [Mike's favorite]) to rescue her sister and defeat Radu in the process.
I'm on record as being a big fan of Subspecies II, which I still think is one of the best titles in the Full Moon filmography. Subspecies III isn't too far behind. Nicolau carries some of the same classically stylish, expressionist tendencies over to Bloodlust, using shadows not only to create atmosphere but also as a way of transitioning characters from one place to another. There are a couple of standout bursts of violence, especially the one near the end of the film when a character meets his inevitable demise in spectacular fashion. The human characters continue to be vanilla pudding, but the monsters are fun and compelling in a way that makes up for their flatness -- in particular Anders Hove, who gets progressively more dialogue and more to do in each subsequent entry because he's clearly the most interesting and charismatic character and because he's clearly where Ted Nicolau's heart lies. He's still technically the villain in Subspecies III, but by moving the Michelle character from the human side of the equation over to the vampire side, it allows the monsters to take center stage in a way they can't when they're simply the antagonists. Like Jason and Freddy and just about every horror icon to come before him, Radu has become the franchise.
The idea of a vampire film centered around a character who has been turned and must learn to adapt isn't new; both The Lost Boys and Near Dark covered similar ground just a few years earlier. What makes it interesting in the Subspecies series is the way that it takes multiple films to tell this story; few of us could have guessed when watching the first film that the hero would later be turned into a monster, or that we would be forced to watch as she crosses over into the land of the undead and has to begin claiming victims and drinking blood in order to survive. The character has been sort of spinning her wheels for two movies now, though Bloodlust finds her much closer to going full vampire than the previous entry, her relationship to Radu much more teacher/student than hero/villain. Nicolau actually manages to create some tension as to whether or not Michelle will fully embrace the dark side or if, as traditional movie rules dictate, there will be some kind of third act miracle that returns her to the status quo. Somehow, Subspecies III manages to pick neither lane. It's frustrating.
While not as bold or assured as Subspecies II, there's a lot to like in Bloodlust. The photography is atmospheric and effective. Denice Duff continues to be an improvement over her predecessor in the role of Michelle. Anders Hove keeps getting more to do in the role of Radu. The series goes in interesting, unpredictable directions. The same cannot necessarily be said for all of the Full Moon franchises, which either are content to repeat the same beats again and again or which fall off a cliff by the second or third installment. While I will always have a soft spot for the original Subspecies, these two sequels are actually better movies -- though I should confess now that this is as far as I have gone in the series. My viewings of both Subspecies 4 and the franchise spin-off Vampire Journals will both be my first. My hope is that they maintain the same standard of quality, but I'm also a realist and ready to have my heart broken. If nothing else, maybe it will help lower my standards in preparation for Subspecies 5 next February.

7 comments:

  1. I recently watched the first 3 Subspecies films and loved them, but haven't gotten around to checking out the fourth yet. Knowing we'll be getting a fifth one soon, I suppose I have an excuse now. Please let Full Moon Fever become a regular article again. I've missed it so much.

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    1. Thank you! You are the only one.

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    2. I agree, I love reading Full Moon Fever articles, please make them a more frequent occurrence!

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    3. I'm Spartacus... I mean I love Full Moon Fever. Bought a ton of the dvds years ago and still only halfway through. These columns really spur me on to dig back into them.

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