Full Moon Features: Subspecies
An odyssey through the wonderful world of Charlie Band’s Full Moon universe, I’ll be delving into titles readily available on the Full Moon streaming service, a virtual treasure chest of B-Movie masterpieces. Puppets battling Nazi’s, Evil Toys, deathly dolls, and Intergalactic Space Cops await! Buckle up, it’s gonna be a fun ride.
These days, Full Moon Features is synonymous with highly questionable low-budget features…some good, some bad, and some downright ugly. Some people love them, others hate them, but I have no shame in admitting that I’m a trash aficionado and LOVE them. With catalog staples like Puppet Master and all 11,853 sequels...ok, maybe it’s only 10, but that number does go a lot higher if you include all of the spin-off movies. I love the Trancers series, the awful/wonderful Killjoy series, and yes, even the Evil Bong series (Don’t judge me!). They’ve also given us some great standalone features like The Pit and the Pendulum, Netherworld, Robot Wars, and the cult classic Castle Freak. All of this is thanks to Full Moon founder Charles Band, one of the greatest B-movie legends of all time. With both an ability to produce genuinely good movies and a knack for churning out lots of product at minimal expense, he’s basically a younger version of Roger Corman. He’s the B-movie prince to Corman’s B-movie king and I am a faithful servant.
While I’ll always enjoy every Gingerdead Man movie (hey, we’re not judging, remember?!), even I have to admit that there was a time when Full Moon produced better stuff. They’ve always been a B-movie production company (reason enough to love them right there), but when they started back in 1988 (as Full Moon Entertainment), they were funded by Paramount Studios. That meant they had a much larger budget to work with… semi big studio money… and let me tell you, they made some truly amazing stuff that continues to be a cornerstone to their brand today! I recently acquired a Full Moon Streaming subscription for Christmas so I’ve been revisiting some of those early features and WOW, I had forgotten just how much I love these, it’s amazing what some time away from something you love will do. I started with Subspecies and after this rewatch, I realize what a completely underrated gem of horror that it is and honestly, it needs so much more love than it’s given. In fact, it needs all the love because it’s not only my favorite vampire movie, but one of the best of that entire sub-genre, and that’s a fact.
Subspecies is about a bitter feud between two vampire brothers, Stefan and Radu. It opens with Radu returning to his hometown to take control of the legendary bloodstone, a powerful relic that contains the blood of the saints. Stefan detests his vampire heritage and chooses to live in the open, which infuriates Radu (Fans of the tv show Vampire Diaries take note). A group of female college students arrive in town to do a cultural study and Stefan befriends them, leading Radu to seize an opportunity to hurt his brother as he proceeds to seduce and turn each of the girls into bloodlusting members of the undead. Alas, the plot thickens as both vampires are particularly attracted to Michelle, the prettiest of the girls, but while Stefan is genuinely in love with her, Radu wants to drink her blood and bring her into his world. Thus ensues a battle between the brothers for the fate of Michelle’s soul.
There are a number of things that set Subspecies apart from other vampire movies, but the biggest one would have to be that it was filmed on-location in Romania. You’re probably thinking “big deal” but it WAS a big deal then because this was the very first American film to be made there! It really gives the movie some AMAZING atmosphere as no sets were used and everything was filmed in existing Romanian structures, giving the picture an incredibly authentic look. For me, atmosphere is one of the most important things in horror movies. I’m willing to sacrifice a lot of aspects of a film for some great atmosphere and Subspecies delivers that in spades! If you’ve seen any Italian horror films then you’re probably familiar with that almost unexplainable but highly addictive atmosphere they have, especially ones from the 80’s. This movie manages to create a similar feeling and mood and it’s one of my favorites. Honestly, that alone is enough to give this “classic B-movie” status...but wait, there’s more!
The special effects are surprisingly well done especially given that this is a low budget movie. The actual “subspecies” from the title are these little vampire minions that are created from pieces of Radu’s broken fingers (yep, that’s what I said) and they are a definite highlight. Not only do they look pretty fab, but they also add a unique element to the story that I’ve never seen in any other vampire tale. The other big effects highlight is Radu himself, this guy is bad-ass all the way, with his high cheekbones, unnaturally sharp features, chalk white skin, and long teeth that make him look like some evil serpent from Hell. He also has these freakishly long fingers with extra long nails and I’m really not sure which is more impressive: the effects used to achieve those fingers or the fact that the actor was able to use them so naturally!
When I compare this to other famous vampire movies, I have to say that I enjoy it more than others, and that includes genre staples and classics. For me, it's more entertaining than the classics like Nosferatu, while I enjoy those film I’d be lying if I said they didn’t make me yawn here and there, and I know that Subspecies is a B-movie but I’m even willing to argue that, on an enjoyment level, it’s even better than Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That may sound downright blasphemous to fellow movie buffs but it all comes down to one key element: casting. While I love so many things about Coppola’s movie, I’ve always felt that some of the parts were horribly miscast and it detracts from the visually stunning film as a whole. With Subspecies, that’s not a problem! Everyone fits their given role nicely, Anders Hove was a once-in-a-lifetime find for the role of Radu, and His raspy voice is so appropriately affecting, I don’t know how he pulled it off without completely destroying his vocal cords but I LOVE that level of dedication from an actor! His movements are perfect as well, skulking and slinking around each frame in a way that’s both menacing and vulnerable at the same time. I could never do those movements justice with a description so it’s another reason you just need to watch it for yourself!
I love when a good horror movie has some sequels because I hardcore high-key love sequels. I guess it’s just this thing that comes with being a B-movie devotee, but I say the more the merrier. When you really love a movie (like I do this one) sequels mean there’s just more to keep loving! Subspecies has three sequels which honestly isn’t enough for my liking, but it’s still three times more B-movie trash terrificness to cherish! All of the sequels are great but I really think the 2nd is the is best, even though I always tend to think the second installment of a series is the best, but that’s a whole different article to write about. Plus, as a bonus, this series has its own spin-off movie: The Vampire Journals! Four times the love in total, friends!
Anyway, there you have it: my case for loving this film as much as I do; my plea to give it all the love and attention it deserves; and my hope that reading this will inspire you to watch...and love...this awesome B-movie trashterpiece. Even if it’s only half as much as I love it, that’s still something! Plus, if you’ve never gone for a dip in the Full Moon pool then stick with me because I have such sights to show you!