Saturday, September 17, 2011

Blu-ray Review: SUBSPECIES 20th Anniversary Edition (1991)


LABEL: Full Moon Entertainment
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 83 mins
VIDEO: 1080i MPEG-4 16x9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
AUDIO: Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0
DIRECTOR: Ted Nicolaou
CAST: Michael Watson, Laura Tate, Anders Hove, Angus Scrimm, Irina Movila, Michelle McBride
TAGLINE: The Night Has Fangs.

B-movie filmmaker Ted Nicolaou has directed what I would consider some of the better productions from Full Moon Entertainment and it's forerunner Empire Pictures which unleashed such wacky 80's classics as TERRORVISION, and BAD CHANNELS. My love of Full Moon is part and parcel of growing up a teen in the late-80's VHS era and I think SUBSPECIES and it's sequels are probably his strongest films to date.

SUBSPECIES is an early 90's vampire flick set in the small Romanian village of Prejnar that's nestled deep in the fabled Carpathian Mountains, it's thick with Gothic atmosphere and stands as one of my top five vamp films in the past 20 years. In a pre-credit sequence vampire King Vladislav (Angus Scrimm, PHANTASM) is murdered by his outcast son Radu (Anders Hove, CRITTERS 4) so that he may obtain the Bloodstone, the Bloodstone being a mythical stone that drips blood and apparently empowers it's possessor with great strength, before his father can bequeath it to Radu's younger and more favored sibling Stefan (Michael Watson, TV's GENERAL HOSPITAL). Radu as played by Hove is a very cool visual mash-up of NOSFERATU's Count Orlock and Eric Draven, the avenging spirit from THE CROW, he's a beastly white faced ghoul with 10" clawed fingers and a gnarly set of teeth that ceaselessly drool an unsavory mixture of viscous saliva and blood. It was fun to see PHANTASM's Angus Scrimm in a very brief cameo looking mighty frightful in white face and a powdered wig as King Vladislav, has this guy ever looked to be in good health? I definitely had an Abe Vigoda "he's still alive?" moment when I saw Scrimm in Don Coscarelli's MASTERS OF HORROR episode "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road". For the record both Scrimm and Vigoda are still among the living.

Entering into the fray are two American college girls Michelle (Lara Tate) and Lillian (Michelle McBride) who along with their Romanian peer Mara (Irina Movila) set out to explore the area's rich vampire folklore with the help of a local vampire lore expert Stefan, whom as it so happens is a vampire himself, no less than Radu's younger, better looking brother. Stefan and Michelle develop a relationship but when Radu becomes aware of his brother's affinity for Michelle he kidnaps the girls in an attempt to lure the hated Stefan to his death.

The films plays a bit with the vampire mythology, for instance they are daywalkers and able to walk unharmed in indirect sunlight and the film's name is derived from Radu's minions known as subspecies for some crazy reason. In an early scene he severs several of his own fingers which fall to the ground and transform into red fleshy looking mini-demons who do his bidding throughout the film. Let me just say that the CGI creations are not the most impressive digital effects you've ever seen but are only slightly worse that THE MUMMY and in 1080i they've never looked better (or worse) than they do here.

Realistically this is a Charle's Band production so you just know it's low-budget shoot but the film shot on location in the Romanian countryside has some decent production values taking advantage of a creepy centuries old castle that has atmosphere to spare with some great locations, creepy interiors and gorgeous Romanian scenery. The acting is pretty flat from the trio of ladies and Michael Watson as Stefan is alright but the guy lacks personality and charm, he's an attractive man but it really ends there which may just be enough for the lady viewers. The main attraction is Anders Hove as Radu, a purely vile vampire creation, he's loathsome but a charismatic villain and his performance carries the film, without him this film wouldn't be talked about today, it's really that simple. If you haven't at least checked out the first SUBSPECIES film and you enjoy vamps of the non-glittery variety there's a lot to love here and I think if you give it a chance you'll soon be seeking out the sequels SUBSPECIES II: BLOODSTONE and BLOODLUST: SUBSPECIES III.

Blu-ray: SUBSPECIES makes is widescreen Blu-ray debut not so much in stunning, eye-popping fashion but with an adequate and marginally improved 16x9 enhanced widescreen (1.78:1) presentation with a 1080i MPEG-4 AVC encode without the benefit of an lossless audio option, in it's place is a pretty standard English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. The transfer comes from a relatively clean print with instances of specks, scratches and minor print damage. The increased resolution of the HD format clearly offers a significant bump in quality from the previous 4x3 DVD's but it's soft, smeary and lacks depth. Flesh tones appear tinged with a pinkish hue and a lack of film grain is indicative of some level of DNR scrubbing thereby removing some fine detail and giving facial features a slight plasticine appearance. The skimpy special features include the original Videozone featurette with some behind-the-scenes footage and six 16x9 trailers for a few of Full Moon's more recent releases.The Blu-ray's a definite improvement over the DVD editions but one can't help but wonder what it could have been with a better transfer, a lossless audio option, a trailer and perhaps even a commentary track from Nicolaou or Hove.

- First SUBSPECIES Videozone (9:55)
- Full Moon Trailers: EVIL BONG 3 (1:06), GINGERDEAD MAN 3 (1:02), KILLJOY 3 (1:38), DEMONIC TOYS 2 (1:15), PUPPET MASTER: AXIS OF EVIL (2:06), SKULLHEADS (1:32)

VERDICT: Anders Hove's Radu is a fantastically vile and memorable vampire creation and SUBSPECIES get a high recommend from me, it's definitely one of the better and sorely underrated 90's vampire films. While the Blu-ray isn't all that it should have been it is presented in 16x9 widescreen for the first time and is by far the best the film has ever looked on any home video format.