JUNE 9, 2011
I’m not a big Full Moon fan, but I figured since Subspecies was about vampires and not miniature sized killers of some sort, it might transcend their usual level of quality, or I’d at least appreciate the break from the norm enough to give it a pass. So I almost had to laugh when, not five minutes into the goddamn thing, the vampire cut off one of his hands, which morphed into... four miniature demon things. *Sigh*
Luckily they weren’t in the movie too much, and half of their FX (the close-ups) were pretty good (the other half were terrible, with matte lines thick enough to choke a horse and laughably bad compositing that often found them sort of floating through the shot like Poochy returning to his home planet). But the movie still wasn’t very good; it may have downplayed the traditional pint-sized action, but it suffered from all of the other standard Full Moon problems, such as bland over-lighting, a horribly cheesy score, and a near-total lack of scares and suspense. It’s better than rubbish like Dead Man’s Hand or whatever, but it’s still a far cry from the very few good movies from the company (i.e. the ones that Stuart Gordon made).
The lighting is particularly annoying here, because it’s a goddamn vampire movie! Many of the exterior scenes seem to be set in late afternoon, which I would think would still be a problem for a vampire. Interiors often have sunlight streaming in that doesn’t seem to bother them either, and even the occasional scenes set at night are devoid of shadow or anything that could be considered a striking image because the DP apparently had the entire budget devoted to renting and powering lights. There’s even a hilarious bit where one of our heroines takes a picture of the other two outside of a castle and then remarks that there’s “barely enough light”. Oh yeah? Looks like an F-stop 4 to me, maybe even a 5.6! What the hell camera speed are you using, 6?
But it’s more than the look of the movie; this also has a serious impact on the script’s attempt at a more atmospheric tale. The Romanian locations are great, and the story really isn’t all that bad, but with such bland direction, it’s impossible to get swept up in the proceedings. A movie like this needs to deliver on atmosphere and tension in order to sustain itself through the rather slow pace; without that, you’re just looking at what might as well be a collection of deleted scenes.
Then there’s the ‘minor’ issue of how goddamn dull it is. Villain Radu spends most of the movie sulking around saying “I want the Bloodstone!” or some variant thereof, and his little minions don’t do much either. There’s a half-baked romantic subplot between main girl Michelle (the quite pretty Laura Mae Tate, who was also in this week’s Dead Space) and Stefan, a good vampire (Radu’s brother) who hates what he is and seeks to stop his brother, but doesn’t get very pro-active about it, but it’s not particularly engaging either. For starters, Michelle doesn’t really stick out from her two friends (other than being brunette instead of blond), so it’s not really clear how he singled her out, but the two barely have any scenes together anyway before he is confessing his love for her to his buddy, an old Van Helsing type. It’s a pretty hilarious conversation though:
Stefan: “When I look into her eyes, she makes me WANT again!”
Buddy: “She has your mother’s eyes.”
So basically, his pal tricked him into admitting he has an Oedipal complex. Hey-o! Otherwise, the sexual aspect is also severely underplayed; one girl spends a chunk of the climax with her breast exposed but otherwise it’s pretty tame. It’s like they went out of their way to make the most chaste vampire movie ever. A good movie could have been made from this story, but either because of the budget or director Ted Nicolaou’s lack of talent, it just becomes a chore. Even when everyone starts fighting at the end I wasn’t engaged, because the previous 75 minutes hadn’t given me enough of a reason to care who lived or died.
There are a few bright spots though. Angus Scrimm shows up in the opening scene as Radu and Stefan’s father; always nice to see him outside of his Tall Man persona. The Romanian backdrop adds some flavor, particularly when they explain some of their traditions (like if a horse refuses to jump over a grave that means whoever is inside is undead) – even if they’re not true, it’s at least adding some depth and folklore to the proceedings. Tate’s nice to look at (though her Demi Moore circa 1991 haircut does her no favors), and the guy playing Radu seems to be enjoying himself – basically, they’re not as bland as I’ve come to expect from the Charles Band factory.
If you must watch it, I urge you not to bother with Netflix’ version, which is a cropped version from what appears to be a VHS copy (if the occasional tracking lines don’t give it away, the actual ROLL of the image during at least one scene will). It looks like the Moon never released the film on its own, but there are two different collections that have it; one with the first two sequels, the other with the entire five film series. Unknown if those transfers are better, but they certainly can’t be much worse. And I’m sure I’ll eventually see all five of the damn things; hopefully at least one of them improves on this (I keep hearing Puppet Master III is the best in that series, perhaps lightning can strike twice?)
What say you?