With the recent rumblings in regards to the start of production on the upcoming fifth film, ‘Subspecies V: Blood Rise’ – a prequel that will re-unite writer/director Ted Nicolaou with actors Anders Hove, Denice Duff, and Kevin Spirtas (formerly known as Kevin Blair) – the fanboy in me couldn’t help but feel an itch that needed scratching, and so begun my most recent marathon through the franchise.
Produced and Distributed by Full Moon Features, and based on an idea from the legendary Charles Band, Ted Nicolaou’s great 90’s Vampire series is one I’ve loved for a long time – ever since eye-balling the VHS covers at a local Video Rental store in my teenage years when I had been particularly obsessed with Vampire fiction – the only exception to this is the spin-off film, which I watched for the first-time back in 2017. The primary source for my love of this franchise is with Radu himself; despite being a Direct-To-Video series, the character of Radu stands as one of the best and most memorable Vampire antagonists in fiction, and Anders Hove is a treasure in this role. I also really like Denice Duff as the series lead protagonist, Michelle Morgan. I’m unsure of the circumstances that lead to the re-casting of the character for the sequels, but while I think Laura Tate was fine in the first film, Duff really owns that role.
With that said, here is my complete personal ranking of the entire franchise – including the spin-off – from least favorite to favorite:
5) ‘Subspecies IV: Blood Storm’ (1998)
The fourth film is watchable and has some stuff in it that I really like, but it’s also the most frustrating of the series for me. While the third film didn’t quite end in a way that made me think the story was finished, the fourth film leaves me feeling like it’s an unnecessary effort that undermines the previous film, and that perhaps this could have been better left as a trilogy. Maybe if watched at a distance from the previous three rather than with a marathon of them, I might view this film less harshly. We’ll see. The biggest sin of this movie is how they pull an ‘Alien 3’ with two important surviving characters from the second and third films, killing them in-between movies – although this may be worse than ‘Alien 3’ since at least that film gave an explanation to what happened with Hicks and Newt, while this film gives no explanation whatsoever. Now, I’m willing to bet that this was less of a narrative decision from Nicolaou, and more of an outside factor beyond his control – such as availability or salary from said actors – and maybe he thought this was the best approach to move the story forward without them, as opposed to re-casting. Who knows. On the plus side, they managed to find a way to retcon Lieutenant Marin’s death and bring back Ion Haiduc back one last time, although I feel like he should have had a bigger and more important role. Overall, the film is okay at best, but doesn’t feel like a natural or worthy follow-up to the established storylines of the first three films.
4) ‘Vampire Journals’ (1997)
The spin-off film is a guilty pleasure movie for me. Writer/Director Ted Nicolaou expands on the world he created with the previous three films and takes a much more Anne Rice approach with its depiction of the Vampire society. It’s an overly melodramatic tale of a self-loathing Vampire who kills other Vampires, named Zachary (David Gunn), who tries to save the life of a musician named Sofia, played by Jodie Foster’s doppelganger, Kirsten Cerre, from a Vampire known as “Ash the Music Lover” (Jonathon Morris). Sure, at times it can be a little too much in the drama department, but I do admire Nicolaou for giving this film its own identity within the series rather than repeating what he did before. This doesn’t feel like the ‘Subspecies’ films but it does feel like it exists in that world. This is a movie I’ve willingly had repeat viewings of, and is a movie whose flaws don’t bother me in the slightest. I enjoy it for what it is, and I personally am down for seeing Nicolaou exploring this world more with other potential spin-offs.
3) ‘Bloodlust: Subspecies III’ (1994)
Are you ready for the love fest? Because we’re about to begin. Now, first thing’s first: for some odd reason I had it in my head that this movie wasn’t as good as the first two films in this series, but upon my most recent viewing I have to admit that I was very wrong with that thought. In fact, these top three picks on this ranking list are neck-in-neck with each other. The first three films are a fairly tight trilogy, each picking up where the previous film left off, and each expanding upon the story in a way that feels very natural. At this point it’s a given that Anders Hove and Denice Duff are rocking their roles as Radu and Michelle, but I’d also like to give a shout-out to the collection of likeable supporting characters who lived long enough to cross-over from the second to the third films: Rebecca Morgan (Melanie Shatner), Mel Thompson (Kevin Blair), and Lieutenant Marin (Ion Haiduc) – at this point they each feel like significant characters, and I was rooting for them. The only reason why this has ranked third on the list is because I feel like this could have been the perfect – or at least satisfying – ending to the story, if only it had ended similarly to the fourth film, with Radu dead and the bloodstone in Michelle’s possession, bringing hope to her future. Instead, it’s a little open-ended with the survivors fleeing while Radu’s blood creatures locate the bloodstone. I’m not going to complain too much because I love this series and will always support more of these, but I do view it as a missed opportunity to end gracefully. Overall, I love this movie and think it’s a perfect follow-up to the first two.
2) ‘Subspecies’ (1990)
Ranking lists can be a bitch, especially when you have an equal love for many films in the same franchise, and even more so when the rare occurrence comes along when you have a sequel that can confidently challenge its original in quality. A decision had to be made, and because of that the first film in the franchise ranks at second on this list. The story is simple: two American college students, Michelle Morgan (Laura Tate) and Lillian (Michelle McBride) visit their friend Mara (Irina Movila) in Romania to study the folklore of Vampires in the region just as the banished heir of the Vladislas family, Radu, returns to reclaim his birthright to The Bloodstone by killing his father, the King of the Vampires (Angus Scrimm), and by challenging his younger half-brother Stefan (Michael Watson), who has taken to the students, particularly Michelle. I don’t know how many times I have to repeat myself on how good Anders Hove is as Radu, but yeah, his performance here is fantastic, as is his character design and make-up effects, which is a compliment that goes across the board to all of these films. I liked the lead protagonists of Michelle, Lillian and Mara, and think that they were likeable enough. And while I’m not a big fan of his fate in the following film, I do really like Stefan as well. What works the best about this film is the lore and mythology behind it, and is arguably the closest we’ve seen a storyteller associate the real-life Vlad Dracula’s family with the myth. In my opinion, the original ‘Subspecies’ movie deserves a high ranking on any list of top Vampire movies.
1) ‘Bloodstone: Subspecies II’ (1993)
‘Frankenstein’ (1931) has ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935); ‘Alien’ (1979) has ‘Aliens’ (1986); ‘Phantasm’ (1979) has ‘Phantasm 2’ (1988); ‘The Terminator’ (1984) has ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991); ‘Hellraiser’ (1987) has ‘Hellbound: Hellraiser 2’ (1988); and ‘Subspecies’ (1990) has ‘Bloodstone: Subspecies II’ (1993). No, I am not saying that this franchise is quite as good as those ones, but what I am saying is that this shares a common ground with those in the fact that it’s a sequel that can go toe-to-toe with it’s original as a favorite. Upon first viewing it was a little jarring that the Michelle character was re-cast with someone who has no resemblance to the original actress, and that they decided to kill off Stefan in the opening moments, but it doesn’t take too long for you to forget about those nitpicks. The story follows sole-survivor Michelle as she goes on the run and struggles with being bitten by Radu and Stefan as she’s pursued not just by Radu, who feels affection for her, but also by her sister Rebecca, as well as a representative of the U.S. Embassy named Mel Thompson, and a local police Lieutenant named Marin. I like each of these characters in this movie and in the following movie. Again, the first three movies make up a tight trilogy in my opinion, and it’s the characters that makes these films work best. Another welcome addition to the series is Radu’s sorceress mother, Mummy, who adds to the creature-feature greatness of this series. I think what makes this sequel stand out is how it expands upon the lore and established characters, while also introducing new characters to root for, and this film exceeds on everything it sets out to do. ‘Bloodstone: Subspecies II’ isn’t just a great sequel, but it’s one of the best Vampire films out there. It should be at least in the conversation of top twenty. Fight me.
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