SYNOPSIS: Vampires may be divided into two discrete camps: mostly photogenic and human-tolerant hunky vampires are the good ones, and the bad ones have lobster-claw fingers which can turn into Harryhausen-esque demons. Radu is the baddie and his half-brother Stefan is the goody two shoes. Their sibling rivalry goes nuclear when three lady grad students arrive to research folk tales in Transylvania. Adding to the conflict, they're also fighting over the Bloodstone, a device that brims with the blood of the saints. Vampires go crazy for it.
Anders Hove makes Radu a career performance. Everything that he does is pitch-perfect—the movements, the facial expressions, the vocal phrasing—and it helps SUBSPECIES immensely that they made good choices with his makeup and creature design. It's a real credit to Hove that, even though the dialogue isn't always The Best Ever (of which more later), his delivery always always always makes it compelling. Great job!
The film also benefits from its use of old-timey vamper elements like castles, Transylvania, vampire women in white nightgowns, etc. SUBSPECIES is a nineties thing, but it really hearkens back to the Hammer days in its tone and atmosphere.
The setting also gives it a boost, as it allows for a few scenes of WICKER MAN-style peasant revelry, complete with acid-trip masking.
There are several scenes that demonstrate the filmmaker's adept handling of shadows and light as they pertain to Radu. There are tons of NOSFERATU-patterned light bursts and a really effective repeated retreating shadow. SUBSPECIES probably did not have a bank-busting budget, but everything looks good here, both in terms of design and blocking.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
I love Angus Scrimm and I understand that they couldn't make the sympathetic King of the Vampires look too menacing, but holy wow. The fright wig and hooker lipstick were a pretty poor choice. Despite major billing, he's only in the movie for a few minutes, so it's a minor complaint, but really.
This is a Full Moon movie, so of course there are midget/dwarf/wee creatures. Sometimes the little-monster minions look fine and sometimes they don't. Usually, the "don't" happens when they're in a scene with an actor or some item that makes the "effect" side of "special effect" very noticeable.
Similar to the Scrimm problem (I'm sure), they can't make the dreamy hero vampire that intimidating, but the pendulum swings too far the other way and he really comes off as a bland goodguy with no depth. The romance between Michael Watson's Stefan and Laura Tate's Michele doesn't do anything for me, as it takes time away from the Radu scenes and isn't especially special. The dialogue gets pretty rough at times, especially when Stefan tells Michele, "I worry about you...you're so beautiful". The leads, at least, are all fine, but they're working with material that's not extremely inspired.
SUBSPECIES is better than I remembered or expected. It's no classic, but it's fun enough for an afternoon watch.