Monday, October 29, 2018

Bloodlust: Subspecies III (1994)

Over the past couple years I’ve been exploring the 1990s vampire series, Subspecies. Today we dive into the third film of the franchise (or Subpecies cinematic universe if you prefer). When it comes to horror series, it is usually a case of diminishing returns. But a couple of things give this film an edge. They planned to make this particular sequel and the surviving cast returns from the previous film. All they need to do is finally get a decent script. Should be easy, right?


The film opens moments after Bloodstone: Subspecies II ended. Rebecca (Malanie Shatner) left her vampiric sister Michelle (Denice Duff) in a tomb to wait for nightfall. The plan is to return with help and then… um… well Rebecca’s plan is unclear. But it doesn’t matter anyway because the decaying Mummy (Pamela Gordon) is still alive! She seizes Michelle and drags her back into the depths of the tomb. There she performs blood rites to resurrect her son Radu (Anders Hove). The three then transform into mist (with a lot of over the top chanting, laughing and screaming) and escape, just as Rebecca returns with American diplomat Mel (Kevin Spirtas) and skeptical Detective Marin (Haiduc).

Now the hunt returns to Radu’s mysterious castle as Rebecca, Mel, and detective Marin attempt access the fortress via the crypts. Meanwhile Radu and Mummy continue to train Michelle in her new vampire powers and force her to embrace the darkness. Villagers are abducted, blood is spilt and Radu gets to drool a lot more gore. Finally Mel contacts his CIA pal Bob (Michael Dellafemina) to lead the attack against the castle. But will a trained military operative be enough to defend against Radu’s Bloodlust?

Good Points:
  • Feels like a natural continuation of the previous film
  • Hove is still horrifying as the vampire Radu
  • When the movie goes over the top it is at its best 
Bad Points:
  • There doesn’t appear to be much of a script to this film
  • So many ideas are brought up, but never explored
  • Never gets into a solid and entertaining flow

When it comes to these films the script has been the major issue. We run into that again. But this time it feels like they added a bunch of padding because they only had a few ideas (and locations) to explore. The result is a movie that has some of the best scenes of the series surrounded by scenes that meander in circles. The climax is impressive and fitting to a trilogy, but I will say it is the weakest of the three films.

Scores(out of 5)
Visuals: 3
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

"Oh yes, I'm back, and droolier than ever!"
Ah Subspecies, you try so hard, and yet sometimes I wonder if you are trying at all. There is so much potential in the series as a whole, and specifically in Bloodlust: Subspecies III (calling it Subspecies III from now on). But time and again the movie unravels at the seams and just never quite recovers. I was entertained for most of it, but as a whole the movie falls flat.

So what happened? Mostly the script (or lack of one) happened. Just about all the production elements remain the same. Visually the movie looks a lot like the previous one, with some excellent location shooting in Romania. But we’ve seen many of the locations already, like the castle and Bucharest. There is a new village we get some time in, and some more scenes in the forest surrounding the castle, so that helps things a bit. The familiarity of the settings isn’t a deal breaker, but it was one of the advantages the previous films had over your typical vampire horror. 

"No seriously its just marina sauce, and a little blood. But not my blood. That makes it OK, right?
The acting remains solid over Subspecies III. Duff and Shatner do a good job as the tormented sisters. I actually came to really root for Rebecca in this one, and Shatner’s acting is a big part of it. She really convinces me that she is desperate to save her sister, even if she isn’t sure how to do it. Duff gets to embrace her dark side (a little bit anyway) over the course of this film. When she is haunting the village and using her new powers she does a good job of getting us to believe her dark desires are taking over. The script stumbles a bit with her motivations as the film progresses, but Duff’s acting is not the issue.

I think Spirtas is actually a bit better this time as Mel. He as a little more to do here, becoming a full-fledged vampire hunter. His interaction with Shatner works well, and his disgust and horror at Radu and Mummy is palpable. As for Detective Marin, well Haiduc is playing the same skeptical clueless detective he played before. He’s supposed to be the comic relief, and he doesn’t really succeed. But it’s a thankless and pointless role anyway. He just takes up too much screen time for so little payoff. I never laughed or really even smiled when Marin was around.

Not really comedy gold here, more like comedy pyrite. 
Now when Pamela Gordon was around as Mummy, I was entertained.  She is just as over the top, gross and ridiculous as she was in the previous film. Her antics are quite entertaining, especially when she ends up arguing with Radu over the fate of Michelle. There is less for her to do in the film, which is both good and bad. She brings some energy to her scenes, but I still don’t like the way the character dilutes the horror of Radu.

Still Anders Hove has so much presence and goes for the blood drooling with such gusto that he overcomes a lot of the issues within Subspecies III. He has some really good scenes with Michelle, and manages to show some kind of affection for her, in his own twisted way. Hove is absolutely fearsome when he faces down those that would attempt to separate him from Michelle. When Radu is on screen the movie is usually at its best, and it is a shame that the script is so flimsy because we could have had a real winner here.

"See I have the Bloodstone right here. It isn't going to impact the story, but I still have  it."
The sound effects and music remain in the same realm they were in previously. The sounds support the film well enough. The music is an assortment of tracks that build some mystery, chime in with the recognizable title theme and other times use the screechy violins to denote horror. Not bad stuff, but lacks some of the punch of other horror scores of the time.

So lets look at the culprit right in the face – the script. Subspecies III builds on the events in the previous two films, but only in a halfhearted way. It almost feels like they had a series of ideas they wanted to explore over the two sequels, but never really fleshed out a full script until they were close to shooting. With most of the intense stuff captured in Bloodstone, they were left with not a whole hell of a lot for Bloodlust. The result was sequences and scenes that just kind of go in circles. 

Looks like someone had one hell of a night... get it, hell... see what I did there.
One example happens right off the bat. Subspecies II ends with Rebecca saying she’ll wait for Michelle outside the tomb until nightfall. Then Michelle is seized by the roasted Mummy and hauled into the tomb screaming. Rebecca heard that right? Well according to Subspecies III, Rebecca leaves the tomb right after saying she’ll wait. She goes off to find some help, and comes back with Mel and Detective Marin. In some ways it makes sense, but we needed a quick scene of her making up her mind to get help, or something. Because it just feels arbitrary that she wanders off into the woods. And keep in mind the film starts off with a montage of moments from the second film, including the scene where Rebecca promises to wait. So her decision to leave feels even stranger.

Then there are a number of scenes where characters go the castle, can’t get in, talk for a bit about how they need to get into the castle, and then drive away. It happens about four different times and doesn’t do anything to forward the story. From a narrative point of view you only need that to happen one time and then have Rebecca and Mel head to the town to regroup and come up with some kind of idea (maybe contact agent Bob at that point). Detective Marin adds nothing to these scenes and we spend way too much time with him and his “funny” antics.

Mel and Rebecca doubt the veracity of your claim.
That is the main issue with Subpecies III. It doesn’t realize that the more interesting story is the power struggle between Radu, Michelle and Mummy. All the best scenes in the film occur with these three characters. The main issue here is that the script never clarifies where Michelle stands on any of this. Sometimes she seems to have accepted her fate as a vampire. Other times she seems to be resisting it. Sometimes she begs for death. Other times she begs Radu to teach her more about the vampire’s powers. Michelle needed the evolution of character here and one that is pretty easy to chart. After being dragged into the darkness at the end of Subspecies II she could have embraced her darkness, and even decided that she didn’t want or need Radu. Her whole goal cold be to surpass him in power and then destroy him. Then her interplay with Radu could be more effective, and her natural conflict with Mummy would have more bite.

Mummy just hates Michelle on principle and you don’t have to do too much with her. But I think she remained around a little too long. I love that Radu kills her (and the way he rips off her arm and beheads her with the knife still clutched in the desiccated hand is wonderfully ghoulish) because she just keeps trying to kill Michelle when he isn’t around. 

Oh yeah, Michelle goes all femme fatale goth style in this moment.
Finally if we go this way with Michelle’s character (as the vamp femme fatale) then it fits the idea that Radu is easily controlled by women, and supports the ridiculous relationship between him and mummy established in the previous film. Because some of those conversations between Michelle and Radu work really well. I love how he reflects on the fact that he has wiped out his whole family because of his passions. I feel the pleasure he takes in teaching Michelle to use her powers. It would work great if she was manipulating him (he could even figure out what she was doing part way through the film), and then as she was really delving into her dark nature be faced with her sister again. Lots of natural drama right there to explore.

The vampire scenes have less padding but they still suffer a bit because Michelle keeps changing her motivations and seems to reset to whimpering and helpless every other scene. This worked fine for Subspecies II, but by the time we get to Subspecies III we need to do more with her character. 

Nice little chat about finger demons.
I’m coming down a bit hard here because I see the potential for a really good movie buried in there. They could have doubled down on the drama and gothic horror. Or they could have embraced the over the top madness of two scenes that make Subspecies III memorable.

The first is Bob the CIA agent. When he shows up, it feels like you popped in a whole new movie about one liner spewing army heroes storming Dracula’s castle. Bob is a surreal character that comes out of nowhere with his machine gun and camo gear. His first reaction when he sees the desiccated Mummy is to shout “Heads up Granny” and open fire. It is hilariously silly and then his demise is just about the funniest thing in the entire Subspecies series. If the film had embraced this horror comedy feeling it would have been wonderful. Instead, it just feels like an odd moment that sticks out in the meandering film.

Bob and Mel: Fearless Vampire Slayers!
Then you have the climax of the movie. Hove finally gets to dive into his diabolical performance and chases our heroes through the castle, looming out of the shadows and growling at them. His intensity and their fear work so well, you feel like you are watching a genuine horror film. Then you have Rebecca trick Radu into trying to catch the Bloodstone as she hurls it over the castle wall, and into the open, as the sun ascends into the sky. (Side note, the Bloodstone once again appears and is once again completely pointless to the plot – what a waste of a great MacGuffin). Radu hurtles into the light and then proceeds to melt, burst into flame, hurtle over the castle wall and then land impaled on a dead tree as he roasts and melts. Yeah we get wood right through his oozing skull. It is gross and over the top, but a fitting end to the vampire. 

"Oh man I should really pay attention to my Swatch!"
This over the top ending to Subspecies III helps redeem it a little bit. I just wish he whole film had doubled down on this type of approach… or any type of approach really. The movie is a mess, but so were the previous two, but this one feels more disjointed and little less fun. The meandering characters and plot distract from the good and great portions of the film. It gives the Subspecies series an ending and that is good. It makes for fun viewing in October with you expectations adjusted. But I did end up wishing it had been given a bit more attention with the script. Once again, if Hollywood must keep remaking movies, the Subspecies films have a lot of potential in them. They could be improved and we’d have a fine horror trilogy ready to unleash on an unsuspecting public.

I think Michelle has a little surprise for her sister.
Would you trust these two to do anything right, much less slay a vampire and his Mummy?
I don't know who is more offended in this picture.
"No problem. Everything is fine. I'm sure there will be another sequel or two."

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  1. There are always relationship challenges with a man who lives with his mother.

    Maybe Radu should have let the attempted romance go and instead drown his heartbreak with a mug or to of rare AB negative.

    1. Your advice is sound. Unfortunately, Radu is a man of passion. He will not be kept from his Michelle, or his Bloodstone, or his finger demons. As for his relationship with his Mummy, well the less said about that, the better.

  2. I've not seen this franchise, so it's all new to me, however, I do recall seeing the little demon stop motion figures of the first film whenever seeing the ads on TV. This would probably be a good one to catch for Halloween. As you said evidently it suffers from diminishing sequelitis (I think that's a word?). But many great franchises have fallen prey to that unholy fiend.

    1. Yeah, they really pushed the "finger demons" in all the ads. But those little guys had barely anything to do with the plot. They pretty much are an afterthought once you get into the sequels. I don't think they even show up in the fourth film.

      These are fun flicks, if you know what you are getting into. Perfect for lazy Sunday viewing in October.