Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm (1998)

We’ve reached the end of Subspecies Month.

I’ve got to say, I’ve really enjoyed the three previous chapters in the series.  Are they the very best vampire flicks I’ve ever seen?  No, but it’s worth mentioning that Full Moon Features specifically seemed to try to have some idea of consistency (aside from one piece that I will get to momentarily), and some considerable effort while filming the movies in Romania to add the appropriate flavor to the whole thing.  Additionally, each of the four actual Subspecies flicks were directed by the same guy, Ted Nicolaou, primary villain Radu was played by the same guy, Anders Hove, each time around, and Michele was played by Denice Duff in three of the four films.  That’s consistency that you don’t often find in a lot of direct-to-video horror.  Hell, you may not even always find it big budget horror in the 80s or 90s.

But before we get into 1998’s Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm, we need to do a little bit of housekeeping.

In the first film, Michele, along with friends Lillian and Mara, uncover some local lore about the King of the Vampires, Vladislas.  Michele befriends and eventually falls in love with one of Vladislas’ sons, Stefan, but also is given some trouble by Stefan’s half-brother, Radu.  Michele is turned into a vampire by Stefan before he’s killed and she’s further menaced by Radu in the second film because she has the fabled Bloodstone, a trinket containing the blood of actual saints, in her possession.  By movie #3, Radu has also fallen in love with Michele and she manipulates him to try to learn more about being a vampire until her sister, Becky, and her Embassy friend, Mel, save her from Radu’s clutches while he burns in the daylight sun in a tree.

Also, I often made reference to the castle as “Crackerbox Palace” because King Vladislas, played by Angus Scrimm in the first minutes of the first film, looked an awful lot like George Harrison.  I cannot promise I will not continue to pull that reference in this week’s article.

The first three films were made in 1991, 1993, and 1994.  As for that trilogy of films, I have very, very few critiques.  They are made with a fair amount of care and the characters are at least somewhat compelling – particularly Radu and Michele.  The only thing I harped on with the second film was the change of actresses playing Michele from Laura Tate to Denice Duff.  However, Duff certainly eases into the role and pretty much owns it going forward.

The fourth wouldn’t see release until 1998, but before we get there, let’s talk briefly about Vampire Journals, a 1997 tie-in film also made by Nicolaou.  Now, I did not watch it, and because this month is only four weeks long, we don’t have room for this ancillary film.  Maybe someday I will watch it, but here’s the basic gist:

Vampire Journals follows Zachary, a vampire with a conscience like Stefan.  He gets super pissed about his lover getting turned into a vampire and he’s forced to kill both her and a vampire named Serena who turned him.  He carries this bitchin’ sword used by an ancient vampire slayer and tries to wipe out the rest of Serena’s bloodline.  He is hunting a vampire named Ash who is stalking a girl named Sofia.  Zachary isn’t able to stop Sofia from being turned into a vampire but he and Sofia is able to eventually kill Ash and they basically hide in a closet from the new day’s sun.

They will not be seen in this movie, but Ash and Serena are.  Not sure how that works out, or if Zachary is a useless fuckboy like Stefan was, or what, but I guess the only way for me to find out how two vampires who were supposedly killed show back up, I should just start watching Subspecies 4.

So the movie begins with a little bit of a recap of Radu being killed.  Michele recaps how she was saved by Becky and Mel.  Two things to point out real quick – 1) the credits are done in that really bad video technique that seemed a little more like a Witchcraft sequel than anything else and 2) my goddamn DVD is full screen and not widescreen like the others.  It’s a lot lesser quality too even though it cost as much as the set that included all three of the previous movies.  That really burns my ass hairs.

Anyhoo…

Little known fact – blackface is still considered “okay” in the vampire community.

Radu survived being burned by the daylight by the flames engulfing his body causing the tree he’s impaled on from breaking and throwing him into a puddle of water that extinguishes his body.   He creeps back into Crackerbox Palace with the Bloodstone that wasn’t picked up by anybody at the end of the last movie, and a hilariously bad strobing title sequence begins that shows bits and pieces of each of the previous movies while flashing Subspecies all over the screen.

I dunno, guys…  This one isn’t starting off with much hope for me to see something on par with the previous movies in the series.

Even worse!  The story actually begins with a girl, Ana, seeing a flipped over car with the dead bodies of Becky, Mel, and the other prisoner Radu and Mummy had with Michele’s body bag flung from the trunk.  In a real Phantasm III dick move, Subspecies 4 starts by killing some key survivors of the previous movie(s).  Anyway, Ana unzips the body bag and Michele flounders out of it.  Being a doctor, Ana brings her to a hospital for help.

Inside the hospital, there’s a doctor by the name of Niculescu that is throwing off some serious Barry Humphries vibes.  Not only that, but he’s got a girl hooked up to all sorts of crazy blood transfusion tubes and vials and shit.  The place look like it could go full Shock Treatment at any moment.  When he opens the body bag, Michele has a pretty freaked out reaction to that really, super bright operating light shining on her.  He turns it off and opens the bag again to see Michele sleeping soundly.  He notices her bite marks and tells Ana she is a vampire.    When they waken her more carefully, Ana tells Michele of the incredibly unfortunate (for everyone) plot device that Melanie Shatner was not available for another sequel and she’s dead now.

Michele tells them about Radu.  Ana swears it is a figment of fiction, but Niculescu is all about learning more about whether or not she has ever tasted blood.  He seems pretty turned on by the thought of helping her on a treatment plan if she only stays at the hospital.  I’d be pretty suspicious of all this.  Dame Edna over here is giving her some serious creepy eyes, he wants to know everything about vampires, drinking blood, and Radu specifically.  Niculescu says the hospital was one a monastery, so as long as Michele remains there, she’ll be safe from Radu as he has never been invited into the building and sacred grounds.

Man, this movie has me in some pretty uncomfortable positions.  Allow me to explain why using some behind-the-scenes revelations to how things work here at B-Movie Enema Enterprises.  This is the fourth consecutive day I’ve watched a movie in this series.  To say that each of the previous entries is still fresh in my mind is an understatement.  You’re getting one a week until the end of the month, but, for me, this is how I spent the end of the previous week and the very beginning of my current week.  Even though it took me the entire second movie to get used to Denice Duff taking over the role of Michele, I cannot hate on the series’ continuity and overall feel of being an episodic tale of this monster vampire and this poor American college girl caught up in all this.

But this… Man, it doesn’t feel right.  Sure, I appreciate that this series is basically seven years of movies that spans roughly, I dunno, two weeks of actual time?  Like, from the time that Michele and Lillian arrived in Romania to do some study with Mara to the time she was brought to the hospital where Dame Edna will study her and try to treat her vampirism can’t be that long.  In real time, it’s been no more than two or three weeks tops.  However, the series has taken seven years to complete.  In the time, we’ve seen some change in how some of the lore established in the first would play out, but there was still a general continuity… Until we get to this final movie.

The first three movies looked like the same series.  Like it was possible they even shot it on the same film stock – that’s how familiar and in continuity it felt.  It certainly was shot in the same locale.  This movie looks like cheap video.  And to kill off major characters off screen between movies?  That’s not cool, series.  Not cool at all.

Johnny Depp? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!?

Okay, so that little detour aside, Radu goes to Bucharest and finds Ash and Serena.  Again, I think they were supposedly killed in that little side adventure released prior to this movie, but I can’t say for sure.  I’ve not seen it.  The recap I gave above was simply from Wikipedia.  Anyway, he’s there to get his revenge on and I guess kill Michele?  Ash gives him a place to crash and even offers up a willing mortal to pleasure himself with, but Radu decides he will pleasure himself with Serena.

Okay, so remember Lt. Marin from the last two movies?  Turns out he didn’t die.  I don’t know if he’s a vampire or what.  I feel like being stabbed with a giant sharp dagger would kill a normal dude, but he wakes up and seems surprisingly spry for a guy who got stabbed in the throat/chest/shoulder(?) area.  He rushes back to his office where he finds a hidden sandwich to eat.  He spits out the sandwich and the water he tries to wash it down with only to catch a rat and tear into it.  I guess he’s either a vampire or a ghoul or both.

Serena asks Radu to destroy Ash since he keeps her basically imprisoned in this vampire castle place.  Radu says that isn’t so cool to do, but she says with Ash gone, Radu could rule over Bucharest.  That is something he does raise an eyebrow to.  He asks if Serena wants to take a hit off that Bloodstone, and she’s into it.  Serena also swears herself to serve Radu.

Back at the hospital, Niculescu says he can make it so that Michele could move about in the daylight, but he can’t really completely cure her of being a vampire.  He’s also quite aware that Radu will eventually come to get Michele back and he and Ana need to be prepared to meet him.  Also, unsurprisingly, Niculescu was once a renown doctor, but is basically shunned now by his peers for his anti-aging studies.  Nah…  Ya think?  I mean this is a guy who gets a visible facial AND penile boner when discussions of vampires come up.  He also gives Ana, I guess a student of his perhaps, a drink and says this will “help her rest”.  Oh, and that drink?  It’s drugged.  You think, like most people who will slip mickeys into ladies’ drinks, that he has his drug of choice hidden.  No.  It’s on the platter right next to the big ol’ jug of whatever booze he has and two glasses already set out for his next victi… visitor.  I can’t imagine why he’s been shunned.  Drink up, sweetie!

Oh, and when she does pass out, he pulls her skirt up, and draws blood from her thigh to feed on because… SURPRISE!  He’s a fuckin’ vampire too!  Yeah, this guy’s a problem.  Not that his Euro-trash hairdo and dumb suit was any indication.  Although, I don’t blame him too much.  I’d like to suck on Ana’s thighs too.

He does, though, have a serum that allows for him to withstand the sunlight, so I guess he’s not totally a monster – well, other than, you know, drugging his pretty colleague.

So back to Lt. Marin.  He seems to not totally love the sunlight, but he also doesn’t immediately burst into flames in it.  Maybe he’s not a full on vampire?  Maybe he’s a familiar, or whatever that is called when a vampire doesn’t turn you completely but you still have a thirst for blood.  Like Renfield?  We’ll just call him a Renfield.

I will say this movie is meandering pretty badly at this point.  We are getting relatively close to the midway point and there’s still lots to do or conclude.  We’ve introduced those new vampires Serena and Ash, but what’s going on with them?  Couldn’t really tell you.  Ana and Niculescu are relatively fully fleshed out now, and we already know lots about Michele, but we’re not getting anywhere in the plot.

Here’s some stuff to help figure out what’s going on.  Niculescu is trying to find how drinking from the Bloodstone changes someone’s DNA.  Basically, if they can figure it out, they can unlock the secret to perpetual youth.  Meanwhile, Radu tells Serena to beat cheeks and go back to Ash.  Scorned, she tells Ash that he has the Bloodstone and Radu should be destroyed for being evil.  When he balks at the idea of killing his own sire, she’s like, “I can do this.”  However, Ash is not so hot on the idea because Radu is crazy powerful.  He claims they need to find a mortal with the will to destroy him.

That… Doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  Why would a mortal be the last hope for killing a super powerful Radu?  The only person who has come all that close to defeating Radu was Michele.  I guess maybe Stefan way back in the first movie, but he was a fuckboy who has no business being mentioned in the same breath as these other characters.  There have been many a willful mortal to try to kill him.  Even counting Michele in the first movie, you also had Karl.  They didn’t succeed.  Then the professor dude in the second one failed.  Mel and Bob?  Nope.  Becky?  Kinda, but she didn’t do much more than lure him into the sunlight and caused him to go over the side of Crackerbox Palace.  She didn’t do much more to make sure they won other than get herself killed off screen.  I can forgive Michele not being able to finish him off in the second or third because she didn’t know all the vampire rules.  She at least tried and got close twice.  So…  Ash is apparently pretty powerful and Radu himself called Serena diabolical.  They seem like good candidates and the perpetual betting favorite would be Michele.  So finding some rando on the streets of Bucharest doesn’t seem like the basket you should place all your eggs.

But what do I know?  It’s been a while since I killed a vampire and even longer since I killed anyone… er…  Scratch that last bit.

Speaking of random…  Radu seems to be taking a stroll through the cemetery and stumbles upon Marin.  Long story short, Marin, trying to hide from the sun, accidentally got locked in a crypt.  So Radu demands Marin tell him where Michele is.  He doesn’t actually know, but tells him enough so that Radu has some way to follow the trail to the hospital.  Serena follows Radu and kills Marin…?  Well, she bites him.

Sure enough, Radu arrives at the hospital, but the cross leftover from the days of it being a monastery causes him some pain.  Inside, Ana and Niculescu are doing transfusions and junk on Michele.  Speaking of, she’s not really been up to much in this movie.  She’s been in a body bag, strapped to a hospital gurney, and has begged to be killed.  That’s about it.  I feel like, aside from Radu, Michele should ALWAYS be a focal point of a Subspecies movie.  But again, the fuck do I know?

Radu demands to speak to Niculescu so a nurse fetches him.  Michele is pretty concerned, but the doc says everything is fine and he can’t enter.  Niculescu goes to meet with Radu who says Michele is being held against her will and if they release her to him, everything is fine, but if not, he’ll kill everyone.  Okay, so finally something is happening.  Niculescu asks if Radu possesses the Bloodstone, which tips him off to the fact that the doc’s a vampire.  Niculescu asks for a sip of the Bloodstone so he can study it for science.  It ultimately becomes a big ploy as Niculescu allows Radu in through the gate and uses sunlight to subdue Radu and stab him with a spear and sprinkle holy water on him.

With Radu in pain, Michele frees herself to help her master.  But… Question.  Okay, maybe Radu was the first to bite her and mix his blood with hers, but ultimately it was Stefan who sired her so she wouldn’t be a monster like Radu.  She sorta swore allegiance to him but as a ploy to gain vampire knowledge from him.  Why is she so badly affected by her “master” being hurt, I can’t really say other than it is plot convenience.  I guess my real question is:

Why am I, of all things, a Subspecies expert?

So she frees Radu and says it is payment enough for her freedom.  She escapes, but Radu follows her.  Serena shows up saying she will help Ana destroy Radu.  She tells Ana where Radu sleeps and gives her a key to the crypt, she only asks for her to kill Radu before the day is done.  Radu chases Michele through the streets of Bucharest.  Michele feeds from a kind old woman who tries to help her.  Radu eventually catches up to her and says he can save her if she comes with him of her own free will, but she continues to refuse him.  So, they go around and feed from more people.  At this point, I feel like this is not to really show any inner turmoil or tragedy with Michele, but just for us to get some sweet, sweet vampire stalking scenes.

Radu makes a decent point here though.  So her powers are evolving, right?  She’s able to do that flying thing that he does, which is really a teleportation effect with some shadow puppetry in the background as they “fly” off.  She’s gotten super fast.  She seemingly is struggling with how she feels and what she should be doing as a vampire.  He’s trying to help her.  Yeah, he’s a gross monster man and has killed lots of people and threatened to kill her sister and all, but maybe he can still teach Michele more about how to not be in so much pain.  He says it’s because she needs to let go of her humanity, and I actually kind of agree.  She’s not a human anymore.

Okay, we’re headed toward our climax and the conclusion of the entire series.*  Serena says she’s given the key to Radu’s crypt to Ana, but also reveals to Ash that she’s booby trapped it to make it impossible for Ana to exit the crypt.  She also tells Ash about how Niculescu has altered himself to be able to withstand sunlight.  Just then, Radu and Michele enter and he tells Ash to get the fuck out and leave all his riches with him.  Radu takes Michele to his “bed”(?) and bites her to make her his forevermore.   Additionally, Ana discovers a) she’s been drugged by Niculescu and b) that he’s a vampire.  He swears to her that he’s not evil, but only feeds to sustain his life.  He also uses his condition to learn more about how it can help others.  At least, he says that in so many words.  He and his assistant also plan to help Ana in killing Radu.

Our ragtag group of heroes find the Vladislav tomb.  Niculescu and Ana go in while his assistant stands watch outside.  That’s actually pretty accidentally smart considering they couldn’t get out on their own thanks to Serena being a diabolical vampire bitch.  They find Radu, but he surprises Ana by waking up before she can stake him.  Michele wakes up too, and doesn’t seem quite herself anymore.  Niculescu tells Radu that he’s brought Ana to him as a gesture of goodwill.  Radu says this has earned him a taste from the Bloodstone, but that only ends with Radu cutting off the “good” doctor’s head.  Worse, the doc’s assistant outside is discovered by Serena and she kills him.

Radu offers Ana up to Michele as a way to remove the last vestiges of her humanity.  Michele hangs on long enough to deny it.  Radu plans to drink from Ana himself, but Michele takes an ax to his neck.  Ana cuts his head off and takes the Bloodstone.  She burns Radu’s body and takes his head so they can throw it out into the sunlight.  But oh, yeah, Ana isn’t able to get out.  Luckily the groundskeeper hears her screaming and opens the door to let the sun in forcing Ash and Serena back into the crypt.  Michele explains that, in time, the Bloodstone revealed its mysteries bringing peace to her soul, and Radu was returned to dust.

…And that’s how the movie, and the series, ends.*  “Oh, yeah…  Everything is at peace.  I might be a vampire monster babe, and my sister’s dead as shit, and my fuckboy lover and sire is worthless and nothing but dust, but I’m cool.”  That’s an odd way to end the series.  It seems a tad too tidy for a lot of moving pieces.  Like, what happened Ash and Serena?  was there an intention to do more with them but it never panned out?  The end is much less satisfying than the third movie.  I almost feel like we would have been fine with the series just being a trilogy.

There is a desire to make a fifth one.*  I watched an interview with Nicolaou, Hove, and Duff who have all said they’d love to return to the series.  Nicolaou, though, was not so subtle with saying that he wouldn’t do it without the proper budget and level of quality that would serve the series, his own standards, and the fans’ expectations.  That’s basically him saying that he probably couldn’t do it with the way things are done now with Full Moon.

Is this a good series of movies?  Yes.  I really liked most of what I saw.  This fourth one is a definite step down from the first three, but I actually don’t dislike this movie all that much.  I wish it was a little less cluttered, and paced a little better, but if you can watch these movies, I think you could do a whole lot worse in terms of entertainment value.

We close the book on Subspecies Month, but now that we’re waist-deep in summer, let’s have some fun in the sun, shall we?  Next week, I’m gonna check out a little indie flick that I picked up at a HorrorHound Weekend back in 2018 called Pool Party Massacre!  I’ll see you on July 5th!

 

* – The entirety of this month’s coverage of Subspecies happened before the announcement that, yes, indeed there will be a FIFTH film coming from a new initiative from Full Moon to revive their most popular series and try to bring back some of their magic.  Time will tell how that will turn out, but I’m glad the series is getting a new installment, but I have zero idea how you come back from being a burning head on a pike, but I’m sure Radu will figure a way out of this mess!

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