‘Subspecies V: Blood Rise’ Review: Full Moon Delivers One Of Their Best Recent Releases
So, I watched a Subspecies movie in a theater the other night… it’s just as weird to say as it is to hear. I’ll be honest, that wasn’t on this year’s bingo card, but it’s in no way a bad thing! I have an immense love for Full Moon Features and all they have done for up-and-coming horror creators since the late 80s. Granted, I kind of fell off the brand after the 17th Evil Bong sequel, but I do find myself popping back in from time to time. Just to see how they’re doing and offer my support when I can. This is one of those instances, and I’m happy to say that for the first time in a while, I genuinely enjoyed it!
The fact it took two decades to get another Subspecies flick surprises me a bit. This is one of the franchises that put Full Moon on the map (along with Puppet Master) and arguably one of the better ones in their library. Now, that might sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, but I promise you my sentiments are genuine. The filmmakers put a huge amount of love into this series. While there’s only one I consider a worthwhile repeat watch (Bloodstone: Subspecies II), I’d be hard-pressed to say that the dedication put into making these films as good as they are isn’t inspiring. That dedicated love is still felt in Subspecies V: Blood Rise.
In the film:
“Stolen by crusaders on the night of his birth, he has no knowledge of his bloodline: his mother is a demon; his father is a vampire. Trained and exploited by a brotherhood of mystic monks to slay all enemies of the church, fate brings him back one night to the castle of his father, armed with the monster-slaying Sword of Laertes, to destroy the vampire Vladislas and reclaim a holy relic: The Bloodstone.
The events of that night turn Radu from a nobleman into a vampire with no master, setting him on a centuries-long quest for sustenance, and companionship, for the treacherous one who stole him from the sun, and for the Bloodstone he hopes will bring him peace. Spanning 500 years in the life of the vampire Radu Vladislas, this long-anticipated prequel to the Subspecies series chronicles Radu’s descent from a noble warrior for the Church to a depraved creature of the night.”
For the unblooded, the Subspecies saga follows the charming, handsome, ever-romantic vampire, Radu Vladislas, perpetually rasping son of Vampire King Vladislas and evil sorceress Circe (no, not that one). Throughout the series, Radu tries over and over to have his resentful fledgling, Michelle, fall under his thrall forever. Usually, the fruit of his labors involves being brutally maimed in some way. But despite these firmly set boundaries, he never takes the hint. Now it’s been twenty years since Subspecies IV: Blood Storm, and Radu is back to terrorize the masses again… in a prequel! Yeah, I thought that was an interesting way to go about it, too. But if they can make it work, then sure, why not!
Charles Band teamed back up with the franchise’s only director, Ted Nicolaou, and several veteran actors from previous entries — including Anders Hove (Radu himself), Denice Duff, and Kevin Spirtas—to bring us the vitae-soaked beginnings of the master blood-drooler Radu. Seeing so much of the original crew return for this outing plucks a string deep in my heart for sure. It’s reminiscent of seeing a group of friends again after not talking for years, but whose memories together were never forgotten.
But, is Subspecies V: Blood Rise any good? For fans of the series, yes, absolutely! For everyone else… potentially.
The first thing that struck me—besides Radu looking WAY older than he will centuries after the prequel’s events take place—was the strikingly high production value, by Full Moon standards. I won’t mince words: their more recent ventures have been really low-budget. I know what you’re thinking.
“But Giallo, they’ve always been low-budget!”
You’re right, but I’m talking EXTREMELY low budget. Just look at this recent Puppet Master movie—that’s literally just a guy in a Blade costume. Sure, there’s a charm to that, but not the same kind that comes with building a fully operable cable-controlled Six Shooter. This is why I’m caught off-guard by how good Subspecies V is visually. It makes sense, given this is the grand return of the franchise, so I’d want to throw down some cash on it, too. Props to the cinematographer, Vladimir Ilic, for making it look so nice! The move from Romania, the franchise’s original shooting location, to Serbia had no ill effect on the atmosphere or scenery the movies are known for.
Alright, let’s focus on the dramatis personae in this “photoplay” for a bit. Anders Hove returns as Radu, portraying the Not-feratu with the same measure of sinister vigor he did years ago. As far as personality goes, he hasn’t aged a day, being just as much a treat to watch as he’s always been. Taking on the role of fellow blood-drinker Helana is Denice Duff, who portrayed series protagonist Michelle since Subspecies II.
Seeing the two together again is SO satisfying, even if one of them is playing an entirely new character. Having one without the other just wouldn’t feel right, so I’m glad they were able to make that happen. Kevin Spritas—who played Mel in Subspecies II and Subspecies III—returns as Radu’s father, King Vladislas, who was originally played by Angus Scrimm. To say he looks different would be an understatement. That brings me to question the canon a little bit.
Overall, the story is solid. Was I wondering how Radu fell into the dark temptations of vampirism? No, not really. But it was nice of them to exposit said lore anyway. The attention to canon is also a welcome addition, allowing it to fall well in place with the previous films. There’s one instance involving King Vladislas that contradicts a previously established plot point, but I’m sure it can be explained away in one fashion or another. They even brought back a character (Ash, played by Marko Filipovic) from the spin-off, Vampire Journals! He appeared as Radu’s fledgling in the fourth movie, but I wasn’t actually expecting them to acknowledge any of that history.
Canon-appreciation aside, the feature attempts to cast a new light on Radu by having him be a devout “holy crusader” before being tricked into committing to his family’s evil heritage. So basically, switching one evil for another. But that’s neither here nor there. Does it succeed in what it set out to do? Sure, I suppose, but not in any way that makes it feel necessary. Honestly, I preferred to assume that Radu was just always an evil asshole that liked to drool on people and touch them with his long, creepy, gross fingers.
While the lead-up isn’t terribly interesting, things pick up when Radu becomes RADU, allowed to be his normal overdramatic self. The ending feels a bit rushed, but it does leave more room for stories to tell, which I hope doesn’t take another 20 years to happen. Though if it were to end here, I’d personally be satisfied.
Next order of business: the special FX. This is an area that Full Moon has been lacking in for the past decade or so, with a few exceptions—the newer Killjoy movies come to mind. Luckily for us, Subspecies V is also one of those exceptions! While not quite on the level of Subspecies II, the effects aren’t too shabby given the budget they were working with. Once Radu goes full ghoul, he looks fangtas-… FANtastic, looking just as gnarly as ever. There’s also plenty of fake blood to go around, though not as much gore. Vampires are about blood, not guts, so I’m here for it. That’s not saying it’s all good—the shadowstep effects leave something to be desired. But for the most part, it’s enough.
Subspecies V: Blood Rise is a surprisingly solid entry worthy of being placed at the height of Full Moon’s pantheon. It’s also quite possibly the best feature they’ve produced in a while (the previous holder of that title being Femalien: Cosmic Crush, of course). Fans will love this flick, everyone else will find charm if they’re looking for it. As far as I go, I’m happy it finally happened, but I’m still waiting for my Dollman sequel.
Until next time…