The advantage of a sequel, sometimes, is to take what you did the first time and refine it. You can build upon the ideas and story you established in the first outing. That is the case with the Subspecies franchise. The first film was good, but fairly basic in its story, technical quality, and ideas. Starting with this first sequel, we have a wider expansion on all of this with superior production values, and a building of characters and storylines that make this a far more fascinating world to explore.
The centuries old conflict that has plagued the villages of Transylvania explodes into bloodshed. The mad vampire Radu (Anders Hove) becomes obsessed with Michelle (Denice Duff), who loves his half-mortal brother Stefan. In his quest to possess Michelle and the sacred relic, the Bloodstone, Radu destroys Stefan as he sleeps. Michelle steals the Bloodstone and escapes from Radu’s castle. She finds a lair beneath a theatre in Bucharest and stalks the streets in torment, torn between her fading humanity and her growing thirst for blood. She phones her sister Rebecca (Melanie Shatner) and begs her to come to Bucharest to help her. With the aid of Mel Thompson (Kevin Blair) of the US Embassy and Romanian policeman Lt. Marin (Ion Haiduc) she hunts for Michelle in the shadows of the sinister city. Radu, desperate to regain the Bloodstone, seeks help from his monstrous mother, the ageless sorceress Mummy, who demands that he destroy Michelle before she destroys him. Rebecca becomes Radu’s unwitting pawn in the race to find Michelle and the Bloodstone.
The superior quality of Bloodstone: Subspecies II over its predecessor is obvious right from the opening scene. What were low quality video composite effects before are vastly superior visual effects that integrate much smoother with the live action elements. The Bloodstone itself is also given a higher grade revamp. The make-up effects are more refined giving extra texture and detail to Radu’s ghastly visage. And we get Radu’s severely decayed witch mother that creates a very creepy visual that nicely complements Radu himself. These are a gruesome pair that reek horror throughout the film. While I don’t have facts to reference, it would seem that Full Moon put some extra money behind this sequel to give it a little more polish and technical enhancement. Even the score is more impressive. It has more haunting qualities that forge a mysterious atmosphere. The use of synthesizers feels more natural and high quality compared to the first film. Overall, it’s just a more lush, richer score that really envelopes the film nicely.
The cinematography of Vlad Paunescu is a marked improvement here with many more camera moves adding to the film’s dramatic quality. He still uses the Nosferatu-esque silhouette of Radu stretching across buildings to great effect. There’s plenty of creepy, moody, atmospheric lighting in abundance here as Radu lurks in the shadows. They highlight such an excellent, chilling presentation for these creatures of the night. Plus, there’s just great use of subtle angles to give a sense of scale to the Romanian landmarks and practical locations. Instead of being confined to a small, quaint eastern European town, Subspecies II delves us into Bucharest with a lot of gorgeous scenery to envelope the film in, and the visuals take advantage of that substantially.
In the role of Michelle, there was a casting change to Denice Duff, and I feel she was a very good fit for where these sequels took the character. She’s a much more vulnerable, troubled, and emotionally shaken character after having been turned into a vampire. This creates a compelling weakness in contrast to Radu’s bold, frightening, and powerful presence. She might seem like the token cowering female in a horror movie, but the dynamic we get between Michelle and Radu becomes very interesting. This character we care so much for is pulled into the sway of the villain, and is unable to break free of it. While Laura Tate’s Michelle was portrayed as a much stronger woman, I don’t have a problem where Ted Nicolaou took her here. As the film progresses, Duff’s Michelle Morgan succumbs to her vampire nature more making it increasingly difficult to resist the bloodlust. And of course, as she descends into the sway of the vampire, she becomes a very beautiful, alluring sight.
In turn, the role of a stronger female is given to Michelle’s sister Becky, portrayed by Melanie Shatner who is indeed the daughter of William Shatner. She has confidence, spirit, and courage which allows her to become a solid, assertive protagonist. While Michelle struggles with her own vampiric compulsions and temptations, Becky attempts to find a way to save her alongside a small group of characters. Kevin Blair, who was Nick in Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood, does a fairly solid job as Mel. He holds his own just fine, but doesn’t have an opportunity to standout amongst the crowd.
And again, Anders Hove delivers a wickedly excellent performance as Radu. He seemed to up his game a little bit here now that Radu had a stronger storyline to follow. He’s still as skin crawlingly creepy as ever, but seems more forceful, more powerful than before. The presentation of Radu from a cinematography standpoint is far more stunning and ghoulish than before, and its only further aided by the improvements in his make-up design.
Now, this sequel is not heavy on the horror and bloodletting, but instead, focuses more on the mood and atmosphere while building up its story. We do get some moments of horror and gore sprinkled throughout, and there is a very prominent air of mystique and lurking horror through most of the film. However, Bloodstone: Subspecies II was designed to be one half of a whole as it was shot back-to-back with Bloodlust: Subspecies III. I think the story and script Nicolaou put together is very good giving us enough emotional investment to carry us forward on both Michelle’s and Becky’s journeys. It has a bit tighter pace than the first film, and more plot elements to propel the 87 minute film forward.
Following suit with their twentieth anniversary release of Subspecies, Full Moon has done a high definition remastering on the first two sequels, and the improvements are immediately noticeable. This is a beautiful widescreen presentation where the heavy shadows are now deep blacks with solid contrast that still allows for a lot of detail to show through. While the film has a limited and grounded color palette, the amber glows of daylight and fire are rich and strong. I have the DVD release, and this is a very clean print that still looks like 35mm film. I’ve read that the Blu Ray releases for both sequels are even superior to that of the first film, likely much to do the higher production values of both movies.
Director Ted Nicolaou also took over screenwriting duties for the sequels, and did take things in a bit different direction with characters and plot. While it required a little bit of a concept change here and there, I think it was for the better. Bloodstone: Subspecies II feels like the overall strongest film of the franchise. While it doesn’t have the pay-off that the next film will have, by design, the building of plot and character elements make this more interesting than the first film, and that allows for more to be going on in the film than we get in the third movie. The fourth movie, which I will review once that gets its remastered home video release, has many peculiar qualities to it, and so, if asked which Subspecies film appeals to me the most, it’s likely Bloodstone: Subspecies II.