SUBSPECIES (1991)

"You know, the funny thing about Castle Vladislas
is that nobody ever says anything about it."


This movie came out of nowhere to become one of my all-time-favorite vampire films. Crackling with energy and invention, creating its own imaginative chapter of undead mythology plus one of the most unique vampire characters ever, it takes no genius to see how easily it became the foundation of a series that has lasted a decade.

The thing I love second-best about it is the richness and ingenuity of its backstory, which has a genuine folk/fairytale feel. Long ago, the story - though this isn't the only version of it - goes, the King of the Vampires was bewitched by a wicked and powerful sorceress who "craved an unusual offspring". The result of their mating was an intelligent, crafty, sensitive but dangerous child, grotesque in appearance, who had no desire to live in peace with ordinary mortalkind. (This doesn't seem to have troubled his mother at the time, as he's acquired extensive training in the mystic arts.)

More than 500 years later, in 1443 to be exact (we're told it was "during the reign of Vlad Dracul", the father of Vlad the Impaler), the vampire lord led his tribe in an attack on a Turkish army which had besieged the town of Prejmar, and vanguished it (the villagers, venturing out after the din of battle had subsided, found "many Turks with bloody throats"). In gratitude, the people of the town gave the ancient ruins above the city to the vampires for a resting place. Being what they were, however, the vampires continued to prey on the townspeople until a clever Gypsy recalled a story he had heard: The Pope of Rome (who would at that time have been Pius II) possessed a sacred relic, "a stone that dripped the blood of all the saints". The Gypsy traveled to Rome, stole the stone and presented it as a gift to the Vampire King - and since that day no one in Prejmar has ever been bitten by a vampire. The Bloodstone is the sign and seal of a pact which has stood unbroken to this very day.

Not long after the siege of Prejmar, the vampire lord fell in love with a mortal woman and fathered a second son. This one was very different from his elder half-brother; handsome and human to the eye, he like his father wanted only peace with the humans alongside whom they lived. Thus, when King Vlad nears the end of his reign and desires to pass throne, Bloodstone and pact on to an heir, it's not his eldest son he summons, but his second. Stefan - not Radu.

Ahhh, Radu...
From the moment we meet Radu Vladislas he's an outcast. The first words anyone --his father-- speaks to him are "Why have you come? You were banished from this place!" (How long ago? Where has he been? Radu's life is an endless font of mysteries and untold tales.) From his point of view, the injustice being done him is plain: he is the eldest son and deserves the inheritance. King Vlad, however, calls him evil and, saying that the Bloodstone would give him too much power, drops an iron cage over his head (!). Radu retaliates by displaying one of the gifts that are his as the child of a king-vampire and a mistress of magick: he coolly snaps off the tips of his long talon-like fingers, which when they strike the ground form into tiny demonlike creatures. (These are the Subspecies which give the series its name, though they are never so called anywhere but on the movies' packaging.) They set him free, whereupon he assassinates his royal father [the first appearance of Radu's characteristic "Forgive me..." to a family member he is about to kill] and claims the Bloodstone. This is the tableau that greets shocked Stefan when he arrives at the castle, and instead of his father's welcome meets only his half-brother's contempt for his humanlike grief.

Thus the story forms around the brothers' rivalry and the fate of three pretty college students, studying local folklore, who unluckily wander into its orbit. Worse luck for them: the human villagers suspect from the first that their meddling will disturb the peace between living and undead, and they do play a part in that disturbance, with two of them not surviving the film in any form and the third, Michelle Morgan, taking her first step on the road to a grand and tragic vampyric career. Michelle's fate is crucial to the series: first marked by Radu as a slap to his brother, who has fallen in love with her, she is drained into death by Stefan, reluctantly granting her plea to "make me like you" instead of like Radu. Radu will continue to insist that she is his fledgling and owes him her loyalty, while she will insist just as steadfastly that she is of Stefan's making and owes Radu only hatred.

More clever inventions and adaptations continue to enter the story: anti-vampire shotgun shells filled with wooden rosary beads, the folkloric masks and pageantry of the village's Festival of the Undead which commemorates the siege of Prejmar (developed by the filmmakers from a real Romanian masked festival). The lore of the Bloodstone itself deserves a page (and I gladly direct you to ACiDiC74's excellent Legend of the Bloodstone for that. I especially like her theory that existing solely on the Stone's essence makes a vampire weaker than one who continues to prey on humans, as evinced by Radu's remarkable resilience - though his interesting breeding may have to do with that as well.).
Of particular interest is the fact that, while a vampire can draw sustenance by drinking of the Bloodstone and thus need not seek human blood (this, of course, is how King Vlad kept the long truce with Prejmar), that doesn't necessarily mean s/he doesn't want human blood. The Stone's power is practical, not moral. It would have been easy for Full Moon to make the trite assumption that a vampire who drank the blood of saints was reformed by their (presumable) virtue and no longer craved human prey, but, thankfully, not so. Thus the Bloodstone is what the individual vampire makes it: if s/he wants to live in peace with humanity, the Stone is salvation, but if s/he (like Radu) has no such compunctions the Stone only garnishes a diet of human blood and may even become addictive. Karl growls that "A drop of blood from the Stone is life to a vampire, but to Radu it's like a drug - the more he drinks the more he needs." Indeed, in one night - the night of the Festival of the Undead - Radu, while also using the Bloodstone, takes blood from three people, killing two of them and transforming the third. We will later see mad scientists who believe the Stone holds the secret of eternal life and power-craving junior vampires who think the Stone will give them mastery over all of their kind, but that's the future. In this one it's just a wondrous (though rather plain-looking) relic which Stefan takes to what will be his grave.

But in Part II....


...go back to Blood of Saints.
...go on to Bloodstone: Subspecies II..