"I warn you, Doctor: the mysteries of the Bloodstone cannot be illuminated by science."

"Ash is right to fear me...and you should fear me too. Because I'm a monster."

Somehow uneven and unsatisfying, possibly because it tries to do too much; bring in mad vampire scientists trying to cure vampirism and solve the riddle of eternal life, include the cast of Vampire Journals, and still resolve the story of Radu and Michelle. I just don't like Ash and Serena, who are [IMHO] shallow and conniving little weasels hardly worthy of immortality, and Dr. Niculescu (already known to the VJ clan as "Doctor Blood") is a creepy sadist who experiments on the undead as if they were lab animals. Ugh. (To be fair to Ash, he comes off a lot better in Vampire Journals where he's in authority, as opposed to here where he spends the whole film either sulking over Radu's impositions or shuddering in frank terror of his mere presence....) Yet it has some great material, since the story naturally devolves onto Radu and Michelle, as it ought.

Radu, left for dead in a flaming treetop pyre at the end of S-III, drops into a convenient puddle which conveniently happens to be within arm's reach of the Bloodstone [Mark 3 - definitely not the same Stone as in S-II/III].. Though practically reduced to charcoal, he claws his way back into the castle and manages to regenerate everything but his hair (which throughout the film is markedly shorter than it's been since S-I).

Michelle, meanwhile, has been rescued from a mysterious car crash (which neatly killed off her sister Rebecca, Mel the Embassy guy, and everyone else whose careers precluded their being in this movie) by well-meaning but clueless Dr. Ana Lazar. Dr. Ana unknowingly delivers her new charge to the worst possible place, the spooky Vitalis Institute, run by the above-mentioned Dr. Niculescu. His program of help and a cure for the desperate Michelle soon begins to include way too many questions about just exactly where are Radu Vladislas and the Bloodstone right now, and you begin to get the idea that Michelle's well-being isn't exactly his #1 priority. Nope, she's just bait for the trap that will get Radu and the Stone into Doc Blood's hands. But not if Michelle has anything to say about it...

The best part of this movie is Michelle's long-awaited coming-of-age. When this last attempt to regain her humanity fails, she accepts her new life, and matures into a vampire of power, stature and dignity. She resists killing and shows compassion for those she must attack; she disdains Ash and Serena with a cool pride that is just delicious; she even saves Radu's life, and on her own terms. She is something to see.

These sequences are probably the most enjoyable in the film for 'Species fans (at least, if I'm a typical example). The scenes between Radu and Ash are actually pretty funny. Ash, the epitome of the elegant, decadent, urban vampire, confronts his worst nightmare - this hideous, ruthless creature of the Dark Ages - and must bow to its every whim because it also happens to be his absolute Lord and Master. The first scene between Hove and Morris is especially well played, as Ash keeps trying to exert some measure of control and assert that Radu, though an honored guest, is still only a guest while he, Ash, remains the master of the house. Ash assigns Radu a room to stay in, offers to choose and send him a human snack - free of charge, of course, as a courtesy - and Radu overrules him at every turn, claiming even Ash's own protege' Serena as his diversion. (Ambitious Serena is left starry-eyed and breathless by his mastery, which probably says even more about Ash.)

But it's the Radu and Michelle scenes that truly rock. The whole sequence that begins with her rescue of him from Niculescu's trap and takes them out hunting together (only the second, and the last, time), and finally to a united confrontation with Ash and Serena is the core of Duff's performance and Michelle's rebirth. I believe she saves Radu because she has realized she must give up hope of regaining her mortal life, and concentrate instead on keeping what humanity she can in her new vampiric existence. Thus she shows mercy even to the master she hates (yet pities a little; the play of expressions on her face as she stands over him in the courtyard is wonderfully subtle) and attacks a young man yet cradles him in her lap afterward, filled with remorse. (Which creates a scene of memorable sympathy between her and Radu, who tries to comfort her, however awkwardly.)

And then there's that scene where she and Radu together face down Ash and Serena to banish them from the Stronghold. Watch her: she's with Radu, not as his slave but as a second-in-command, surveying the casino vampires with exquisite contempt and looking to Radu with a little smile of satisfaction and pride that is too cool for words. Pretty good for a fledgling barely out of the grave, and it shows just what a gem she is. (Radu's scorn of his effete get is just about as neat: check the bit where Ash protests that for his long service he's earned Radu's generosity, and Radu snaps that he will generously allow Ash and his clan until full moon to get the hell out. And smiles.) --I'm actually sorry this sequence ends with Radu's assaulting and bleeding Michelle for the last time ("Your humanity is weakening, fledgling; I can see the darkening in your eyes."). Perhaps he's subtly uneasy with her strength; perhaps he's so proud of her that he wants to absolutely seal her as his creation; perhaps FM just realized that if she was going to destroy him it wouldn't do for the movie to end on a note of growing respect and camaraderie between them. But he does, and that's that.

At least Radu has the momentary satisfaction of having heard her call him Master, just for a minute, in the midst of flying to his rescue like a good and faithful fledgling. Why does she say this, when she's been so adamantly against it all along? My gut-level read on it is that she understood something on that torture table: that Stefan was too gentle and humane to have given her the strength she needed at that moment; that what she got from Radu had magnified her own will-power to gigavoltage, and given her what she needed right then to survive. I think in her heart she knew who had truly made her, and that for that she had not only to save him, but to acknowledge him, even just for a moment.

--S-IV has a kickass title sequence consisting of fast-edited clips from all the previous 'Species films plus VJ. Great fun!
--"Shadow transit" work here is easily up to the gorgeous standards of S-II.
--Is this the second, or third, time Radu has called for a bloodbath?...>=)

...go back to Blood of Saints.