Movie Review: “Bloodstone: Subspecies II”

   By the end of the first Subspecies film, I summarized by saying that although I appreciated the first film, I didn’t particularly care for it. The music was thematic and atmospheric, as was the cinematography, but somewhere between the acting and the self-indulgent story, it made for a rather humdrum and even tedious experience overall. If nothing else, after I watched it, I knew that, one way or the other, I would have to delve deeper into the series and see where everything stood by the time the dust settled. Although Subspecies wasn’t my favorite film from Full Moon Features by a wide margin, I can easily see that it is among their most ambitious of series’.

   The series was shot on location at an actual castle in Romania and each film was directed by Ted Nicolaou, allowing as close to a consistent vision for a series as you will find for a Full Moon film.

   It also helps me that Subspecies feels different from anything else in Full Moon Features’ filmography.

   Nowadays, Full Moon is busy trying to sell resin statues of Evil Bong and Gingerdead Man, and make soft-core porn, all of which I consider very low-brow and low-ambition. They feel like hate-bait (the so-bad, it’s-good sweet spot that bad filmmakers try to do so YouTubers will rip apart their films and they will go viral), and I find that incredibly, incredibly disappointing. I don’t subscribe to the belief that something can be so bad, it’s good.

   Even the films I do enjoy from Full Moon Features, like Head of the Family or certain Puppet Master films have a clear line of logic to follow in terms of marketability. People like nudity and a little weird (Head of the Family) and Puppet Master can sell figurines or merchandise. Subspecies is a Gothic, fairly pretentious (and I don’t mean that in a good way or a bad way, I just mean it) vampire series. It has nudity and violence, and other things that are a staple of Full Moon, but presents in such a way that makes it a tougher sell for mainstream audiences and I appreciate it all the more for that.

   After the first Subspecies, the main-antagonist Radu was seemingly killed and Radu’s brother Stefan and our main-protagonist Michelle survive with Michelle being infused with Stefan’s vampire blood. Of course, since this is a sequel, and since it was alluded to in the earlier film, Radu is kept alive by his stop-motion minions and is once more back on the prowl.

   Set immediately after the first film (and released three years later), Radu immediately kills Stefan, in a cool-looking scene, and tries to kill Michelle, only to be stopped by the stabbing of sunlight piercing in. Now, Michelle is on the run from Radu, having to contend with the fact she has vampire blood in her system. In a superficial way, the early going of Subspecies II evokes a feeling like Halloween, where, instead of feeling like a new Subspecies film entirely, it feels like the second chapter in a story. As though, at the end of Subspecies, we hit the pause button, and Subspecies II is what happens straight after.

   This isn’t something I like to see all the time, as I generally think it keeps a film from being able to stand out on its own, requiring a viewing of Subspecies 1 to appreciate Subspecies 2.

   As a personal preference, I like any film I watch to feel as self-contained as possible. At the same time, I am open-minded and always willing to welcome a new exception to the rule.

   For horror films, it often helps to have a soft reset in a sequel – it allows you to introduce a new cast of characters and freshen things up for a new feature length adventure, while, at the same time, building on from what was established. It is the reason there are so many slasher movie sequels, because every film is allowed to be, more or less, approached as a reboot of the previous film. Every Elm Street film, you can have a new cast of teenagers approach the same dynamic as the previous characters had to, and it can be almost exactly the same and still feel completely different.

   By not doing so, it requires the sequel to sustain itself from the characters and events established in the earlier film. It is a challenge that actively demands the filmmakers find new ways to progress the story forward or spin their wheels in-order to pad out the runtime to a feature length. Subspecies 2’s approach, I feel, could work, because it immediately instills a new dynamic – Stefan isn’t around, this isn’t a vaguely Gothic romance, and now, Michelle is on the run.

   Unfortunately, although I believe the approach could have worked, Subspecies 2 doesn’t make the most of that potential concept.

   Instead, Michelle’s sister is now on the lookout for clues about the strange events surrounding her sister, and Subspecies 2 finds itself spinning its wheel, uncertain of what to do with its feature-length runtime. After the initial opening, I found myself more-or-less checked out for the next half-hour of Subspecies 2’s hour and a half runtime.

   The acting has neither substantially improved nor worsened, with the Radu character being the only thing that truly holds my attention, and, in truth, the portrayal is melodramatic and ripe with cliches, but easily the most engaging performance in the film. They re-cast Michelle in this film. Ironically, the new actress doesn’t look like the original Michelle, however, the actress they cast to play her sister does. 

   The issue I believe Subspecies II runs into, which I think is an opinion that is wholly applicable to the original film, is that I feel it has no idea what to do with itself.

   Ideally, if the first Subspecies were a better film, the sequel and its decision to carry on directly from where it left off could offer a lot of potential. Since they would have already built the characters from the original film, it would be able to double-down on the intensity, suspense, and drama. However, since the characters in the original film weren’t developed, and because the course isn’t corrected in this film, I feel like the film simply doesn’t know how to fill its runtime.

   Although Subspecies isn’t a slasher film, in a similar way to how Puppet Master, for the most part, isn’t technically a slasher film, they both feel like they share a lot of the same ingredients (especially Puppet Master, which I would dare say certain installments actually do qualify), and that brings us to the core issue. The slasher genre is made up of simple, basic ingredients. All you have to do is introduce a bad guy, a cast of characters, and then, play off the cast of characters reacting to that bad guy. It has a lot of built-in ways to arrive at a feature length. You character develop, and before things become too boring, you kill one of them. It is an oversimplification, and there are obviously films that flip the genre on its head or add newfound depth, but, at its core, that sentiment applies to practically every slasher film. Horror fans enjoy the kills in each film, and, for many, in fact, that is their favorite part of the film. Either that, or the chase itself. The characters fighting for their lives, the suspenseful music, and the entertainment of seeing the antagonist find unique ways to combat his victim. Subspecies, at its core, is a slasher film without the slasher.

   It has no built in brevity from itself, and requires you to invest in the characters for the entire film.

   Unfortunately, what you will find for many slasher films (not all, but many), if you take away the slasher aspect, it’s a bloated, padded film of characters not doing anything, of characters that don’t have a lot of personality or character traits to speak of, trying to hold up a film with brittle bones.

   The entirety of Subspecies 2 can be defined in its beginning minutes and its closing minutes. Everything else feels like a chore to get through, with nothing unique or thoughtful for any of the characters to do. Nothing happens in this film! 

   Is Subspecies 2 better than the first? I don’t know! I liked the makeup for Ragu, and the gnarly makeup for the new ‘Mummy’ character, but both those can be appreciated with a simple Google search. The opening minutes are the best of the series so far, with Ragu momentarily feeling dangerous and imposing. However, for the rest of the film, he kills no one and he largely lurks in the shadows, leaving the film a plodding mess. Whether it is better than the original film can come down to a coin toss. I was very bored by it, and with the novelty of the location and the ambition of concept no longer available to it, I am left thinking Subspecies 2 is about on par with the most shallow of Full Moon fare. 

Rating: – 1.5 out of 5.0