New Releases: Subspecies V: Bloodrise (2023) - Reviewed

Image courtesy of Full Moon Features 

Admittedly, I am more of a werewolf groupie than a vampire slag. There are few vampire movies that really ever leave a lasting impression, because most are too obsessed with effeminate losers who feel sorry for themselves or hate what they are. Personally, I prefer the juvenile Lost Boys or the brutal 30 Days of Night kind of vampire – one that enjoys its bloodthirsty power instead of denying it. Enter Radu Vladislas, the king of ghoulish, drooling biters.
After all, they are supposed to be monsters. This is supposed to be horror. These creatures are not supposed to be pretty soap opera ballerinas and sometimes you come across an appropriately dirty, dark movie that reminds you why the strigoiare not romanticized in the annals of historical myth from Eastern Europe. Thus, the Subspecies franchise is one of the few bloodsucker sagas that hits a home run every time.
The first Subspecies film hit screens in 1991 and followed through with three similarly epic films that felt more like a series of episodes than a movie franchise. Unlike most franchises, writer/ director Ted Nicolaou (TerrorVision, 1986) made the smart move of keeping the setting and characters the same throughout all the movies. For diehard fans, this was one of the good things about Subspecies, to return to the familiarity of the first bite.
Now, 32 years later, we are blessed (without the holy water) with a fifth delivery, again courtesy of creator Ted Nicolaou, in Subspecies V: Bloodrise. Where the previous films were aptly shot in Romania, this 2023 chapter was filmed in the equally bewitching country of Serbia, featuring some local talent in Stasa Nikolic who plays Ariel, for instance.
Vampire icon Radu (Anders Hove) is back once again, but this time we are treated to his origin story. At first, many fans wondered how Radu would reappear so many decades after the last offering, but the story is expertly crafted to accommodate the inimitable Anders at his current age. 
The plot is simple: On the night he is born of a demon and a vampire, Radu is abducted by a brotherhood of Christian crusaders. In this order, he is raised and indoctrinated to destroy all enemies of the church without exception. He is a man of faith well into his sixties when fate leads him to his father’s castle and he discovers his bloodline. There to kill Vladislas and claim the holy relic, the Bloodstone, Radu unexpectedly runs into Helena (Denice Duff), a devious vampire who turns him into the monster we know and love.
Denice Duff reprises her presence in the Subspecies franchise, although she previously played the role of Radu’s obsession, Michelle in all but the first film.
In Subspecies V: BloodriseHove gets to play Radu without make-up for most of the film. It is a refreshing take on the human and fallible side of the decrepit brute he would become in the first four films. Once again, the Nicolaou magic shines in the eerily Gothic scenery, antique sets and sublime costumes. Once more, the lighting and effects bring the vampiric transmutations to life and uses minimal effort to achieve maximal awe. And let’s not overlook the classic abundance of the ‘vamp victim titty-flash’!
However, Subspecies V: Bloodrise is not an optimal film to show newcomers to the franchise until they have seen all the previous films. It is a slow, gradual descent from Radu’s life as a crusader to his genuinely malicious character as a depraved vampire. It takes its time to unravel him in the low-lit catacombs of his self-realization as he becomes consumed by the Bloodstone. This might bore an audience not familiar with his innate immoral debauchery in the first films, especially the lingering attention on his fledgling Ash’s becoming, among other less intriguing characters used to depict Radu’s toils.
For the legions of Subspecies fans, though, Subspecies V: Bloodrise is a decadent blood feast we have been starving for over the last three decades, a welcome feeding frenzy courtesy of Master Radu’s overdue return.
—Tasha Danzig