Subspecies V: Blood Rise (2023) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Subspecies V: Blood Rise (2023) Review

Horrorific content by christina on July 04th, 2023 | Movie Review | Vampire, Cursed, Supernatural, Religion, Demon, Madness, Mystery, Revenge, Gore

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It's about an orphaned crusader with demonic and vampiric parents who is turned into a vampire in the castle of his father and for 500 years must search for revenge and for a magical stone that might finally bring him peace.

Subspecies V: Blood Rise was directed by Ted Nicolaou (TerrorVision, Subspecies, and Don't Let Her In) and stars Anders Hove (Subspecies, Bloodstone: Subspecies II, and Bloodlust: Subspecies III), Denice Duff (Night of the Living Dead: Re-Animation, Nightmare Hostel, and Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm), Kevin Spirtas (The Hills Have Eyes Part II, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, and Bloodlust: Subspecies III), Staša NikoliPetar ArsiOlivera PeruniiYulia GrautJakov Marjanovi, and Marko Filipovi.

Subspecies V: Blood Rise Review

Starting with the film Subspecies in 1991 and concluding with Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm in 1998, this movie series maintained its unique identity while embracing its clear influence from classic depictions of vampires in film and literature, particularly those set in Eastern European castles. The series pays respectful homage to vampire lore while also exploring themes of courage, oppression, and occult secrets intertwined with the rich history of Romania.

While the initial films followed a linear progression, each picking up where the previous one left off, Subspecies V: Bloodrise takes us back to the beginning, presenting an epic tale that spans five centuries. Anders Hove returns as Radu to tell the character's origin story. Radu, the first-born son of King Vladislav (originally played by Angus Scrimm and now by Kevin Spirtas) and the demon sorceress Cersei (Yulia Graut), was stolen from the womb at birth by medieval crusaders. Raised as a warrior of the church by a brotherhood of mystic monks, Radu remains unaware of his dark bloodline and the patricidal prophecy that awaits him. As Radu grows up under the name Radu the Fearless, he joins the Knights of the Dragon, who are tasked with eradicating ancient evils, wielding the supernaturally-charged Sword of Laertes on their mission to cleanse the world of pagan influences.

On his path of tyranny as a destroyer of evil, Radu finds himself at his father's Vladislav Castle, seeking the Bloodstone, a holy relic that drips with the blood of saints. However, Radu's bloodline awakens when he shows mercy to an enemy of the church. This timeless story, spanning 500 years, deserves the utmost respect.

Every installment of the Subspecies series has been directed by Nicolaou, giving it a distinctive vision that sets it apart from other horror franchises. Nicolaou pours his passion into the cinematic traditions he works within and the history and characters he brings to life. He showcases an intense love for these monsters, stripping them of sentimentality and delving into their savage and instinctual nature. Even the underlying eroticism in these films is consistently undercut by ruthless and unthinking brutality. However, Subspecies V: Bloodrise is also the director's most contemplative exploration of the losses that come with eternal life.

As Radu ages and becomes an increasingly bloodthirsty creature of the night, his reasoning becomes more erratic. There is no explicit acknowledgment of his loss of humanity; instead, the focus is on his descent into a pathological monstrosity. This is a brilliant contrast to most formulaic horror franchises that attempt to balance evil and other qualities. Larger-budgeted horror films aim to entertain a wide audience, whereas Subspecies is crafted for bloodsuckers addicted to plasma.

In the 1991 film, Radu tells his half-human, half-vampire brother Stefan, "Your pain, little brother, makes me sick. It is a mockery of human feelings." The new film delves deeper into Radu's character, offering insights into his thoughts on mortality and power. Anders Hove brings both menace and vulnerability to the role. Radu can love, albeit in a way that doesn't yield reciprocation. In Subspecies V: Bloodrise, Radu yearns for a family as much as he craves the blood of saints, repeatedly attempting to create one.

The film also provides the backstory for Ash (previously played by Jonathon Morris, now portrayed by Marko Filipovic), the piano-playing music lover introduced in the 1997 spin-off Vampire Journals. It further explores the role of Ash's sister, Ariel (St. Asa Nikovic), a flutist capable of subduing vampires with her haunting melodies. The atmospheric score by Sean McBride adds to the film's overall impact.

Nicolaou maintains a talented cast that brings nuance to their animalistic nature. Denice Duff, who has been part of the franchise since Subspecies 2: Bloodstone, returns in a new role as Helena, the mother of Radu's half-brother Stefan. Her performance encompasses vulnerability, lethality, and narcissistic self-absorption, mesmerizing viewers. It becomes clear why Radu is so fixated on her.

Helena's character reveals a different side of Duff compared to her long-standing role as Michelle, a character constantly on the brink of danger throughout the original franchise. The first Subspecies film 1991 featured Laura Tate as Michelle, one of three scholars studying Romanian culture and superstitions while staying near Castle Vladislas in Prejmer, Transylvania.

The locations in the Subspecies series are among its most captivating aspects. The early films were extensively shot in Bucharest, Romania, the Corvin Castle in Hunedoara, and the surrounding rugged terrain. Subspecies V: Bloodrise was filmed in Serbia, presenting new challenges for the characters and questioning their footing. Directo of Photography Vladimir Ilich and production designer Ivan Cirovic skillfully utilize the Belgrade fortress, incorporating ancient storage rooms with an authentic Gothic atmosphere. The production design achieves a sense of foreboding while maintaining the distinct ambiance of Subspecies.

Subspecies V: Bloodrise has come a long way since its early use of Jason and the Argonauts-style animation to depict the red demons. As a general rule, the series uses less blood, adopting a more theatrical approach that implies the vampires are fully savoring every drop while dribbling rancid-colored corn syrup onto their victims. In contrast to modern vampire entertainment, which tends to drench scenes in blood for visual impact, Subspecies employs a more diplomatic approach. While the practical effects may appear less convincing than those of higher-budget productions, they retain a cheesy charm that allows contemporary horror fans to suspend their disbelief.

Although shadows continue to play a significant role in Subspecies V, the overt nods to F. W. Murnau's 1929 film Nosferatu are kept to a minimum, as is the gore. This is not a typical slasher film; most of the torment is inflicted on the audience, evoking disgust rather than gratuitous violence. After all, how many creatures have licked that Bloodstone? With each slurp, it becomes less flavorful and more horrific in the recesses of our subconscious.

Fortunately, some effects retain a certain cheesiness, allowing contemporary horror fans to stretch their suspension of disbelief and overlook potential shortcomings in practical effects. While imaginative, these effects may not appear as convincing as those in higher-budget productions. Despite a return to sword fights reminiscent of the first film, the gore lacks diversity. Nicolaou doesn't break new ground in this aspect. Still, it's worth noting that Radu dies frequently, making it difficult to conclude a Subspecies film without him recovering from dismemberment.

Worth Watching?

After over a generation, Subspecies V: Bloodrise is a welcome resurrection that remains faithful to its original domain while venturing into new territory. Although the internal logic occasionally strains under the weight of its intricate narrative, the film never veers too far into over-the-top territory. It delivers scary moments and chilling scenes that depict a monster's inhumanity toward humanity.

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