The Bottom Shelf: Subspecies Trilogy, Rabid and They Live

This month's horror DVD and Blu-ray round up looks at vampire B-movies, John Carpenter, and Gary Numan...

With the Twilight films thankfully now a glittery memory and True Blood finally having carked it, perhaps it’s safe to celebrate the passing of that truly dark period of recent history, that which will be forever remembered as ‘peak-vampire’. Bearing that in mind, we can now comfortably delve back through less mainstream, lower-budget, more agreeably poor-quality fare, such as the formidable Ted Nicolaou’s Subspecies trilogy, re-released on DVD this month in one handy box-set.

Released by Svengali of Shit Charles Band’s Full Moon Features, that should tell you all you need to know about this series of bloodsucking creature features. Chronicling the misdeeds of the evil undead prince Radu, played with glee by bemulleted Greenlander (you heard) Anders Hove (yes, the charismatic Rick from the surprisingly great Critters 4, I hear you say), we see a pair of young (female, obvs) American students become the latest target of his somewhat creepy affections.

Complete with terrible manicuring on good ol’ Radu, cool claymation minions, location shooting in the actual Romanian Carpathian Mountains and a wonderfully cheesy score reminiscent of Mladen Milicevic’s glorious work on the so-bad-it’s-brilliant The Room, Subspecies has all the makings of a top Eastern European monster jaunt. Sadly though, in true Full Moon style (see also Ghoulies and its monotonous Satanism meanderings before the titular beasties steal the show in Ghoulies 2), the real fun doesn’t start until the second movie.

Bloodstone: Subspecies 2 sees one of the two students from the first movie, Michelle, return with a taste for the somewhat moreish red stuff. Looking more than a little different this time round, this might be an intentional statement on her character’s transformation but, come on: it’s not. Denice Duff replaced Laura Mae Tate as Michelle for Bloodstone and there’s an almost beautiful lack of consistency in that character’s look, reminiscent of the glory days of three different Lucy Robinsons in TV’s Neighbours, if you will.

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Anyway, Radu’s mum’s now involved and there’s a family resemblance, for sure. Cue further stop-motion larks as our friendly mini-demons resurrect our anti-hero and there’s all sorts of latex-masked hijinks on the way to trying to get the magical Bloodstone back, setting us up nicely for Bloodlust (you sense a theme?): Subspecies 3.

Mild spoiler here: Bloodlust starts with yet another hilariously contrived back-from-the-properly-dead moment for Radu as, this time, Mummy brings him back for the most Paranormal Teen Romance addition to the saga yet. Not that anyone really cares by this point, but this third nineties film retains the same Michelle, who enters into a dodgy deal with her prince to save the everlasting soul of her sister, who, brilliantly, turns out to be played by William Shatner’s daughter, Melanie.

Sadly, we’re denied a cameo from The Shat (this would have been superb), so you already know how Nicolaou’s film goes (yep, he’s still on board). There’s a fourth instalment (answers on a postcard for which b-word comes up in the title), sadly not included in this package, though by now, another Subspecies picture might have finished this writer.

It turns out there are more films out this month (I know, right?), though for now, we’ll stick with those specifically focusing on the benefits of fresh blood in the war on ageing if that’s ok with you. Of course, we’re talking about Chastity Bites, the high-school comedy horror from writing-directing husband and wife team Lotti Pharriss Knowles and John V. Knowles (me neither), out this month on DVD.

Pitched somewhere between the brutal satire of Mean Girls and the endless cycle of eighties slasher films you get the feeling the film-makers were raised on, we follow a feminist blogger as she investigates the murky goings-on involving Louise Griffiths’ suspiciously chic abstinence coach and the growing bodycount of teenage girls.

Chastity Bites‘ witty premise has a huge amount of potential, with teen sexuality already a horror staple and the American right always ripe for parody. Despite this, though, poor performances and a script that doesn’t quite bite as it perhaps should ensure that the Knowles’ sometimes witty film ends up more like one of the non-Sharknado SyFy efforts (shudder).

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For a far more effective crossover comedy, you could do a lot worse than go for iconic director John Carpenter’s 1988 classic They Live, which gets a Blu-ray collector’s edition release this month. Throwing together the insane ingredients of alien illuminati, sinister advertising, x-ray sunglasses and WWF wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper (yes!), They Live isn’t one of Carpenter’s better known efforts, though surely rates up there with his best, the likes of Halloween and The Thing.

Piper plays drifter John Nada, who stumbles upon a box of sunglasses that allow him to see modern American society as it truly is: namely, run by acne-scarred extra-terrestrials hiding in human disguise. A great blend of Orwellian paranoia, infectiously dumb action (the fight scene between Piper and co-star Keith David, also of The Thing, inspired South Park episode Cripple Fight) and deft direction from a B-movie master, They Live is a screwball sci-fi comedy with brains to match its lycra-clad brawn.

Sticking with the prodigies of seventies and eighties cult cinema, body-horror protagonist-turned awards darling David Cronenberg crops up again this month, following Arrow’s autumn re-release of Shivers with a very welcome Blu-ray debut for 1977’s Rabid from the same company.

Porn star Marilyn Chambers stars as a motorbike crash victim, saved from dying by an experimental new procedure with the odd side-effect of weird sexual appetites and troublesome armpits. The Typhoid Mary for a new generation, the condition spreads as Cronenberg’s dystopian scope widens in an elegantly Romero fashion. With that old staple of gross orifice probing (GOP for any American readers) and Shivers star Joe Silver in attendance, Rabid is pure Cronenbergian horror. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, this is not to be confused with Troma’s Rabid Grannies, the charming tale of old lady zombies, also released on Blu-ray (US import) this month.

Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, the co-writers and directors of Hollywood-dream-turned-sour cautionary tale Starry Eyes, are also clearly Cronenberg fans: their darkly comic yet unrelentingly bleak movie draws unpleasantly on body-horror along with the crippling paranoia you might find in a Roman Polanski film, to dazzling effect. A standout performance from Alex Essoe as a deteriorating Hollywood starlet alongside grimly woozy direction and an aptly spaced-out score from talented Room 237 composer Jonathan Snipes combine memorably.

Speaking of Polanksi, John Portanova’s The Device, out on DVD, has a definite Rosemary’s Baby vibe about it. Naughty aliens show their bug-eyed faces again as a mysterious device causes relationship problems for an ostensibly nice young couple. Anyone who has ever seen a horror film will be able to predict the entire plot, though some tight direction and decent effects prevent this from being a complete waste of everyone’s time and effort.

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Much scarier than a scrawny Grey trying to look tough (akin to a teenage goth asking if they’re “freaking you out”) is the chilling double act of twins Chris and Martin Udvarnoky in To Kill A Mockingbird director Robert Mulligan’s seventies psychological thriller, The Other, which gets a Blu-ray and DVD release this month. Concerned with young twins, psychic powers and a series of unexplained calamities in a rural American community, Robert Surges’ colourful cinematography belies big, dark themes.

Adapted by Thomas Tryon from his original book, The Other, Freudian ideas and subversion of traditional notions of childhood are the order of the day here, replacing shock tactics and gore to disturbing effect. The sort of film you could have lectures on, the Omen/Exorcist dynamic nonetheless works perfectly well as a straightforwardly creepy chiller, despite its 12 certificate.

The only logical thing now is to finish with Gary Numan. It’s amazing how often that line becomes relevant in everyday life, though here it’s because the synth-pop pioneer turned industrial metal eyeliner fan has, with long-time collaborator Ade Fenton, gone and scored his first feature film, From Inside.

Adapted by director John Bergin from his own graphic novel, this grim animated tale of a pregnant woman travelling by rail across a post-apocalyptic wasteland bears many similarities with the Hollywood not-quite-blockbuster Snowpiercer, which is no bad thing, considering that film’s distinctive style and critical acclaim.

Numan and Fenton’s music is remarkably restrained considering their recent recordings’ sometimes bombastic style, though perhaps, with the often static images, a bit more energy might have helped bring Bergin’s meditative direction alive. An interesting curio and definitely one for the Numanoids out there, if you’re a fan of mass extinction and synths (face it, aren’t we all?), From Inside could be for you.

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