Recently I spoke with Writer/Director Ted Nicolaou about his return to “Subspecies” with “Subspecies V: Blood Rise”
How did you get started in with writing/directing and what was your big
I went to school at the University of Texas in Austin, where I was a musician in some rock bands and was studying to become a doctor, but also writing on the side. And one night a friend took me to see a movie called Juliet of the Spirits.
Federico Fellini’s, “Juliet of the Spirits” changed my life. After I saw it, I realized that film could kind of combine everything that I loved writing, storytelling, music, and visuals. And I switched over along with my friend Daniel Pearl, who went on to become the director of photography for Texas Chainsaw Massacre and many other films.
We both switched over and joined the film department at the University of Texas, where I had the opportunity to kind of study writing and directing and wrote and directed an apocalyptic black comedy called Southern Hospitality that went on to receive a Student Academy Award nomination.
My first big break came when I got hired to be the sound recordist on “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as I was able to participate in the making of a film from start to finish.
I kind of joined the exodus from Austin of a bunch of my friends and came out to Los Angeles where my second big break happened, which was to be hired on as editor of Noel Marshall and Tippy Hedron’s crazy wild animal film called “Roar”.
How did you get associated with Full Moon and what are some of your
If you’ve ever seen the documentary about the making of” Roar”, the editing complex and the set got flooded by a drastic dam break. While we were recovering from that, a couple of friends of mine from film school, Larry Carroll and David Schmoler were prepping a film for Charles Band productions called “Tourist Trap”, and they hired me away from “Roar” to come to edit their film which was my first encounter with Charles Band.
So basically, my association with Full Moon goes back predates Full Moon to Charles Band Productions, and after that, to Empire Films, where I was an editor editing movies for Charles which became an opportunity to direct my first feature called “Terravision”.
That’s probably one of my favorite memories of filmmaking because, at the time, Charles had purchased the Old Dino De Laurentis studios outside of Rome and was setting up production there.
We built the sets and shot the film, and in the evenings, we would go to our little beach hotel in a little town called Torvionica about 15 minutes from the studio, and have dinner and drink beer on the terrace. It was kind of the ideal location lifestyle because, in Italy, they don’t like to work long hours. So living was just as important as actually shooting the film. The cast was such a joy to work with Garrett Graham and Mary Warnoff and Burt Remson and Diane Franklin. It was just one of the greatest experiences of my life.
You have done several horror films over your career. Were you always a fan
of the genre and is it something that you actively seek projects in?
When I was a kid, my father and I would go to Saturday matinees every weekend in Dallas, Texas, and see a big variety of science fiction movies of the 1950s and UFO movies, and monster movies. On Friday nights there was Twilight Zone, and on Saturday nights there was kind of the local channel eleven horror host at midnight showing old universal horror films. So my childhood was kind of filled with stories of imagination and horror and science fiction. So in a way, it shaped a lot of my thinking about storytelling.
When I was a film student, I kind of used my love of those kinds of genres but also thought that I was going to be able to make comedies in my life. It seems like my life has mostly been kind of directed toward horror films and films of fantasy.
I feel like I’m kind of a fantasist and have the pleasure of creating atmospheres for horror films and kind of appealing to the emotions in fantasy films. I got to do a number of children’s fantasy films, and that was always a real pleasure. So I am a fan of the genre, not necessarily of kind of the current crop of horror films, but I love horror, fantasy, imagination, and monsters, and yeah. So I’m always looking for a good story.
What are some of your favorite horror films and do you have a favorite
I think the horror films that really influenced me as a filmmaker were the original Frankenstein films.
Todd Browning’s “Freaks” and in more recent years “The Exorcist” “Don’t Look Now” was an incredible movie-going experience as was “Rosemary’s Baby”, and the original
“Let the Right One In”, is to me a really perfect vampire story.
In the world of the “Subspecies”, I have to say when I originally got the assignment to direct “Subspecies”, I was not really a big fan of Vampires. I was more of a Frankenstein fan as a kid and Bella Lagosi kind of left me a little bit cold.
But once I kind of delved into the possibilities of a Vampire film, the idea of eternal life and the kind of doom of eternal life, the hunger for blood, the ceaseless kind of searching for sustenance, that really struck me as a very rich ground emotionally to tell stories.
I think of the Subspecies films, my favorite, of course, is the current one “Subspecies Five: Blood Rise” because it’s the most recent and I think I learned a lot in the intervening years and.
Before that, I would have to say “Subspecies 2 Bloodstone” was my favorite. It was a film where Denise Duff joined the franchise, Hovey and I kind of came to a great understanding and a love of each other as an actor and directors, and I think we perfected a lot of things that we tried in the first subspecies. And the story, I think, was stronger. I love Yonhai Duke’s appearance in the movie.
Looking at Subspecies; to what do you attribute the enduring appeal of the
When you make a movie, you don’t really know how the audience is going to take it. The first film was shot in Romania in 1990, just months after the revolution that toppled Chaucescu.
It was slim pickings for food, equipment, film stock, and so on. The actors were very disgruntled because it was freezing cold and we had no heaters, and we were shooting in drafty old stone castles, and the schedule went on weeks longer than it was supposed to due to the kind of strange working circumstances there.
But I think because it was shot in such as astonishing locations with such a sense of realism, we were actually shooting in Transylvania. We were actually shooting in castles, some castles that were actually somehow attributed to the original Vlad the Impaler. And I think the kind of chamber movie quality of it lent a great atmosphere to the film.
The movie kind of came out like no other vampire movie at the time and I believe that Anders Hovey’s portrayal of Rahu was just an astonishing achievement as an actor.
He is an incredible actor and I think the locations, the way the film was shot, the kind of very rudimentary technical qualities of it, the performance of honest,y and the kind of strange and doomed romance and fascination that occurs between Rahu and Michelle kind of gave the movie an emotional resonance and kind of atmospheric resonance that I would have to say probably is a reason for its popularity.
As we went on and made the sequels, I think the actual performance of Radu by Anders Hove and Denise Duff as Michelle, the slight flashes of humor and then Pamela Gordon’s portrayal of Radu’s mother really turned the series into a very interesting gothic romance.
We put everything we could into the movies, even though they’re low-budget and shot very quickly. I think for two and three, we again had access to even more beautiful and grand locations, so the movies end up looking a lot more stunning than they actually cost.
Why was now the right time to return to the series and why was there such
a long gap between projects?
After we finished Two and Three, there was a year or so before we went back to Romania to do “Subspecies Four Bloodstorm” and by that time, the finances of Full Moon were a little bit shakier and the budget was lower so we couldn’t travel to Transylvania as we had in the previous film. We had to make do with locations that we found around Bucharest. And so “Subspecies Four” was a little bit of a letdown, I think, for fans of the series. It was a letdown for us as we were making it. But I went on and wrote up another sequel to the story around the year probably 2000 when Full Moon and Charles Band still had the ear of Paramount home video.
I wrote the script as a prequel to the story because I felt like the actual story between Radu and Michelle and their back and forth and her killing him and his resurrection had sort of run its course by the end of “Subspecies Four”.
To me, it seemed interesting to kind of go back and to go back and tell a story of Radu’s origin and how he became the vampire that we love in the later films, and his fascination for Michelle through another character that would be played by Denise Duff.
It was written in 2000 and then the finances of Full Moon kind of cratered, and Charles Band was not able to come up with a budget for a number of years.
The cast, Charles, and I wanted to make the film, but none of us wanted to make the film until the time and the budget was right, to kind of do it justice.
We held out and eventually Full Moon kind of clawed its way back into business, and Charles started making a lot of movies but with small budgets. We needed a certain amount of money to make the movie, or else it was not worth us making it. So about 2019, he finally was able to kind of commit, and we all went, yeah, let’s make the film as soon as we can. And then we needed to find a location because, in the intervening years, Romania had become very popular with big studio movies and was a lot more expensive for the budget that we were going to be able to shoot with.
So we found a company run by Justin Martel and another guy named Seager Dixon, who put productions together in foreign countries, and they proposed shooting in Albania.
And I went to Albania, scouted some locations, found some interesting places there. And then COVID hit and knocked us out for another couple of years.
By the time COVID had kind of cleared up enough for us to actually consider shooting again, Albania had kind of fallen off the radar and Serbia seemed to be the next logical place. So we kind of made a deal to shoot in Serbia on an 18-day schedule, which eventually was reduced to 17 for the budget.
So basically, we went to Serbia. I went in August of last year, 2022, prepped the film, met everybody, cast the film, scouted locations, and then the cast came to work with us. It was 20 long years between writing and getting to make the film, and all of us held on. And we were so happy that we did and were able to finally make the film and found a great team in Serbia and had a really enjoyable time making the film.
How was the decision made to make this an origin story and what were some
of the main goals you had for the film and characters?
20 years after the script was written the idea of making this an origin story made much more sense because Anders was older, and didn’t quite have the youth full look of Radu in the earlier films. Denise was older but still looks fantastic, so the idea for me was it seemed fascinating to understand kind of Radu’s origins and his birth from the vampire prince and Cersei, the demon Sorceress, who would later become Mummy in the subspecies Two and Three.
I tried to kind of mingle in as much as I could from the later films and even vampire journals to understand why Radu is so obsessed with Michelle in the later films and what happened to Stefan Radu’s Half brother.
I also brought in Ash, the music lover from vampire journals, and gave him a sister, Ariel, who would be yet another kind of woman that Radu could become obsessed. For me, it was kind of the story of Radu seeking a family and trying to create a family for himself. But because he only knows cruelty and only feels desperation for Helena in this film, who is the mother of his half-brother Stefan.
He can’t love in a way that makes anybody love him back, so for me, it was probably the most emotional of all the “Subspecies” stories.
Anders came back a little bit nervous about revisiting the character but the moment he stepped on stage, he embraced that character like crazy.
Denise had an opportunity to play a greater range of characters than she had in the other films and so she really gave it her all.
With the extra maturity of these intervening years and the fact that she had a kid and the kid grew up and she’s a mother, and motherhood plays strongly in this movie, she gave us an amazing performance.
Kevin Spiritas, who played Mel Thompson, the US. Embassy worker in “Subspecies” two and three, really wanted to be involved in the project and I wasn’t quite sure what role there was for him until I realized that if he was willing to go through a big prosthetic makeover, he could be Vladislas; Radu’s father.
He jumped at the opportunity and really embraced the makeup and he became a unique and otherworldly character. So basically it’s the origin story of Radu. Why he’s so obsessed, what happened to the Bloodstone, Ash, the music lover from “Vampire Journals”, it’s attempting to kind of tie up the strings of all the other movies in a way that you could kind of understand Radu in a deeper and more complex way?
There are numerous Vampire shows, films, and games that have arisen since
Subspecies 4, to what do you attribute the enduring appeal of Vampires and
how do you balance new interpretations on them and their abilities yet
stay true to the classic mythos?
I think the idea of a creature that is immortal, that can only stalk the night, who will never again kind of feel the warmth and the kind of nourishment of the sun whose only obsession is blood and the weight of immortality on his or her soul, to me, makes a Vampire one of the most complex monsters in cinema.
I think that’s why people love vampires so much because you can put so much of your own feelings about religion and immortality and heaven and hell and hunger and obsession onto those characters.
I was never a lover of slasher films or torture porn or movies about man’s inhumanity to man, but a monster’s inhumanity to man, for me, is a great kind of cinematic pleasure.
Another of the enduring appeals of a Vampire is that they sort of have the intellect of a human being and greater knowledge because they’ve lived longer.
They are probably richer than most people because they’ve managed to amass a fortune over the centuries as well.
For me, they are a character that is not human but is able to do great damage in a horror film context. So I think Vampires will be with us forever.
What were some of the biggest challenges you had with the film and what
were the greatest triumphs?
I would say some of the challenges we had were basically to find locations that would kind of match the incredible locations we found in Bucharest and Romania for the earlier films.
Serbia has a vastly different landscape as the castles are either in severe disrepair or impossible to access with a film company and the equipment that you need. Or they’re very touristy and expensive to close down for filming; squat little fortresses, not the kind of towering Gothic castles in your imagination of a Vampire movie.
So, the first was to find the locations. There were no castles that had a throne room that was called for in the script. So I sort of looked around the Belgrade fortress, and in the underground of the Belgrade fortress was this kind of strange room where they stored ammunition, and it looked like a hollowed-out cave.
I had to make revisions to my vision of the movie in order for it to work in Serbia, but with the help of the director of photography, Vladimir Ilich and the production designer, Yvonne Turvitch, we created something that is true to the feeling of “Subspecies” and yet is totally unique.
The same with the cast, as there was a really big challenge to find actors who could play the parts well and speak English well enough.
With the help of Yelena Stefanovich, the casting director, we spent a lot of time we were super lucky to find Stacia Nicolech, who plays Ariel Ash’s sister. She’s a spectacular actress who I think is going to be big.
We also found Julia Grout, who is a Russian actress who is living in Belgrade, an incredible artist and an amazing actress who took on the role of Cersei, Radu’s mother and really created kind of the younger version of what would later become Mummy and so many more.
Do you prefer writing or directing more and which do you find the most
I started out professionally as a film editor, knowing that I wanted to direct. I love editing because it is, telling the story with material to try to find the best moments and work out the puzzle to make it all fit.
So I consider myself an editor, a writer, and a director, and of the three, I love editing because it’s all those challenges, but you’re sitting alone, and it’s just you and the material.
I enjoy writing quite a bit when it’s flowing, but it takes a lot of procrastination to kind of get to the point where it’s flowing, and again, you’re by yourself.
For me, the most exciting part of the filmmaking process is the directing, because you basically are there to inspire everyone toward the singular vision of the movie and you get to work with everyone and the technical crafts that bring the movie together
At the same time, you get to work with actors, which, to me, is the greatest joy of them all as you’re creating images and trying to tell a story which for me, that’s the most exciting part of filmmaking.
But after it’s over, you’re so kind of wiped out that the editing and the solitude of editing is really pleasurable.
Where would you like to go next with the Subspecies series?
Depending upon how this film is received, maybe we’ll have an opportunity to make another in the series.
I think it would have to kind of delve into these early years of Radu in a way that we would kind of open up some of the events that occurred in the centuries that are covered by the new film and explore a little bit more about his mentorship of Ash and Ariel a little bit more of Helena’s backstory and a little bit more of Radu and his mother’s relationship, So fingers crossed that people like this one.
If you could do a new entry into any Full Moon film, which would you
select and why?
I suppose I would have to say it would be “Subspecies” because “Subspecies” is the thing I love about all the movies that I’ve done for Full Moon.
I’m not really so much into puppets. So “Puppet Master”, even though it’s a very popular franchise.
What else do you have upcoming?
Now that subspecies five is almost on the screens I find myself with a lot of time on my hands and the desire to keep working and keep writing and find something else to do.
I have three scripts that I am considering developing. One would be a “Subspecies” story, one would be a dystopian future story, and another would be a kind of a Vampire plague story that could use Anisova and Stacia Nikolich and some of the actors that we found in Serbia.
I’m looking for something to do that would take me back to work again with a team in Serbia, so I always stay busy.