After having finished the original Subspecies trilogy, and before he came up with the idea to reassemble the cast for a fourth film, writer/director Ted Nicolaou created a spin-off feature film called Vampire Journals.
Zachary, a self-loathing vampire “suffering from compassion” with his human victims, has long ago turned into a vampire hunter. He since has wandered the earth, trying to wipe out several blood-lines of vampires. Now he is in Bucharest, and his top target is Ash, “the music lover”, a master vampire. But master vampires are extremely hard to surprise and kill. And in Ash and his disciples, Zachary is facing a very well-entrenched and well-organised group of vampires.
As I said, this story is spun off from the Subspecies franchise, and thus it is set in the same universe. It is difficult to keep track here, but since some of the characters, locations, and story elements of Vampire Journals are going to re-merge with the Subspecies franchise in 1998’s Subspecies IV, I guess this makes Vampire Journal technically a “sidequel” to the franchise and a prequel to Subspecies IV? Which means that Vampire Journals shares the fate of Subspecies III in that a vast number of elements from these films have been retconned in order for Subspecies IV to be able to take place. Even if Subspecies IV was meant to take place before the events of Vampire Journals, there would still be whole number of retcons going on, just in the other direction.
The plot itself feels “small”, and the film has a very short net running time of under 73 minutes. A lot of the interaction and relationship between the lead villain and the lead victim is modelled on Radu’s relationship with Michelle in the majority of the Subspecies films. Yet, while the story is simple and – to a degree – derivative, it is not badly written. Some of the dialogue, however, is unfortunately subpar.
The film benefits from a number of really great characters, as well as good acting. The outstanding performances by Jonathon Morris and Ilinca Goia are important pillars of this film. Other very good portrayals include Mihai Dinvale’s eccentric vampire, as well as the only prominent human characters, played by Starr Andreeff and Kirsten Cerre.
David Gunn, who plays the nominal lead character, Zachary, also has to provide the narrative throughline for the film, mostly through voice-over passages. His acting performance is generally good, but there are problems with the voice-over work. Such voice-overs are always difficult for actors who simultaneously play characters in the film. In the case of Vampire Journals, these passages are also not very well written. They are somewhat generic, while trying to sound far more deep than they are. Gunn is unable to fully overcome the mediocre writing and is struggling to “sell” the voice-overs.
Like the Subspecies films, Vampire Journals employs some nice CG-shadow work and a number of very decent practical and CG-effects. But more important than the similarities are the variations and departures: Nicolaou said he wanted a to introduce a different group of vampires – urban, more sophisticated, better adapted to modern life, etc., and he definitely succeeded in that. Great locations and rich sets contribute to this different atmosphere. Subspecies II had, to a certain degree, already made good use of an interesting urban environment, but Vampire Journals goes further and turns all this into its own world with its own atmosphere. And, as I said, the good performances, especially by Morris, help to tie all this together and make this world really work.
Despite the fact that the film’s plot feels “minor”, and despite a mildly slow pace, there is never a lull in this story. There are no long, “empty” passages as in some of the Subspecies films. As I already mentioned, the film has a rather short running time, which might contribute to the feeling of not having any time wasted.
It feels to me that a rating of 4.5 to 5.0 out of 10 might be in order for this film. It looks and feels superior to most of the Subspecies franchise, but I cannot rate it as high as Subspecies IV, because that film did have the more interesting agendas and sub-plots.