Interview With Ted Nicolaou, Writer And Director Of ‘Subspecies V: Bloodrise’

One thing I like about the Subspecies series is that the cast keeps coming back to make more. That shows not only loyalty to the filmmaker, but also to the content and each other. Twenty-five years after the last Subspecies film, 1998’s Subspecies IV: Bloodstorm, cast and crew return for Subspecies V: Bloodrise. Filmed in Serbia this time around, we see the return of Radu with Anders Hove reprising his role from the first four films. Also returning are stars Denice Duff (Frogtown II – 1992), and Kevin Spirtas (Friday the 13th VII – 1988).

To celebrate the release of Subspecies V, I chatted with writer and director Ted Nicolaou via Zoom about how the project came about, location scouting in Serbia, why he loves horror movies, and more!

PopHorror: Subspecies V was so much fun. I’m super excited to speak with you.

Ted Nicolaou: Cool, okay!

PopHorror: When you made Subspecies back in 1991, did you ever think that 30 years later you would be making a fifth one?

Ted Nicolaou: No, no. We basically thought that Subspecies the first one, back in 1990 actually when we were shooting around eight months after the revolution that toppled Ceaușescu, we thought it was a one-off film and that would be it. It wasn’t until we screened it finally for Paramount – because it was being released by Paramount Home Video – that they asked for a sequel. Charles Band decided let’s not just make one sequel but two. We thought three would be it and then three was popular enough to make four, and I thought for sure that’s it because the story had basically ended in number four. But then Charlie asked for another one and I wrote it over 20 years ago, the sequel number five. It took that long for the money to come together for us to do it.

PopHorror: Wow! That was my next question. If I got the years correct, the first four came out pretty quickly in a six or seven year time frame so my next question is how did this project come about so many years down the road? You said it was because of money that took it so long?

Ted Nicolaou and Charles Band.

Ted Nicolaou: Yeah, basically Full Moon had a deal with Paramount Home Entertainment I think it was called, to release the films, and right about the time I was writing Subspecies V, the deal kind of fell apart. Then Charlie went through a period of trying to do much lower budget films and Denice, Anders, and I basically wanted to hang on to the idea that we would try to make this movie at a level of quality that would at least match the earlier films. So we held off and said, “We can’t do it, we can’t do it,” and Charles was trying to raise the money. It took this long for Full Moon to get back on its feet enough for the money to come together.

PopHorror: So did he call you and say, “Got it! It’s time to start,”? How did he approach you?

Ted Nicolaou: We’d been in touch. We see each other every month or so and he said, “Hey, about we do Subspecies now?” This was back in 2020.

PopHorror: Ah, the pandemic?

Ted Nicolaou: Before Covid. Yeah, before the pandemic, he sent me to Albania to scout locations because by this time, Romania, which was our home base for the first four films, had become too expensive for us because so many studios had come in and kind of spoiled Castel Films. We couldn’t afford at our budget to do it in Romania, so this company by Justin Martell and Seager Dixon basically brought us over to Albania to scout locations and then pandemic hit, and then it was another two and half years before we could actually consider doing the film. By that time, Justin and Seager had found a production company called Red TV in Belgrade and thought they would be a really good match for us so it was holding out for a budget that would be sufficient for us to make the movie we wanted to make, and finding a location that could service the film in the right way.

On the set of Subspecies V: Blood Rise.

PopHorror: I noticed that you used a lot of locals for your crew.

Ted Nicolaou: Yeah, we started with Anders Hove, Denice Duff, Kevin Spirtas, and me as the Americans. We took along a guy named Anders Eriksen, who was a make-up effects artist, and his wife Asia Eriksen, were big fans of Subspecies and we met them on the convention circuit. They so much wanted to be a part of it that we gave them the job of sculpting some of the prosthetic make-ups that we were going to use. We went over there. Asia had a baby so she couldn’t come, but Anders came with us. So it was me, Denice, Anders Hove, Anders Eriksen, and Kevin Spirtas, and Seager Dixon who was the American line producer, and the rest was all Serbians – Serbian Director of Photography named Vladimir Ilic, who proved to be an incredible asset to the film. Basically an entire Serbian crew and the cast. I had to find a lot of actors who could portray the characters that were in the script, but also could speak English proficiently enough that it wasn’t a stumbling block to their performances. That was kind of the big risk going over there – how were we going to cast this film in the way that would serve the movie perfectly? With the help of a casting director named Jelena Stevanovic, we searched and searched and read so many people that we finally found a cast that I think is really spectacular.

PopHorror: I agree, and I love hearing that you used locals. That’s really amazing.

Ted Nicolaou: For me, I love the idea of coming into a foreign country, and it happened in Romania and Italy, and just utilizing and trying to make a bond with local artists. And then to have actors from different theatrical disciplines and a different musicality to their voices I think adds a lot, especially to the Subspecies films which take place in this odd unnamable European location. 

PopHorror: It’s been 25 years since Subspecies IV: Bloodstorm. How did you convey your vision to convince Anders Hove to reprise his role?

Ted Nicolaou: Ander Hove is a dear friend of mine. After Subspecies I where we had so many conflicts and very difficult production circumstances, we made it for Subspecies II and III, where there would be no drinking on the set and only drinking when we took off the make-up. I would join him and we would drink, and we became very close friends. And Denice Duff, we all stayed in touch over the years, and so we were all hoping that someday we would get to do Subspecies V. It didn’t take convincing for Anders as much as it took cajoling him because he had sort of retired from the theater by this point and was not sure if he was still into acting, or if he could even come back to this role that he played so many years ago. And he played it so effectively. He was very nervous about approaching the film. But the thing with Anders is, once you put him in costume and in front of the camera, all of that anxiety disappears and he becomes a character that just from the first day of shooting, I was in awe of him.

PopHorror: I thought he did a fantastic job. I’m sure it’s not easy stepping back into a character that he played so many times after so many years. It looked like it was effortless. It’s a good actor that can make it look so effortless.

Anders Hove as Radu in Subspecies V.

Ted Nicolaou: He is a tremendous actor and he’s a tremendously big-hearted person too. He has an explosive personality – a little bit temperamental – and gets frustrated because sometimes he can’t remember his lines. But he’s so generous to the other actors and to the Serbian cast especially, who basically entered into this very tight knit circle of me and Anders and Denice and Kevin, and somehow became a part of the circle very quickly. And Denice too. Denice is super generous and super open to new people so it really worked out very well for us.

PopHorror: How did it feel for you to step back into the universe that you had created?

Ted Nicolaou: For me, after a number of years of not directing any features and I was doing little documentaries for the Disney company for many years, my heart is really into directing and to making movies and going on location. The whole process from scouting locations and casting to working with the actors and the Director of Photography, to me that’s all in my blood. Every project is kind of terrifying when you begin, when you have nothing but the script and what’s in your imagination, and slowly you unload what’s in your imagination onto the Director of Photography and the Production Designer. And if you find fertile ground there that they… I was really lucky with Ivan the Production Designer, that everything I said to him kind of resonated with him, and I created a little lookbook, a kind of inspiration book that stole images from everywhere off the internet, and put that together to present the visual world that I was hoping to capture. That resonated with the Director of Photography, the costume designer, and the production designer. It’s terrifying until what’s in my head gets gradually conveyed to enough people that it’s no longer my anxiety anymore, it’s their anxiety. Then once the actors come on board, and you start to see what’s in your mind and the scenes you want to shoot, once it’s in their brains and they’re on the set, and suddenly everything becomes more concrete and as it becomes more concrete, the terror kind of leaves you and then it’s just excitement. And then the only terror is how do you make the day every day? Because our schedule is very tight, only 17 days. Everyday kind of terrified me in that respect, but the joy of working with people is just so profound for me. It was just great.

PopHorror: I think it makes it easier when you can share your anxiety with other people and you know you’re not alone.

Ted with cast and crew on the set of Subspecies V. Photo by Stefan Patafta.

Ted Nicolaou: With the Director of Photography, they’re pretty stoic usually. They know what they’re doing. They have their gaffer to unload their anxiety onto and then it’s the gaffer’s problem to light the set in an amount of time. So it’s sort of like this cascade of anxiety and terror that’s diffused as you go along, and we were really lucky with Vlad Ilic, the DP, because he has a gaffer that’s just an amazing older man who basically would draw out a lighting plan of every location with cabling and everything, and would come on the set and get everything together, and then we were able to shoot very, very quickly. Every day I’d go, “Vlad, we have to be finished in X amount of time,” And he’d go, “Don’t worry, don’t worry.” And somehow, we always did.

PopHorror: What would you say draws you to horror?

Ted Nicolaou: I grew up going on Saturday afternoons with my dad to Saturday matinees, and it was horror films and science fiction films in the 50s, and then on Saturday nights it was the local TV channels with midnight horror marathons of old Universal horror films. I grew up with this love of fantasy and monsters. What I really enjoy about making those movies is creating an atmosphere because I think it’s my job to inspire everybody down the line who’s helping me make the film, but also, it’s to try to achieve a consistent mood for the movie. I love the idea of spooky old abandoned places, and I love monsters. I’m not fond of ax murderers and splatter movies, and I’m not a big fan of man’s inhumanity to man but monsters’ inhumanity to man. For me, that’s like the most fun thing you can do in a horror film. I just love the spooky locations and going down into old crypts and tunnels and passageways, and the whole process of scouting locations and creating characters that exist in this doomed state. It’s fun, and it’s weird to say it’s fun but it is.

PopHorror: It is! Those are the best places – spooky basements, abandoned castles like where you filmed. Those are the scary parts.

Ted Nicolaou: The castles that we found in Romania when we were doing the original Subspecies films were just right because it’s Transylvania and the castles had a look that you imagine as a gothic castle look. In Serbia, it was a little bit different because they were more squat fortresses and no big spires and towers and all of that. So I was a little disappointed at first. A lot of the castles are kind of small and mainly fortresses. The really great spooky old, abandoned castles are up on inaccessible mountaintops and you can’t even get a film crew up to. We utilized a lot of Belgrade Fortress, which is in the center of Belgrade for the underground passages and some of the exteriors of the castle. There was not a throne room to be found anywhere in Serbia, and that was a big part of the opening of the movie. There was this underground stockpile place where they stored ammunition I guess, in previous wars. It had the quality of a throne room that had been kind of eroded by time. It’s where we first discover Prince Vladislas, and it was cool enough looking that you just have to adapt to what you can find, so we found some incredible, very weird places.

PopHorror: What is up next for you?

Ted Nicolaou: Next I’ve got several scripts that I’m dabbling with to see which one is going to evolve the most beautifully in my head. I’ve got a script that I wrote for Justin and Seager’s company called Stan in the Can. It was their idea and I developed a script for them. We’re hoping we can make that as more of a traditional monster movie comedy, kind of in the realm of my first film, TerrorVision. Working on that and I’m working on another movie that involves Anders Hove and Stasa Nikolic, who plays Ariel in the Subspecies film, who Anders and I both think is just a spectacular young actress. Hoping to come up with some more horror for people.

PopHorror: That’s exciting! Just one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?

Ted Nicolaou: Wow, that’s a really interesting question. For me, I’m more of a fan of horror movies from the 90s and 80s. I guess my favorite scary movie would have to be either The Exorcist, or Rosemary’s Baby, or Don’t Look Now.

Thank you so much to Ted for taking the time to speak with us. Subspecies V: Blood Rise will play at 26 Alamo Drafthouse locations for a special engagement, one-night-only, on Monday, May 15th, 2023.

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, book worm, foodie, dog mommy.

Check Also

Interview With Writer/Director Joe Lo Truglio And Star Beth Dover For ‘Outpost’

One of my favorite things is when an entertainer such as an actor, musician, filmmaker, …