Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Castle Freak (1995)
Despite its silly cover and title, Castle Freak is a surprisingly solid straight-to-DVD film from director Stuart Gordon. Though Gordon is most famously known for his blackly comedic and fun Re-Animator film, he takes a more serious approach with 1995’s Castle Freak, which stars Re-Animator alumni Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton.
An American family inherits a massive castle from an unknown relative in Italy. If the stress of moving wasn’t enough, the family also lost their 5-year-old son just nine months prior. The father, John (Jeffrey Combs) was driving drunk when he crashed the car carrying his son and daughter. His son was killed and his teenage daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) was left blind. Since then, things have between John and his wife, Susan (Barbara Crampton), have been awfully strained. John sees the inheritance as a way to rekindle things with Susan, but Susan just can’t seem to forgive him, even though he has sobered up.
Meanwhile, their old Italian housekeeper tells them the scandalous story of the Duchess who lived in the castle and how she took an American husband. The Duchess soon had a child, Giorgio, but her husband abandoned them both and went back to America. Supposedly, Giorgio died when he was just 5 years old and for the 42 years since then the Duchess has let no one inside the castle. Some of the villagers, though, believe that the Duchess kept Giorgio alive and tortured him to punish her philandering husband. The old lady says that sometimes strange noises can be heard coming from the castle...
Soon, strange things start befalling the family. Rebecca swears there is someone else in the castle. After a stressful few days of strange noises and emotional turmoil, John takes to drinking again and even brings home a prostitute. Before long, mutilated bodies start piling up and suspicions fall on him.
Can the family band together to prove that the castle freak exists before John is hauled off to jail or, worse yet, before they all die painful deaths at the hands of the freak?
The most impressive thing about Castle Freak is the depth it goes into in regards to character development. There are no wispy-thin characters and everyone has a detailed background. The interactions between all the players drew me further and further into the story, fully engaging me until I couldn’t pry my eyes from the screen. Of course, Jeffrey Combs was a joy to watch as always. Though he quickly becomes unhinged as the movies progresses, I couldn’t help but feel for the poor guy as well. Barbara Crampton does a fantastic job as the fed-up and overwhelmed Susan, but it’s Jessica Dollarhide as Rebecca that really shines. Even though she was handicapped, she wasn’t whiny or spoiled, but looked at her disability as a challenge she had to face. It was very easy to root for her the entire time! Another standout performance was the castle freak himself, played by Jonathan Fuller. His creepy movement and Neanderthal grunts, plus the raw emotion he exhibited, really left me with conflicted feelings. One minute I was cheering him on as he escaped, the next I was hoping he would be caught…
For a straight-to-DVD film, Castle Freak sure looks sharp, even if it does have a low-budget feel. The special FX makeup and gore are the most impressive. The makeup and prosthetics done on the “freak” look incredibly real and very freaky. The gore is pretty gruesome, especially a scene involving Mr. Freak and the prostitute. There’s a fair bit of whipping, biting, dismemberment and plenty of blood flowing!
I also enjoyed that the film was shot on location in Italy, at an actual Italian castle (owned by the head of distribution company Full Moon Pictures). The beautiful countryside and gothic castle complemented the story (loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft tale “The Outsider”) perfectly.
The film is not without its flaws, though. It takes about a good solid hour for anything to really happen, which might be a deal-breaker for some. The beginning felt a little too repetitive and slow for me, but the ending made up for the fact. Also, no matter how well it tries to hide the fact, Castle Freak is still a low-budget film and at times looks as such.
Still, for what it is, Castle Freak is a great film if enjoyed by the right people. It has complex characters, a fantastic location, great performances and solid special FX. The next time you have an itch for a serious B-movie, look no further than one of Full Moon’s best efforts, Castle Freak!
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