In-between his popular cinematic fart Fortress (1992 / German trailer) and his much less popular but far more entertaining flop Space Truckers (1996 / trailer), Stuart Gordon flew to Italy to make this direct-to-video horror film for Full Moon. Based ever so loosely on H. P. Lovecraft's short story The Outsider, Castle Freak is a modernized Gothic horror story along the lines of, say, The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963 / Italian trailer), but instead of a woman in her nightie being confronted by a mad woman-killer driven crazy by the disfiguring experiments he experienced under the Nazis, we have an emotionally damaged American family of three unknowingly sharing their inherited castle with a now-malformed monster that had been maimed and mistreated deep in the cellar for 40 years by his literally castrating mother. (Though she is but a minor character that dies early, she is probably the truly evil monster of the film.) Upon her death, no sooner do the foreign interlopers arrive than does he eat the cat, break free of his bonds and start limping around the huge castle smashing mirrors, stealing bed sheets, and lusting after the blind 16-year-old daughter – among other things.
The film was shot over six weeks in the town of Giove in the castle belonging to Richard Band, a talented film score composer as well as one of Full Moon's main producers (alongside his brother Charles Band). It is, in any event, a home that any person would be happy to inherit from an unknown relative, but the Reilly Family is not exactly in the mood to celebrate. Daddy John (Jeffrey Combs of, relatively recently, Return to House on Haunted Hill [2007 / trailer] and Dark House [2009 / trailer]) is a recovering alcoholic still wracked with guilt for the car accident he caused in which his son JJ was killed and his teenage daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) was blinded, while his embittered wife Susan (total MILF Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator [1985 / trailer], Chopping Mall [1986 / trailer], From Beyond [1986 / trailer] and Kidnapped [1987 / trailer]) has far from forgiven him. But when the unseen castle freak, Giorgio (Jonathan Fuller) mutilates and kills a prostitute and the housekeeper, no one believes John's innocence and he is carted off to jail – soon his wife and daughter come to realize just how innocent John really is...
Castle Freak is an enjoyable little gem of a movie, streamlined in narrative and without any unnecessary fat. Aside from being well shot and competently acted and accompanied by a great score (which seems to be inspired in parts by Dimitri Shostakovich), the plot follows a logical and believable path and leads to a logical resolution that is both fitting and believable. An occasional flaw does pop up, but they are easy enough to overlook and don't necessarily destroy the narrative. (The most glaring ones are that the noises that carry in the castle are extremely arbitrary, with loud screams being heard by no one but whimpers or moans carrying up untold floors to distant rooms, and that the size of the restraints of Giorgio's chain seem continually to change size, one minute being so small that Giorgio needs to rip off his thumb to get it off and then later being large enough to easily fit over both hands of the prostitute – and, for that matter, Giorgio has a mysteriously re-grown thumb at the end of the film.)
The "uncut" DVD version we watched, regrettably, was a pretty lousy transfer from a video – cropped and washed out – but for that the extremely nasty mutilation death of the prostitute was shown in detail and full. On the other hand, some other savage edits – like when Susan exposes her breast to distract the freak from her daughter or the fat policeman has his face bitten – are so abrupt that they scream "censored." If so, they are odd cuts, for neither event is in any way as disturbing as the prolonged scene in the dungeon during which the Giorgio confuses the concept of foreplay with eating lunch. Up until this scene, he remains very much a pitiful figure, a monster made by the evil of others (his mother), but once his hormones take over he becomes an asshole like so many a man with muff on their minds...
The scares in Castle Freak are less scary than disquieting or simply disgusting, but director Gordon and his team nevertheless deliver a film that often leaves you sitting on the edge of the seat and never leaves you – unlike so many other Full Moon productions – waiting for the film to end. If you like Gothic films or even just well-made low budget horror, give this film a go: Castle Freak won't leave you disappointed!
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