Castle Freak (1995): United States – directed by Stuart Gordon
Not rated by the MPAA – contains gore, violence, cat-eating, sex, nudity, grossness
Stuart Gordon is probably the master of the insane. His penchant for H.P. Lovecraft combined with his consistent use of Jeffrey Combs (the master portrayer of the insane) has led to some outrageous horror films over the years.
Castle Freak reunites Gordon with his two lead actors, Combs and Barbara Crampton. They both appeared in the classic Re-Animator and the not-quite-as-classic From Beyond. Here they star as the husband and wife team of John and Susan Reilly. They have arrived at a castle in Italy with their blind daughter, Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide). Apparently John’s aunt was the owner of the castle and her recent death left the entire estate to him.
Naturally, John has no knowledge of his aunt being a duchess, but rest assured he will find out more as the movie progresses. The truth turns out to be much more ridiculous than he (or the audience) would have imagined. It involves some old relatives, a strange similarity to his own family, and a freak that has been chained and imprisoned in the castle for forty years.
As the family hangs around the castle trying to figure out how to sell off all the assets, the freak gets loose and starts terrorizing everyone. Add in a complex relationship between John and Susan that involves him killing their son in a car accident (which also blinded Rebecca), her denying him sex because of that, and his recurring alcoholism that leads him to a local prostitute, and that pretty much sums up the story.
The story is absurd, and the writing and acting is terrible whenever the story dares to unfold. This is not the movie’s strong point. However, when it comes time for the gore and craziness Gordon’s genius shines and provides horror fans with some memorable moments. If you recall some of the bizarre sex scenes from the uncut version of Re-Animator you might have some idea what to expect here in terms of sex. It’s at turns hilarious and disturbing. The violence is likewise, since the freak is rather disgusting. He gets to eat a cat, bite off his own thumb, attack various women and run around naked at times. The make-up effects are usually fine, though sometimes they border on the laughable. The special effects are all more than adequate, as you would expect from Gordon.
I enjoyed the movie, for the most part, and I would expect many horror fans to react similarly. That is, if they have the patience to endure the inane story and character development, which is every scene without violence or gore. Fortunately it’s rather short (the unrated version runs 95 minutes) and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It is a good film, for a horror movie, which means it’s a mediocre film overall. With Gordon and Combs involved it manages to elevate itself slightly above the rest of the horror pack while simultaneously providing some crazy and memorable scenes.