Castle Freak started with two solid pro’s. First is that it’s directed by Stuart Gordon, whose films I’ve basically been reviewing this month, and it comes from the Production Company Full Moon Entertainment. I’m a fan of both, though admittedly not a fan of the Sub-Species series from Full Moon. It also stars Jeffery Combs, who I’ve also spent most this month reviewing. Though this certainly isn’t my favorite performance, that honor goes to From Beyond. I’ll get into my feeling on this stuff in a bit. What really drew my eye to Castle Freak, was that it’s described as containing elements of both the Splatter and Slasher Genres. Combine that with H.P. Lovecraft, Castle Freak became something that I had to check out.
Castle Freak opens with Duchess D’Orsino (Helen Stirling), an old woman living alone in a castle, feed her cat, prepare some food and take it to a man (Jonathan Fuller) chained to a wall in a basement. She then beats the hell out of him before giving him the food, before laying down and dying of a heart attack. The film then jumps ahead, John Reilly (Jeffery Combs) has inherited the castle from the Duchess as he is her last living relative. The Duchess being his aunt. John is accompanied by his with wife Susan (Barbra Crampton) and his daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide). John and Susan marriage is on bad footing, with Susan blaming John for the death of their son in a car accident that also left their daughter blind. This is because John was drunk, but it was also super stormy and John was distracted by his son crawling around out of his car seat. So, while he should not of been driving drunk, that accident could of very well still happened. John gets help from a pair of locals, Giannetti (Massimo Sarchielli) and his sister Agnese (Elisabeth Kaza). One to help liquidate the estate the other as a cook. While exploring the castle Rebecca comes across the Duchess cat, which she follows into the basement, where she falls and ends up at the door to the cell containing the man. Who is still alive, but starved. Unable to see him, Rebecca leaves to find her way back upstairs. But not before he see’s her. The man, which is more of a beast or a Castle Freak if you will as he is misshapen and grotesque from years of abuse. Catches the cat as it tries to escape his cell and eats it. He then bites and tears off one his own thumbs to escape the manacles that chain him to his cell wall and escapes.The Castle Freak stalks the castle causing even more tension between John and Susan. The Castle Freak eventually escalates to murder, killing a prostitute (Raffaella Offidani) and the maid, Agnese. John is brought under suspicion when the prostitute, Sylvana is reported missing. Leading the police to searching the house and find her body along with the body of Agnese. John is arrested for the crimes, but escapes custody and rushes to the castle to save his family from the Castle Freak.
There’s a lot that this film does right. From the pacing, tight story and great gore effects. It also has some pretty good acting and he castle functions as a great setting to tell this story. But I do have one very major gripe and that’s this films handling of alcoholism. Jeffery Combs never feels like a man struggling with that kind of addiction to me. He plays a lot of lip service to it. His and Susan’s relationship is built around it. It feels like someone going through the motions and that could be what they were going for and his wife Susan has been right all along. His struggle with it never plays out in any meaningful way and felt shoe horned into try and create tension where that didn’t need any to be. Distracting from other themes that are just as serious, like the death of a child.
I’ll give Castle Freak credit. It does not shy away from serious subject matter, alcoholism, the dissolution of a marriage, the death of a child, and coping with and overcoming a disability. This isn’t even getting into the Castle Freak, who I see as an incredibly sympathetic character. One that was made a monster, over being one of his own volition. I like that it approaches all these things in an adult manner.
Final thoughts, Castle Freak didn’t impress me at first. Sure the effects were great and the monster was scary. But, the story felt generic and I didn’t care much for the lead characters. Then Castle Freak lingered, it wafted through my brain just before sleep and stuck with me for a couple of days to follow. That isn’t something that happens often, so when it does I can’t help but take notice. The connection with H.P. Lovecraft here is notably less tangible than Stuart Gordon’s other H.P. inspired works. While not as great as some of Gordon’s other works, Castle Freak is still most certainly worth the watch. 7/10