For the longest time, I put off watching Castle Freak expecting it to be a standard-issue low-budget horror movie set in a castle. And while it is low-budget and a horror, it is most certainly not a standard-issue movie. Directed by none other than Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, Space Truckers, Edmond, Stuck, King of the Ants) and starring his favorite actor Jeffrey Combs, this is a delightfully fucked up movie. It’s loosely based on two short stories written by H.P. Lovecraft, The Outsider and The Rats in the Walls. Castle Freak is raw and gritty and it looks like it’s been shot in the seventies. This only gives him a vintage vibe and when you add to that the imposing setting of a real castle in Italy you get one hell of an atmosphere.
The story unfolds at a steady pace, keeping important pieces of information hidden and revealing them just at the right times. It features strong and yet simplistic motives open for further examination. From alcoholism, disability, love, family relationships, sexuality to murder and rage, the honest portrayal of all these things, without judgment, enables you to come to your own conclusions.
If you wish so, of course. If you don’t, this will be just another gnarly and gory nineties movie. With full-frontal both male (well) and female nudity, of course. Something that modern horror movies either avoid or don’t know how to do. It reminded me of Italian exploitation movies like The House by the Cemetery, Demons and Buio Omega. However, this is still a more nuanced and deeper movie.
Reilly’s have finally arrived at their destination. Just recently, the head of the family, John, received news that his long lost cousin has left him a huge castle in the picturesque Italian hills. Looking to sell it quickly, he took his wife and daughter to check it out and get some rest. What they don’t know is that this castle hides a hideous secret…
The special effects look awesome even 25 years later and there are a couple of really viscerally disturbing scenes. For example, I can still see the thumb scene, and it’s been used so many times in other movies. Stuart Gordon, a master of storytelling not only created a creepy and unsettling atmosphere but also gave the movie strange and humorous undertones. With an almost mythical plot, Castle Freak is ultimately a tragedy. A full-blown horror tragedy that needs to have the recognition it deserves. It’s also proof that you can make a movie with a plot like this that doesn’t feel commercial or familiar.
There’s something so authentic and intriguing about this movie that even after several weeks, I still can’t shake it. The characters are well developed and their tragic destinies illicit empathy, further drawing you in. If you took just a couple of elements from the story, this could be a family drama without any violence and murder. This twisting and ramping up to ten the somewhat familiar story with perverse and subversive elements is what makes Castle Freak so memorable.
If you’re tired of modern horror movies and are looking for something different, I recommend you check out this movie. You will soon be boring your friends with it and rewatching it, thinking about different aspects and characters.
Director: Stuart Gordon
Writers: Stuart Gordon, H.P. Lovecraft, Dennis Paoli
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jonathan Fuller, Jessica Dollarhide, Massimo Sarchielli, Elisabeth Kaza, Luca Zingaretti
Fun Facts: The “freak” prosthetics and makeup took 6 hours to apply each day.