Castle Freak (1995)
So Castle Freak, eh? Were you really expecting much from this Full Moon release? I know I wasn’t. I guess that’s why I was blown the fuck away. We all know that Stuart Gordon can be a hell of a director when he really puts his mind to it, but he has his name on a few stinkers too. So going into this, I was expecting a Dagon rather than a Re-Animator, How wrong I was.
The story is simple enough, a troubled family inherit an Italian castle with a dark past, and then the shit hits the fan. The (almost) always wonderful Jeffrey Combs plays a former alcoholic racked with guilt for the death of his son and the blinding of his daughter with the usual liberal dashings of vigour, heart and intensity. This guy is one hell of a character actor when he channels his energies just right. The ladies are great too, particularly the young actress playing blind, which is pretty difficult, I’d wager. Barbara Crampton looks good and broods nicely although you can’t help think her character was thrown together a little bit too late in the day. She is such a bitch to Combs’s veritable anti-hero that it makes Gordon seem like he might have a touch of Chauvinitis. The Italian peripheral actors are fairly solid with the exception of the lawyer character; he was so hammy I expected him to say “That’s all folks” as the credits rolled.
There was something altogether Italian about the movie. I know the movie was set in Italy, had a predominantly Italian crew, and tonnes of Italian dialogue, so you may think this statement is a little redundant. But that’s not why. Watching Castle Freak really put me in the mind of watching The Beyond or any number of Italian classics. It is short like a Giallo, and has an ageless sort of blurry style that means it could have been shot any time between 1982 and the present day. Plenty of shot choices emulated those of Fulci, Argento and other Italian masters. I don’t know if this was intentional on Gordon’s part but it certainly helped shape the fantastic atmospherics and wicked tone, in the face of some quite clunky dialogue.
The make up effects are truly excellent, the creature looks so amazing you’d swear it were real. The actor inside the hours worth of make up moved so perfectly and scowled so incredibly that this character just came right to life, even if the cover and poster art do ruin his money shot. The way the character looks, just like the whole movie, is totally devoid of humour. There are no tongue-in-cheek nudges at the camera like in other Gordon/Combs collaborations, and it works all the better for it.
If I was to nitpick, I would talk about how the sound carrying through the castle seemed to be subjective to what the family wanted to hear. For example, when a young prostitute is having sex in the castle she is told to ‘shush‘, but when she is murdered she wails so loud that the folks two towns over should have heard her. That seems like such a little thing, but it tugged me right out of the movie as I pondered it for a while, and it niggled at me for way longer than it should have.
Overall though, the movie is solid, entertaining and fairly gruesome. Way better than Dagon, and I might even go as far as saying that it was almost as good as Re-Animator.