Castle Freak

The way Stuart Gordon tells it, CASTLE FREAK was made because he saw Charles Band’s poster for it before it was even really a premise.

“What’s that about?”

“A castle and a freak.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how the majority of Full Moon Pictures come about, but they usually don’t have the brilliant director of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND as the guy translating the poster into an actual movie, so they don’t turn out this well.

Gordon’s idea of CASTLE FREAK takes inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft. I’m sure you could also say that about what he eats for breakfast every morning. But he credits the short story “The Outsider,” about a man escaping from the castle where he’s lived alone for as long as he can remember. The screenplay is by Gordon’s longtime collaborator Dennis Paoli (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, DAGON), and its hook is simple: American asshole John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs, THE FRIGHTENERS) inherits a 12th century castle from a Duchess and brings his unhappy wife (Barbara Crampton, FRATERNITY VACATION) and blind daughter (Jessica Dollarhide, 1 episode of Major Dad, 2 episodes of In Living Color, 2 episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) to check it out with him. Little do they know that his dead relative also left behind the feral, mutilated man she’d been torturing in the dungeon for most of his life. Probly should’ve mentioned that.

You know how you hear about somebody winning a fancy car or something, but the catch is it’s not really free because they were never planning on buying an expensive car and now they have to pay the taxes on it? It’s kind of like that.

John is unlikable from the start. He doesn’t even bother to feign interest in the history of the place, just talks about liquidating the assets ASAP, jokes about it as being his “booty,” searches the premises for hidden jewels, but only finds a nasty studded whip under the deceased old lady’s bed. Hmmm.

The backstory to all the tension in the family is that he’s a recovering alcoholic, his daughter Rebecca was blinded and son killed in a drunk driving accident, his wife has not forgiven him. And he has a rollercoaster of an arc, swinging from just being a dick to having an ugly relapse to becoming the lone hero who has to solve the mystery and save the day while everyone thinks he’s an even worse piece of shit than he actually is when he’s blamed for a murder.

Rebecca is kind of a secondary protagonist, and has an easier time getting our sympathy. One of her dad’s less despicable flaws is being overprotective of her (but maybe out of fear of being blamed again if something happens to her). She feels imprisoned and likes to wander off and explore the castle on her own, which is how she’s the first to encounter the Castle Freak. But of course no one believes her when she says she heard someone there.

This Castle Freak is a victim, he has had his tongue and dick cut off and his face is messed up and he eats a cat because he doesn’t know any better (see also THE SHAPE OF WATER, ALF, etc.). But his tragic circumstances have turned him into a terrible pervert who ogles the poor girl while she sleeps and lustily spies on John having drunken sex with a prostitute (Rafaella Offidani, THE VOYEUR), then abducts her and commits an outrageously disgusting atrocity that either shows the movie is not fucking around or is going way too far, depending on how much you can stomach.

The rest of the gross out business is more of the fun-gauntlet-to-get-through variety, I think. He does a handcuff escape that’s not quite as stomach churning as the one in GERALD’S GAME, but that you’re reminded of every time he tries to caress a face with his mangled hand. The makeup effects by Optic Nerve Studios are very impressive. I would never have recognized the skeletal ghoul running around with his dickless balls hanging out as Jonathan Fuller, the hero of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM.

It should be mentioned that this is DTV in the purest sense of the word – it was made specifically for the video market. It’s apparently Gordon’s lowest budget ever, but it doesn’t seem compromised to me. It feels of a piece with his other work. I would put it in a different category than other 1995 DTV horror like THE HOWLING: NEW MOON RISING and LEPRECHAUN 3.

Gordon’s movies often have interesting subtext to dig into, and this one is no exception. I think there are many ways to read it, and the one I’m most taken by is the idea that most castles have their freaks. In other words, the entrenched systems of power and inherited wealth each have their dark secrets, their shames, their skeletons in the closet, their eunuchs in the basement. Hidden behind opulence and pomp is the ugly truth of how they’re willing to treat people. This poor guy was tormented for something he had no control over, and he learned only aggression, and as soon as he gets a chance he victimizes other innocent people.

It’s largely about men and the things they do to women. These two relatives, heirs to royalty, one a literally emasculated, literal monster assaulting women, the other causing psychological and even physical damage to his wife and daughter through his careless actions. John blames his alcoholism on his father, the freak definitely owes his condition to his mother, who felt abusing him was avenging her husband for leaving her. I guess that makes the worst villain in the whole story a woman, but she’s dead now. The focus is on the need for John to be a better man.

In that sense it’s optimistic, because we see him doing something right and possibly even leaving his wife and daughter thinking of him in a positive light. One troubled soul/entitled prick must climb out of his own precipitously spiraling set of circumstances long enough to put a stop to the cycle of abuse. A half hour into the movie you’re sure John is the dickhead whose gruesome death you’ll be cheering for. Instead there’s some amount of redemption.

If he can do it then maybe even the Castle Freak could’ve made something out of himself. Could he be a productive member of society? He’s not gonna be able to be a motivational speaker, but I’m sure what he’s learned from his tough life could help someone, somewhere. I don’t think he’s a nudist at heart – he seemed to want to cover up with that sheet, so I imagine he’d do that while interacting with people. I don’t think he necessarily needs to learn to groom himself, but then again maybe it would help his self esteem. He definitely didn’t like looking at himself in the mirror. It’s possible he’d get into wearing cool clothes and combing his hair and everything. Maybe take some of that Duchess money, buy a Lamborghini, go out on the town, live it up.

But first he’d have to learn not to chew on people. We all need to live by that.

P.S. The production company behind BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 and PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH is doing a remake of CASTLE FREAK, directed by THE LITTLEST REICH’s FX guy Tate Steinsiek. Barbara Crampton is producing and says “our goal is to enhance a lot of the Lovecraft elements in the movie to just bring the Lovecraft universe a little bit more to life and a little bit more in the forefront.” I don’t really know what that means, but at least it sounds like a different take.

My only request is that the end credits and possibly also opening credits and at least 2 montages are set to a slightly rewritten cover of Rick James’ “Superfreak.”

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 4th, 2018 at 11:58 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Castle Freak”

  1. This movie is highly underrated in my opinion. The titular freak is genuinely disturbing and some of the sequences where he’s stalking people in the dark are incredibly effective. Good stuff!

  2. CASTLE FREAK! Fuckin’ finally!

    This is a real nasty little gem that delivers on everything fans of nasty little gems could possibly want: a great monster, brutal kills, a committed cast, and a complete and utter lack of fucking around. It’s top five Stuart Gordon by any estimation, arguably the best straight-to-video horror movie of the 90s (not a particularly competitive field, but still) and certainly the best movie Full Moon ever put its name on. In a just world, there would be 12 CASTLE FREAK movies and like two PUPPET MASTERS, at most.

  3. Yup, this is a good one. Gordon knows how to work around a budget and is a better story-teller than the low-budget genre fare he works with would make many prudes think. I don’t know why, but this one kinda shocked me with how nasty some of the violence gets here. Like I said, I don’t know why as that’s par the course and it’s not like Gordon has shied from pushing boundaries before. So that’s on me. Not that it was turn off, we get a good performance from Combs as usual.

    Not sure what I think about a remake.

  4. Also, I like that it’s a variation on the BAD RONALD setup. There’s something extra creepy about when an intruder hasn’t just invaded your home, but is revealed to have BEEN THERE THE ENTIRE TIME. I’m a homebody by nature so that kind of violation of personal space really gets me where I live. I always refer to those situations as “getting Bad Ronalded.” Sometimes you hear about people who discover they had squatters living secretly in their attic and I’m like, “Oh shit, they got Bad Ronalded!”

    You know, that’s a movie that’s begging for a remake. Regardless of your opinion of the movie or if you’ve ever heard of it before, but you gotta admit it’s a catchy title.

  5. “You know how you hear about somebody winning a fancy car or something, but the catch is it’s not really free because they were never planning on buying an expensive car and now they have to pay the taxes on it?”

    I always felt bad for the kids on PIMP MY RIDE, because I doubt that MTV would pay for any repairs or replacements on the customized cars, unless it happened within a certain timeframe and/or was the pimpers’s fault. “Sorry, little Timmy. We won’t replace the 1000$ speakers in your trunk. The fender bender wasn’t our fault! Ask your insurance! Awww, insurance was too expensive for your pimped ride? Not our problem!”

    Anyway, CASTLE FREAK is on my list forever, but the only way to watch it here, is a pretty crappy OOP DVD or some bootlegs, as far as I know. But something tells me an overpriced, uncut Mediabook release is just around the corner.

  6. Republican Cloth Coat

    October 4th, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    This is good, a real anomaly for Full Moon. Maybe I’d also recommend Head Of The Family, depending on the audience.

  7. HEAD OF THE FAMILY is one of better ones but I don’t think they had enough story for a feture-length film though.

  8. So glad to see all the Castle Freak love here. It’s one of my favourites from Stuart Gordon too, and I mean, Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, you can’t go wrong! This is also one of the weirder movies my roommates ended up watching with me and even they bring it up from time to time.

    As for Barbara Crampton’s comments on the whole Lovecraft thing, I believe she mentioned a little while ago on twitter that they were planning on starting up some sort of Lovecraft extended film universe, or at least there are some strong attempts being made to adapt some more of his work.

  9. When Barbara Crampton introduced this film at a screening a few years ago she mentioned that Charles Band’s family owned that castle they filmed in. That’s likely how the whole enterprise began: with a title, a mocked-up poster, a readily available location, and a great “let’s put on a show!” mentality. That Lovecraft credit was pure marketing, kinda like those Poe “adaptations” Harry Alan Towers produced in South Africa for the Cannon boys, featuring Oliver Reed and/or Donald Pleasance.

  10. @CJ
    Man you’re giving way too much credit to the pimp my ride crew, look up some interviews with the people on that show they got absolutely fucked and half the time the cars weren’t even street legal by the end of it. I think cracked did a pretty good piece on it.

  11. Yikes, I didn’t expect it to be SO bad, simply because most of the shit that Americans put on their cars legally (like those wood panels that apparently most TV families in the 80s had) is illegal here. So I just thought “Well, it’s on TV, I guess they know what they can and can not do”.

    Because of our extremely strict regulations, the German version that MTV produced, was called PIMP MY BIKE and it was about bicycles. And I can imagine they were a bit more careful to not cross any legal lines. It’s not like they put any neon lights and DVD players on them. Most of the time it were just new frames, fat tires, paint jobs, etc. Still, I hope whoever got their bike pimped, invested a lot in high quality locks.

  12. It really bums me out how some people lately have been wanting to kick Lovecraft’s work to the curb because of racism.

    Yeah, the dude was racist, but he was a weird guy who lived isolated in Rhode Island 100 years ago, of course the guy wasn’t going to know anything about black people and paranoia and fear of the unknown was what he was all about, not to mention that racism was sadly just the standard attitude of the time.

    The idea that we should ignore works from the past due to not living up to the standards of the present day is just flat out wrong, plus his racism isn’t usually really relevant in his most famous works anyway.

  13. Nah, Griff, that shit don’t fly. Even by the standards of his time, Lovecraft was an exceptional, enthusiastic bigot. A total dork for bigotry. That’s not something you can pin on “But he was from Rhode Island!” That’s a personal choice the man made. Whether or not his Olympic-level racism is a dealbreaker should be left up to every individual reader, but it should also not be in dispute. The man was a beyond the pale racist even for his time and it infects his work. It shouldn’t take away from the positive aspects of his work and influence.

    What SHOULD take away from those things are his absolutely putrid prose skills. Writing so stilted and tortured and constipated it’s beyond parody. The true horror of Lovecraft is the torment he put the English language through.

  14. But people are advocating now that no one should take influence or adapt his work due to his racism, certainly that’s going too far?

  15. People advocate for all kinds of pointless crap. Their hearts are in the right place but it’s just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic at this point. We’re all gonna die in a flood someday, probably sooner than we think. We’re gonna be cold, wet, starving, clutching to the roofs of our houses like Ethan Hunt to the side of a speeding aircraft, and in a moment of clarity we’re going to wonder what we thought we were going to change by telling people who they should cast in their movies or what creators were too problematic to enjoy. Art is a reflection of life, but we seem to think we can improve the former by altering the latter. That’s really not the way it works. You change life and art naturally follows suit. Doing it the other way is just window dressing. The store’s going out of business, but hey, look at this lovely display!

  16. Nabroleon dynamite

    November 14th, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Castle Freak is a straight up classic on par with the best horror in history IMO. Top 50 material easily.

    As for HP Lovecraft’s racism down to his pet cat “Nigger” (guess what color the cat’s fur was?) The Chapo Trap House podcast did an excellent breakdown of his life about a month ago.

    His stories are classic and as long as you do to his books what Kubrick did to The Shining there should be no problem converting them into cinema.

  17. @Mr. Majestyk – you’ve hit the nail on the head and it’s part of what bothers me about this modern culture, people act like film and TV is as important as real life and seem to sometimes ignore real issues in favor of symbolic victories.

  18. Hey, just in case things were going too swell for you and you needed a swift kick in the dick to bring you back down to earth, Stuart Gordon died. I’m putting this here because RE-ANIMATOR will get all the attention but CASTLE FREAK needs love, too.

    I have a shelf dedicated just to the classic Masters of Horror: Carpenter, Craven, Hooper, Romero, Cronenberg, Gordon, Cohen. Just a few years ago, they were all still with us. Now it’s only Carpenter and Cronenberg left standing.

  19. Yeah, that’s awful news. He was one of the most interesting horror icons out there, simply because of the variety in his output. He did ooey gooey splatter movies, psychological dramas, a SciFi prison break movie, he even wrote HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS! That guy really didn’t give a shit in the best possible way. I even heard that the main reason why he didn’t direct FAUST, despite it being a dream project of his, was that he wanted it to be really close to the comics, which meant scenes of hardcore tentacle porn, which of course scared off possible actors and financers.

  20. Damn, RIP Stuart Gordon. The man was a true artistic hero, not only in the movies but onstage as well. He once directed a stage version of PETER PAN that was so politically controversial it got him and his wife *arrested on obscenity charges*. He had what I kind of imagine to be the ideal career- doing amazing weird theater shit and stumbling into getting to do awesome weird movie shit too, but always having theater to fall back on.

  21. Well, that fucking sucks. Can someone turn the world dial off of Total Suckage, just for a couple of days?

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