Winner of the Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Direct to Video Feature in 1995, Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak is about the Reilly family’s decent into darkness after inheriting a 12th Century castle (and you’ll never believe what’s in there!). The Reilly’s are having their share of domestic issues. Nine months ago John Reilly got into a drunken car crash which killed his young son JJ and, and left his daughter Rebecca blind. John’s wife, Susan, is trying to forgive him for it, but it’s not going well. All of this is complicated by the starving, mauled outsider locked in the bottom of the castle breaking free.
The two leads are played by Barbara Crampton and Jeffery Combs, who reunite with director Stuart Gordon and writer Dennis Paoli. This is the super team that brought us Re-Animator and From Beyond. Both of those films were based on Lovecraft stories. Castle Freak, however, is only inspired by Lovecraft story The Outsider. There is no supernatural element and Castle Freak also lacks the sexuality and humor that were in previous collaborations with Gordon and Co. I appreciate them trying to make a straight up, nasty, horror flick. However, without the more outlandish elements, the melodrama between Crampton and Combs comes across as a bad soap opera. Jessica Dollarhide as their teen daughter Rebecca, doesn’t really help matters much. This is Jessica’s first film after having a few bit parts on Major Dad, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, and In Living Color. It is also her last work as an actress. She tries, but she tries too hard.
Thankfully, the Castle Freak gets loose pretty quickly. Under the prosthesis of the character is actor Johnathan Fuller (who was also in Gordon’s adaptation of The Pit and The Pendulum, and would later star as the titular villain in the Full Moon flick Arcade). Due to the lack of the character’s ability to speak, Fuller has to use body language to convey to tell his story. Having spent his life chained to a wall and being beaten beyond recognition by the castle’s deceased owner, the freak is finding his way out in the world for the first time. It doesn’t go well. The makeup effects by Optic Nerve Studios highlight his beaten and malnourished frame. This gives him ghastly and iconic look that I appreciated. He’s a really tragic character, and the most sympathetic in the whole movie, even if he does bite off a prostitutes boob at one point.
All in all, Castle Freak is somewhat of a diamond in the rough when it comes to mid-90’s horror flicks. It’s not the best Stuart Gordon flick, but it is one of the best Full Moon movies, and probably one of the last good ones that company released before it quit trying to do anything but appease Charles Band’s obsession with killer toys.
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