Wednesday, May 30, 2007
#12: Castle Freak (Stuart Gordon, 1995)
Director Stuart Gordon, stuck with a much lower budget than he desired and a shitty distribution deal that sent "Castle Freak" straight to video, had to take plenty of consolation in the fact that his film's producer owned a castle. Seriously, a guy who produces straight-to-video schlock owns an enormous castle in Italy, and this movie was shot there. God, how did I end up with my life? You never hear anybody say, "He paid for that castle with proofreading money." (Full disclosure: I've never heard anybody say anything about buying a castle, pro or con.) So, what this movie lacks in funds, it makes up for in atmosphere--castle atmosphere.
"Castle Freak," loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, is about a man-beast held captive in a castle's dungeon by an elderly woman, for reasons we discover near the film's end. She regularly beats him and lets her cat lick his food and has apparently removed his tongue and penis. The old lady croaks, and her American nephew, as the next-of-kin, inherits the castle. Little does he know he has also inherited the Castle Freak! The nephew has a sordid little past of his own. A recovering alcoholic, he smashed his car into a tree a few years previously while drunk, killing his young son and blinding his teenage daughter. His wife hasn't forgiven him, and he's dangerously close to a relapse. Complicating these matters, the castle freak escapes and terrorizes the family.
As you may have guessed by my plot synopsis, there's not a lot of humor in the film, which is unusual for Stuart Gordon. The two other Gordon films I've seen, "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond," nicely combine comedy, gore, and Lovecraft, but "Castle Freak" plays it straight, mixing classic horror themes and dysfunctional family drama. It works pretty well, and "Re-Animator" veterans Jeffrey Combs, as the nephew, and Barbara Crampton, as his wife, are surprisingly strong dramatic actors. Still, the melodrama is a lot more cliched than Gordon's inventive sense of humor, and I missed the jokes.
Another caveat is an unnecessary violent rape scene. I'm hardly a prude, but I'm not a big fan of violent sexual imagery, particularly in horror films, and this particular scene made me feel dirty and uncomfortable, and not the good kind of dirty and uncomfortable.
Now that I've scared you away from the film, let me tell you what I like about it. First of all, the castle freak himself is a great movie monster. Jonathan Fuller plays him with an intense physicality, combining the man-child qualities of Frankenstein's monster with a wounded, predatory wild animal. He's genuinely scary. The castle's lived-in authenticity keeps the film from looking cheap. The plot isn't belabored like it would have been if filmed Hollywood-style. Jeffrey Combs does a good job playing a drunk.
I'm pretty easy on horror movies, but, despite some problems with "Castle Freak," I think it's a good one.
He's a castle freak
He's castle freaky