Castle Freak

Castle Freak (1995)
Full Moon Pictures
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jessica Dollarhide

"Castle Freak" is the winner of the 1995 Fangoria Golden Chainsaw Award; after watching it on Full Moon’s latest DVD release, I have to admit, it’s deservedly so. Though the movie doesn’t exactly reinvent the genre, it’s refreshingly different in many aspects. It is a solid piece of horror movie, without too much overt gore or the usual genre platitudes. The movie feels surprisingly fresh, and you can tell Stuart Gordon has learned a lesson or two about film making ever since his grandiose "Re-Animator" debut. The movie also brings back "Re-Animator"’s Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton.

John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs), his wife Susan (Barbara Crampton), and their blind daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) travel to Italy to visit a castle they have inherited from some obscure relative. John wants to use the time to make up with his wife, who has hated him ever since a terrible, alcohol-induced car accident took their daughter’s eyesight and killed their young son.

While John is desperately trying to find love, their daughter senses a strange being around the castle, and soon enough bizarre things begin to happen. Investigating the castle, John dis- covers the crypt of a family member whose picture looks just like his own dead son, but before he can look further into the family history, his wife and child are attacked by a relentless, bloodthirsty creature – the castle freak. When mutilated bodies turn up in the castle, John becomes the main suspect and must discover who the creature is to prove his own innocence.

Jonathan Fuller’s portrayal of Giorgio, the castle freak, is absolutely worth seeing. He manages to make the character a believable, crippled creature, whose mental development stopped while he was still a child. Abused for over 40 years, captured and whipped like an animal, he turns out to be, in fact, a child — and yet a spark of infantile common sense is still glowing in his brain. He uses a white sheet to cover his disfigured features after seeing himself in the mirror for the first time, just as a child would use a Zorro cape, and at one point he’s playing hide and seek, using the cape to drape over himself for disguise.

Unfortunately, Jeffrey Combs’ character lacks this kind of depth, which becomes obvious especially at the end of the movie. Still, the characters are well drawn and portrayed overall.

Though the movie was shot almost entirely at producer Charles Band’s impressive castle in Northern Italy, the settings are never repetitive or boring. A multitude of camera angles show us different facets of the same place, while the effective lighting helps to build the suspense and create a plethora of emotions, depending on the requirements of the story at the time. Jonathan Fuller’s make-up as the movie’s scarred and deformed creature further adds to the atmosphere, as it is both well designed and presented in a convincing fashion — the torturous daily 8 hour full body make-up sessions paid off. It might also have helped that the castle supposedly hosts an actual ghost – the haunted atmosphere of the castle in the film certainly makes that believable.

"Castle Freak" comes on a single-sided disc in a <$PS,fullscreen> release, which is not surprising as the movie has been shot as a direct to video feature. The picture is rich in color with natural fleshtones, without any signs of bleeding, <$chroma,chroma noise>, or <$pixelation,pixelation>. The transfer is surprisingly clean but occasionally appears to be a little soft. The disc also contains an informative section about the making of the movie and its theatrical trailer.

Richard Band’s music score is very impressive in its sometimes-frightening minimalism and has been transferred well to the disc’s 2-channel <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack. Occasionally reminiscent of the work he did previously for "Re-Animator", the score has a totally different flavor than many other horror soundtracks, setting a frightening and chilling mood right from the start.

While the story is simply a supplement to drive the special effects vehicle in many horror movies, it is essentially the plot that drives "Castle Freak" and keeps you intrigued. It is a very coherent and logical story that is staged well, and it unfolds dramatically, which is extremely rare for movies of "Castle Freak’s" budget. Starting with a cryptic introductory scene of an old woman in an ominous castle who dies from a heart attack after whipping something in the castle’s dungeon with a heavy, iron-clad cat-o’-nine-tails, the movie pulls you in, even before the opening credits start rolling.