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Castle Freak

Castle Freak

1995, Dir. Stuart Gordon

Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jonathan Fuller, Jessica Dollarhide



Picking up where my long-winded H.P. Lovecraft article left off, I decided to take a look at Stuart Gordon's Castle Freak. While not directly based on any Lovecraft story, the titular character Giorgio was inspired by the seminal tale "The Outsider". In "The Outsider", the main character ascends from the depths of an incredibly ancient castle to the surface, scares some revelers from a party only to encounter its own ghoulish visage in a mirror. Realizing its own different-ness, it contents itself to the life it knew before. In Castle Freak Giorgio has a similar encounter with a mirror. Then he tries to rape and kill everybody.

Castle Freak is closely identified with H.P. Lovecraft because of the presence of the "big three" of Lovecraft filmmaking: director Stuart Gordon and stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, all Reanimator alumni. It's theme of family secrets coming back to haunt is typical of Lovecraft, but the film surrounds this theme with an almost traditional horror set-up and Stuart Gordon's penchant for nasty scenes. The latter two elements work against each other, usually canceling each other out.

Yet another makeover for Marilyn Manson.

If you blinked through the opening credits, you might not even realize that this is a Full Moon flick. Not only are there no puppets, dolls, or little people running around, the flick actually makes several attempts at serious horror and sometimes succeeds. Some scenes even conjure up, dare I say it, emotion, largely because the performers are up to the task. Combs performs ably except for his kinda embarassing drunk scenes and Crampton puts her soap opera skills to good use. The characters portrayed aren't the deepest ever, but they do have motivations and conflicts; Giorgio easily being the most conflicted character in the whole movie.

My name ... is John ... Merrick ...

Giorgio's story goes like this. He was locked up when he was five years old. It's been roughly forty years now that he's been locked in a cell, whipped daily and fed scraps. He's basically feral by this point, horribly mutilated, and totally unable to speak. The filmmakers invested him with some childlike qualities which deepen the character but also raise questions. For example; the scene in which John chases Giorgio through the house. In a room full of sheet-covered furniture, Giorgio hides himself under a sheet and poses as a chair. On the one hand, since Giorgio has been locked up since he was five, he ostensibly still has a five year old mind and is merely playing hide-and-seek. But he's been locked up and whipped daily for 40-odd years. Even if he did have the childish impulse buried away in his subconcious, how resourceful could he be?

The infamous prostitute scene illustrates these conflicts as well. Giorgio, after watching John have some relations with a hooker in the wine cellar, captures the woman, brings her to his cell and mutilates her by emulating John's actions. Copying the behavior of older people is a recognized pattern of child behavior, but where is Giorgio's sex drive coming from? Let's stick with the five year old mind theory. I don't remember much about my five year old mind, but I don't think that my libido was burning up. Add to this that Giorgio has been castrated (shown in another patented Stuart Gordon "Shot We Really Didn't Need To See") and there's no real reason for him pawing at every woman in the cast. Dragging them to his cell and chaining them up is explainable, for that's the only kind of treatment Giorgio ever knew. The only action of Giorgio's that remains totally inexplicable is the flying leap he takes out of the window into the courtyard while pursuing Susan and Rebecca. Considering that his legs don't serve him very well to begin with, how he doesn't break both of them is a mystery. But whatever.

"Please, don't let me go on to do Star Trek!"

Castle Freak also contains a number of scenes that could be taken from any haunted house movie that work towards establishing a creepy mood. For example, the scene in which John hears Giorgio wailing at night and investigates, encountering the elderly servant who spins him a yarn about family intrigue and haunting. This scene backfires in that it exposes the film's inconsistency with acoustics. Giorgio's wails can be heard loud and clear, but his later screams go unnoticed. The final rooftop showdown between John and Giorgio echoes any number of similar scenes that have their genesis in the showdown between doctor and creature in Frankenstein. John parallels Dr. Frankenstein, a man who is fighting desperately for redemption. Giorgio is the monster who embodies his opponent's internal conflicts and demons. And of course there are the superfluously threatened women because filmmakers think audiences are idiots.

IN CLOSING: While Castle Freak is above average for a Full Moon flick, that doesn't make it good across the board. Everyone should find the prostitute scene to be in extreme bad taste, even Jeffrey Combs has gone on record as disliking that scene strongly. Those who are unprepared for Gordon's tendency towards such scenes will probably stop the tape right there. I think that the key to enjoying Castle Freak is in how you interpret the character of Giorgio. Acceptance of certain character traits eliminates several leaps in logic, and if you can get past that (and the prostitute scene) you should be able to enjoy this flick.

A review by someone who knows what they're doing: Cold Fusion Video