|Castle Freak (1995)|
|Writers:||H.P. Lovecraft, Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli|
|Starring:||Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Jessica Dollarhide|
Full Moon productions knew exactly what they were doing when funding this project. Looking to capitalize on the cult popularity of Re-Animator, it seems as if they handed Stuart Gordon a very small budget and gave him carte blanche to do whatever he wished to do as long as he brought in the right cast. So what we end up with is a horror picture that wraps the audience up in a melodrama story about a family on the verge of collapse. While that certainly sounds uninteresting and more than a little self-serving on the part of the filmmakers as an attempt to stretch out of the confines of genre, this aspect of the movie never actually bothered me. I have to give both Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton credit as they deliver two very strong performances. They show a great deal of conviction as they delve into these roles which are surprisingly three dimensional. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the movie as it was a nice diversion from the average. Unfortunately for us the rest of the movie is rife with cliche content that might not overshadow the decent melodrama, but it adds a unsavory and bland atmosphere to the rest of the picture.
Full Moon titles always share that same “cheap” look in all of their films. Despite Stuart Gordon being at the helm, it doesn’t help the cheap look. The only thing that actually saves the movie from having the visual quality of something like Hideous or Head of the Family (also Full Moon titles, and admittedly campy fun) is the fantastic European location which offers some really nice architecture. There are moments throughout where the suspense really hangs on the location, sequences where Jeffrey Combs may slowly stumble down a corridor within this incredibly creepy castle helps paint the movie with a creepy bit of atmosphere. The location certainly saves the visual aesthetic of the movie, but ultimately there is little style or quirkiness to the photography. The majority of the movie relies on jump-scares and practical FX in order to bring about any horrific moments that may occasionally pop up. This normally wouldn’t be an issue, as I am of course a fan of Lucio Fulci (a man best known for these traits, to be sure) but the hodgepodge use of suspense, gothic set design and cheesy FX just didn’t seem to work for me here.
In terms of onscreen violence, Castle Freak does not disappoint! The prosthetic FX work for the most part is handled pretty well and there are a few nasty moments throughout. Breasts are bitten off, eyes are gouged out and there is one particularly brutal moment involving our castle “freak” ripping his own thumb off that really grinds its way into your mind. The freak himself, depending on the lighting, has a fairly convincing look to him. When the light hits his back just right however, you can see the wrinkles of his latex costume popping off of the actor’s flesh. It is barely noticeable however and is made up for in the fact that we see his castrated penis in up-close fashion on more than a few occasions and THAT is much more convincing… and horrifying.