17th Jul2012

‘Castle Freak’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Jefffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jonathan Fuller, Jessica Dollarhide | Written and Directed by Stuart Gordon


I could argue that there is something subtly brilliant about Castle Freak, yes it’s got its faults and its level of sexual violence will put some off, but in other ways it’s the perfect horror film.  It knows its limits it sets up the backstory for the whole film in just a few scenes at the start and it’s unashamedly brutally violent, especially in its uncut form.

When Duchess D’Orsino dies of old age she leaves a secret in the basement, a secret that survives and lays in wait for the next owners of her home.  When John Reilly, his wife and blind daughter inherit the building it’s not long before the creature that has been hidden there is set free.  Working through a stressful marriage and tortured by the death of his son John soon finds himself under investigation for the murder.  What is (or who is) the secret the Duchess was hiding and will John be able to redeem himself not only for his past but for the recent deaths that seem to stalk before it’s too late for his family.

Castle Freak is by no means a big budget film, but what it does well is that it knows its limitations.  There are not many deaths, but when they occur they are violent, gory and are able to shock even though the film is now over fifteen years old.  The most surprising thing for me is the fact that the sexual violence is very graphic, this is something the BBFC are known to frown on, the fact that it is in though is important to the plot itself and for the understanding of the creature.  In fact I would say that the creature itself is very important to the plot.  It’s not just a monster that has no heart, it’s no Michael Myers or Freddy Kruger whose main aim is just to stalk and kill, and this creature has a past and to some extent manages to gain your pity.  Not much is given away about what actually happened to him but it’s the situation he has been put in that has made him the creature he is, not he himself.  He is in fact a victim of the tale, although this does not excuse the actions he takes.  It’s evident though where the blame for the events lie.

One reason the story works is the fact the Reilly family are likable, especially John.  He is another character in the story that is shaped by his past and haunted by it.  Jeffrey Combs plays the role perfectly, but this is something that he’s often good at.  We are used to seeing him as the crazed villain in this type of plot but it’s interesting in this to see him play the hero of the piece who must not only face his past but also find the strength within himself to fight for his family, he has many demons to fight before he comes to this point, and not just in his head.

By saying there is something brilliant about Castle Freak as a horror film is not actually saying that it’s perfect, but it does what it needs to and does it well.  The violence shown may not be for everybody, but then again if they you are not put off by the name of the film itself you have certain expectations anyway.  People looking for a high kill count will be surprised too; although as noted it is gory this is more about the story than just a chance to create a massacre and throw blood onto the screen.  The fact isStuart Gordon manages to take two stars from his Re-Animator film (Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton) and use their chemistry together creates a compact and intriguing story of a creature you may come to pity rather than revile, and who in the end may just be the catalyst to bring the family back together and give them the redemption they crave.

Castle Freak is available now courtesy of 88 Films.

Review originally appeared on PissedOffGeek.com

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