Caution: minor plot spoilers (for this 20 year old movie) below.
It is October once again, and that means it is time for some Halloween Horror. In this iteration, we discuss one of three B-movie horror films that are oft-recommended on The Flop House podcast by Stuart Wellington. Castle Freak may not actually feature a man who rips his own ding-dong off (spoilers?), but that does not mean it isn’t a B-movie classic by B-movie master Stuart Gordon.
Writer-director Stuart Gordon is perhaps most well known as the director of the B-movie classic Re-Animator, his first feature film, or From Beyond. But Gordon also made a little direct-to-video movie entitled Castle Freak. This 1995 film involves a family who has inherited a castle. This castle, as the film’s title suggests, is already inhabited by a freak upon the family moving in.
Castle Freak is a splatter film that pulls out all the stops. Within the first 30 minutes, we are witness to a mutilated cat and a mutilated finger at the hands of the eponymous freak (Jonathan Fuller). Later, the freak attacks a prostitute (Raffaella Offidani), biting off her nipple and genitals as he mimes a sexual act he had seen previously. This is all handled with the cheap pasty gore that is commonplace in the splatter genre.
Surrounding the occasional outbursts of violence is a narrative about a broken family. More accurately, a broken husband and father. John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs, a frequent collaborator of Gordon’s) is living with the guilt and grief from the car crash that killed his son and blinded his daughter.
Like the relationship between the Overlook Hotel and Jack Torrance in The Shining, John finds himself slipping further away from sanity as he stays in the castle. He arrives at the hotel with an already strained relationship with his wife Susan (Barbara Crampton) and an overbearing one with his daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide). The presence of the freak in the castle acts more like an agent of psychological torture than physical torture as it pertains to John.
Throughout much of the film, John has no knowledge of the freak’s existence, but the freak’s actions break down the family in a way that sends John off the deep end. This leads to John’s relapse back into alcoholism and his interaction with the prostitute, a moment of weakness that only proves to worsen his situation. The freak, now acting out with overt violence, inadvertently causes John to be framed for two murders.
Instead of being a straight splatter film, Castle Freak infuses splatter tropes with an interesting tale of psychological torment. As loosely as it is all strung together, the characters have relationships to one another that are more complex than what is usually presented in the splatter subgenre.
While certainly no masterpiece, Castle Freak has all of the over-the-top fun of a splatter film with a narrative worthy of a more sophisticated film. And what Jeffrey Combs brings to his portrayal of the tragic family man is certainly better than what a direct-to-video movie normally boasts.
Castle Freak can be found on Amazon video here.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)