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John’s Horror Corner: Castle Freak (1995), mean and mildly exploitative, but still a Stuart Gordon favorite for Lovecraft fans.

February 28, 2021

MY CALL: Starting weak and finishing strong, much of the movie we’re just waiting for something to happen. But patience is rewarded for the third act of this movie, which becomes much more gross, morally risqué and gory than we expected. Ultimately, a very satisfying Lovecraftian flick, even if well below the ranks of Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986) or The Resurrected (1991). MORE MOVIES LIKE Castle Freak: If this level of gore completes you, I’d recommend any of Brian Yuzna’s other gory fair (e.g., Society, Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Faust, Return of the Living Dead III) or the work of Stuart Gordon (e.g., Dolls, Dagon, Re-Animator). Also please strongly consider Color Out of Space (2019) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994) to be top priority recommendations if you’re a fan of Lovecraftian films.

MORE LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR MOVIES:  For more Lovecraftian adaptations, try Screamers (1979; aka Island of the Fishmen, Something Waits in the Dark and L’isola degli uomini pesce), Re-Animator (1985), Bride of Re-Animator (1990), Beyond Re-Animator (2003), From Beyond (1986), The Unnamable (1988), The Unnamable 2: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1992), The Resurrected (1991), Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), Lurking Fear (1994), Dagon (2001), Dreams in the Witch-House (2005), Color Out of Space (2019) and The Dunwich Horror (1970). And although not specifically of Lovecraftian origins, his influence is most palpable in Prince of Darkness (1987), In the Mouth of Madness (1994), The Mist (2007), The Void (2016), The Shrine (2010), Baskin (2015), Cold Skin (2017) and The Beach House (2019)—most of which are on the more gruesome side to varying degrees.

Very much out of their American element, John (Jeffrey Combs; Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Re-Animator, Would You RatherThe FrightenersLurking Fear, From BeyondCellar Dweller) and Susan Reilly (Barbara Crampton; Re-Animator, From Beyond, Beyond the GatesYou’re NextLords of SalemChopping MallWe Are Still Here) move to Italy with their blind daughter (Jessica Dollarhide) after unexpectedly inheriting a castle. Facing both financial and marital issues, their aim is to sell the castle and leave as quickly as they can, which seems to suit the local castle staff just fine.

Awakening in the middle of the night to strange wailing sounds, they soon learn the castle has an awful past and may be haunted by the long-deceased heir to the estate Giorgio (Jonathan Fuller; The Pit and the Pendulum, Campfire Tales). Of course, we all know from the beginning that Giorgio is alive and, well… not “well.” Our castle freak’s escape from his manacles was visually quite memorable. Even more memorable is what he did to that poor woman who tended to him! His gaunt body protruding of ribs and joints, Giorgio discovers a fondness for the Reillys’ daughter.

Adapted from H. P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider, director and co-writer Stuart Gordon (Dolls, The Pit and the Pendulum, Dagon, King of the Ants, Re-Animator) and screenplay writer Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon, Meridian, Ghoulies II, Body Snatchers) are no strangers to Lovecraft and clearly pay no mind to the MPAA rating board. Taking its time cementing the story, this movie isn’t very eventful for most of its duration. The slow pacing does it no service in the first hour, not that I don’t enjoy seeing Combs and Crampton doing just about anything. But the final act wanders into the territory of monster rape and just plain mean sexual mutilation. Like most of Gordon’s work, it’s not for the faint. We witness flesh-ripping breast and crotch and face-biting delivering a lot of blood and rended tissue. Some of these gore gags were truly gruesome and effective. For much of the sexualized imagery, the third act toes the line of soft exploitation.

Also behind this somewhat classic were producer Charles Band (Prison, Dolls, Parasite, Meridian, From Beyond, Doctor Mordrid, Head of the Family) and music composer Richard Band (Parasite, Mutant, Ghoulies, Puppet Master, From Beyond, Re-Animator, Bride of Re-Animator). Essentially, this was made by a Lovecraftian filmmaking dream team.

So yeah, it’s slow-going for much of the movie. Very slow. Not that this is unusual for an 80s-90s era horror movie. At least, in the present case, the writing and acting were solid, and the castle sets were cool. But patience is rewarded for virtue of the third act of this movie, which becomes much more gross, morally risqué and gory than you may have expected. Ultimately, this was a very satisfying Lovecraftian flick, even if well below the ranks of Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986) or The Resurrected (1991).

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