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John’s Horror Corner: Castle Freak (2020), this remake is a worse film but packs more spectacular Lovecraftian elements and shocking effects.

March 10, 2021

MY CALL: It would be most fair to say that I enjoyed this movie more, the more I watched it. The first act was horrible to such degree that many would simply stop watching. By the third act, however, the film goes full-tilt shocking and sexualized Lovecraft bonkerstown! MORE MOVIES LIKE Castle Freak: Well… Castle Freak (1995)! If this level of gore completes you, I’d recommend kickin’ it old school with Brian Yuzna’s gory fair (e.g., Society, Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead) or the work of Stuart Gordon (e.g., Dolls, Dagon, Re-Animator).

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), Castle Freak (1995), 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 Last Winter (2006), The Mist (2007), Black Mountain Side (2014), The Void (2016), The Shrine (2010), Baskin (2015), Cold Skin (2017), The Beach House (2019) and Underwater (2020)—most of which are on the more gruesome side to varying degrees.

Adapted from H. P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider, this remake deviates from the 1995 movie’s Italian castle setting and instead takes us to Albania… which comes as no consequence to the story. Heir to her family’s castle, Rebecca Whately (Clair Catherine) and her boyfriend John (Jake Horowitz; The Vast of Night) arrive to Albania to sell the inheritance. Literally tragically blinded by her boyfriend’s reckless indulgence, Rebecca is denied laying eyes upon the sprawling keep with its elaborate stonework and John is just too basic or selfish to take the time to describe its wonders to her. He just wants to sell it fast and get the money.

Scenes of the castle’s recent past depict Lavinia Whately (Kika Magalhães), mother to Rebecca, tending to the Freak (also played by Kika Magalhães; The Eyes of My Mother), feeding and flagellating the creature, brutally self-flagellating with her barbed scourge, and even masturbating with the weapon. Looking upon Lavinia performing these actions, the Freak’s sexual depravity comes as no surprise.

At first I thought it was the acting. But it’s not really any fault of the cast that the writing is so weak as we are forced into one stale character introduction after another. I was almost angered at the phoned-in post-car crash scene to explain Rebecca’s blindness—a stillborn tweak upon the strained family trauma of the original. And equally dead-on-arrival are the other plot points (whether replayed or reimagined), which lumber along with all the smooth script transitions of 90s pornography. Making matters worse, the death scenes are nothing great either, but passably entertaining.

Where this film thrives, much like its source material, is in being gross and perverse. There is ample nudity complemented by some weird masturbation scenes; the incidence of monster rape; the Freak is appropriately disgusting; and there is even a Castle Freak sex scene (oh… and it is a sight). There are also some very shocking effects scenes towards the end that may or may not combine genitalia and monster tentacles. In fact, this film has a LOT of scenes and imagery regarding monstrous genitalia. So… maybe don’t watch this with your grandmother.

One significant change to the story that I really appreciate was the deeper dive into Lovecraft’s dark world. We see stone idols to Cthulhu, a student of the Miskatonic University, road signs for Dunwich, we explore the Necronomicon, and we revere the nigh forgotten Yog Sothoth and the Old Ones. These elements get little more than brief explanations in the dialogue in the first hour. But they are readily explored in the third act. Perhaps not dealt with in the detail or elegance I’d have preferred, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.

REMAKE/REIMAGINING SIDEBAR: For more horror remakes, I strongly favor the following: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986), The Mummy (1999), The Ring (2002), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Friday the 13th (2009), Let Me In (2010), Evil Dead (2013), Carrie (2013), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), It (2017), Suspiria (2018) and Child’s Play (2019). Those to avoid include Body Snatchers (1993; the second remake), War of the Worlds (2005), The Invasion (2007; the third remake), Prom Night (2008), Night of the Demons (2009), Sorority Row (2009), Patrick: Evil Awakens (2013), Poltergeist (2015), Martyrs (2015), Cabin Fever (2016), Unhinged (2017) and The Mummy (2017). I’m on the fence about An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), The Grudge (2004), Halloween (2007), It’s Alive (2009), My Bloody Valentine (2009), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Fright Night (2011), The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake), Maniac (2012), Rabid (2019) and Pet Sematary (2019), which range from bad to so-so (as remakes) but still are entertaining movies on their own.

Directing his first feature length horror film, special effects crewman Tate Steinsiek (Sharknado 2, Scare Package, Satanic Panic) boldly follows in Stuart Gordon’s (Dolls, Castle Freak, The Pit and the Pendulum, Dagon, King of the Ants, Re-Animator) footsteps. And while Castle Freak (1995) strikes me as a lesser Gordon film, his gruesome touches maintain it as a Lovecraftian cult favorite. This remake benefits from the expansion of Lovecraftian lore (even if wretchedly written), and Steinsiek’s vision for immoral and monstrous imagery.

It would be most fair to say that I enjoyed this movie more, the more I watched it. The first act was painfully boring and horrible to such degree that many would simply stop watching. The middle was sort of entertaining, but nothing special and hardly redeeming for the terrible writing we’ve been enduring so far. Transitioning into the third act, however, the film went into full-tilt sexualized Lovecraft bonkerstown! The last 30 minutes are very disgusting, but very entertaining as the Great Old Ones are conjured through… well… you’ll see. I found the ending well worth my tedious suffering earlier in the movie, and I’d advise Lovecraft fans to be patient for the depraved pay-off.

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