Stuart Gordon's Castle Freak is one of those sleeper films that sort of crawls below the radar. You've probably seen the box in the bargain bins countless times, maybe going so far as to adding it to your "potential" buy stack as you work your way around the store before tossing it on the Disney rack because you've just come across that copy of Blood Feast that's been alluding you for so long, I know that's my story, and now that I've actually had the pleasure of viewing Castle Freak, I realize I had been depriving myself of one of the better gothic horror films in a long while.
John and Susan Reilly (Gordon vets Combs and Crampton) are an estranged American couple who come to Italy with their blind daughter, Rebecca (Dollarhide), to liquidate the contents of John's deceased aunt's 12th century castle. John is a recovering alchoholic, who's drinking led to an accident in which Rebecca lost her vision, and the couple lost their young son. Susan, understandably, harbors great resentment towards her husband, thus the couple's decision to sell off the castle and it's contents as quickly as possible so that they can part ways, at least until John can prove that his drinking years are behind them. The family's stay is soon disrupted by more than infighting, however, when it becomes apparent that they are not alone in the castle, and the mysterious other occupant want's a family reunion, and then some.
Castle Freak is a familiar tale that draws inspiration from gothic horror films, haunted house classics, and literary legends like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but infuses them with the dramatic elements of a modern family's crisis of faith in each other, weaving a very poignant story from material that could have easily been standard monster fare. Combs is wonderful as John Reilly, delivering an understated and quiet performance as the tortured father, and Jonathan Fuller's Freak is at once horrific and sympathetic. His actions, however vile, are a direct result of the inhumane conditions in which he was raised, therefore he has no concept of good or bad, just necessity.
Gordon, of course, piles on liberal amounts of gore, sex, and nudity, as is his trademark,but it never detracts from the surprisingly moving story, Of course, Gordon's fan's expect these elements, and he doesn't disappoint.
What does disappoint, however, is Full Moon's dodgy treatment of this film on their DVD. The film is presented in a lackluster pan and scan print, which is rather shoddy treatment of one of the best films to come out of their stable. The transfer is fine, but a widescreen version would have been nice.
The "extras" are what one would come to expect from Full Moon, and basically consist of several trailers for other Full Moon films, as well as a catalog of toys and merchandise. The only film-related extra on this disc is a short and less than eye-opening behind the scenes feature called Videozone Video Magazines Making of Castle Freak (Say that after 4 shots of Tequila!!).
Castle Freak is a movie that I'd love to see find it's audience, and hopefully, get a better treatment the next time around, but for now, it's a no brainer for fans of Gordon, Combs, or just very nicely done gothic horror in general, and at less than $10 bucks it's high time you grab yourself that copy!!