At long last, Full Moon Features releases Castle Freak, my all-time favorite film in their catalog, to Blu-Ray and I get a chance to tell the Horrorview public about it. This is a Gothic monster potboiler that reminds me of why I started watching B-movies to begin with; reasons that admittedly sometimes elude me as I watch some of the low budget dreck whose individual DVD’s aren’t fit to use as a Mexican beer coaster. As the Dos Equis spokesman might say, “I don’t always need foreign castles haunted by fiendish creatures in my sexploitation roughies, but, when, I do they look a lot like CASTLE FREAK.”
Despite the hype and my own personal endorsement, the film’s premise is quite simple, with an emphasis on terror over horror, and characters you actually care about. John Reilly (Combs) is a man in need of redemption. After a drunk driving incident that led to the death of his own five-year-old son and the blinding of his teenage daughter, his marriage is colder, rockier, and every bit as unwelcome as the giant castle he soon inherits. But little do the Reillys know that someone is already living there; John's own deranged half-brother that spent the better part of his life being abused in a dungeon. Suffice it to say, this Reilly reunion will be a matter of family blood indeed.
The end product it is what I look for in a horror movie; a complete fusion of light and dark doing battle onscreen as good and evil incarnate. On one hand you have a desperate, damaged man who will give anything to prove to his estranged family that he is sincerely sorry for the tragedy he brought unto them, and, on the other hand, you have a deranged, naked beast that roams the hallways, tearing at the flesh of any woman he can find. The creature in this film is simply beautiful in his horrific realism, and the fact he is portrayed as a stark naked ghoul who chases his victims with his chains dragging and testicles dangling makes him a terrible thing to behold as he pursues his prey.
For the first time in many films, it seems, I have finally found a Full Moon Feature that knows how to captivate its audience as well as actually scare them. Not to say it isn't graphic – the scenes of this fiend feeding his animal lusts are more graphic and unsettling than anything seen in AMERICAN PSYCHO, and by that I mean this isn't your average bodice-ripper. The naked fiend not only tries to have sex with his female victims, in one scene it actually bites a prostitute’s nipples off which tells in deeply psychological Freudian symbolism how it must have felt about being tortured senselessly by its own mother for several decades as well as letting the viewer know he is playing by a completely different set of rules than any “Universal Monster” from a major studio.
I hesitate to use the word "masterpiece" when reviewing a forgotten classic from a B-movie company, but this one is deserves it. Compelling to the brain, but repulsive to the stomach, this is a throwback to yesteryear's PG-rated classic gothic horror antagonists such as those played by Karloff and Lugosi, only gone so rabid that it strains against the chains of today's unrated rating. Lovecraft would be delighted.
With Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton playing Mr. and Mrs. Reilly and making use of the exact same palpable sexual tension between them as when they co-starred in FROM BEYOND and THE EVIL CLERGYMAN, this film is realistic, raw, and unthinkable in its every depiction, whether it be the strained relationship between of young couple, the masterful “old-school” creature effects of the terrible monster, or the fast paced conclusion which will forever earn John Reilly his shot at redemption as he battles a family secret every bit as dangerous as his own personal demons.
This new version comes with a Castle “Speak” interview with Stuart Gordon, the original Videozone “Making of”, and a sit down with Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs ,and Barbara Crampton conducted by none other than William Shatner!
I am giving this release five skulls because this Blu-ray version has taken a film I couldn’t have liked more and made it a little prettier. Clarity is improved even in a film as dark and claustrophobic as this.
Castle Freak (Blu-ray) is released on April 30th. Special thanks to Full Moon for this advance copy