Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #550
Number of Views: One
Release Date: November 14, 1995
Sub-Genre: Monster Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Stuart Gordon
Producers: Albert Band, Charles Band, Maurizio Maggi
Screenplay: Dennis Paoli
Story: Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli
Based on The Outsider by H. P. Lovecraft
Special Effects: Everett Burrell, Hiroshi Katagiri
Cinematography: Mario Vulpiani
Score: Richard Band
Editing: Bert Glatstein
Studio: Full Moon Enterprises, Full Moon Entertainment
Distributor: Full Moon Entertainment
Stars: Barbara Crampton, Jessica Dollarhide, Jonathan Fuller, Jeffrey Combs, Massimo Sarchielli, Elisabeth Kaza, Luca Zingaretti, Helen Stirling, Alessandro Sebastian Satta, Raffaella Offidani, Marco Stefanelli, Tunny Piras, Rolando Cortegiani
Suggested Audio Candy
Korn “Freak on A Leash”
Stuart Gordon could take a loose dump in my morning oatmeal and I’d still likely lick the bowl clean and request seconds. Actually that may be a bowel movement too far; but I’d gladly let him urinate in my footspa. The visionary filmmaker has supplied my pleasure nodes with numerous jolts over the years and it all began back in 1985 with his career-making splatter classic Re-Animator. Barely a year passed before he unleashed the similarly batty From Beyond and consolidated his claim as one of horror’s finest statesmen. Whilst subsequent works didn’t quite rocket him to the major leagues as projected, Dagon was a fine film and his excellent 2005 psychological thriller Edmond proved that he still has all the tools at his disposal to fondle around in our head space for his own sick amusement.
He has never made secret his admiration for the work of literary genius H.P. Lovecraft and has revisited the master’s short stories on occasions too numerous to mention. Castle Freak sees him dip once again into Lovecraft’s extensive vaults and is loosely based on The Outsider. It marks the reassembly of Gordon regulars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in its leading roles and these casting choices alone pretty much act as an assurance of quality before the camera even starts rolling. Never one of his more documented works, this arrived smack bang in the mid-nineties when horror was a cuss word and output was generally pretty insipid. John Carpenter’s Village of The Damned, Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler and Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn did little to spark a turnabout in fortunes and things were looking decidedly grim on the fear front with the new millennium beginning to loom large.
For Castle Freak, Combs and Crampton play estranged married couple John and Susan Reilly. Struggling to come to terms with the tragic accident that led to the death of their youngest child J.J. and left their teenage daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) permanently blinded, Susan holds her husband in utter contempt for being drunk behind the wheel when tragedy struck and can barely look at him without seeing red. Naturally, he too is devastated by his actions and has since entered into total sobriety in a last-ditch attempt at making amends but it appears too little, way too late to save their compromised nuptials.
After such a run of horrendous fortune, it would appear that the Reilly clan have been thrown a bone as they inherit a 12th-century castle in Italy that once belonged to a distant relative who so happened to be a well-to-do duchess. A fresh start perhaps? Not likely, Susan insists on separate sleeping quarters and it looks like rigorous masturbation is all that John has left to look forward to as he certainly isn’t getting inside her nightdress any time soon. However, the dearth of sexual activity is the last of his concerns as it appears as though they may have inherited more than simply bricks and mortar.
Somewhere tucked away in the lower levels, a foul creature lurks. Giorgio Orsino (Jonathan Fuller) has every right to feel aggrieved that the castle wasn’t signed over to him, given that he is the son of the duchess and therefore next of kin. However, he was never really the apple of her eye and, instead, little more than her whipping boy. Sickened by his deformed appearance, she flogged him with a cat o’ nine tails as his daily penance for being such a despicable eyesore and not another soul is aware of his existence. Bound in medieval manacles in the basement with nothing other than passing rodents for company, any vague trace of humanity has all but vanquished and he’s growing increasingly restless at being cast aside.
It isn’t long before the bumps in the night convene and while John is convinced that his son’s spirit is trapped within the castle’s walls and calling out to him, Susan dismisses this out-of-hand and his delusional outbursts supply her with yet another reason to detest his very bones. While the pair bicker incessantly and the divide between them deepens, Rebecca decides to do some exploring and, after taking a tumble into the castle’s lower levels in pursuit of her wayward kitty, finds herself right outside the beast’s lair. Giorgio is thrilled that she has delivered a feline for the feasting and duly polishes off the moggy but picks up on her menstrual trail and decides the time has come to free himself from his cruel shackles. This involves removing his own thumb in order to wriggle free of his cuffs but, considering he yanked off his own genitals some time ago, a single discarded digit seems like scant down payment for precious freedom.
Meanwhile, all this ill-feeling is playing havoc with John’s sobriety and, after one insult too many, he stomps off to the nearby tavern and hits the bottle once more. There’s nothing quite like vintage scotch to impair one’s judgement and, a few brisk shorts later, he finds much-needed comfort in the arms of local strumpet Sylvana (Raffaella Offidani) and leads her back to the castle for a damn good pounding. Drunk as a skunk in a funk, he dunks his junk in her sunken trunk, shoots his spunk like an under-sexed monk and, the very moment his sailors have walked the plank, passes out into an alcohol-induced overnight coma, leaving the poor girl to fend off Giorgio’s dubious advances. Punk!
Needless to say it doesn’t end well and, upon waking with a tremendous hangover and lashings of guilt, he finds himself the prime suspect in a missing person inquiry and accused of foul play by no-nonsense cop Forte (Luca Zingaretti). Surely things can’t get any worse for John? His wife loathes him even more since he returned to the bottle and shafted a prostitute right beneath her nose, one of his children is dead and the other blind on account of his reckless behavior, he’s public enemy numero uno with police, and an unhinged Neanderthal is prowling about the castle grounds in search of fresh meat for the tenderizing. Perhaps a bout of hepatitis would round off his misery?
Castle Freak is a slow burner and banks on fine performances from both Combs and Crampton (perhaps career best) to keep us invested through any lulls in the narrative. That’s not a criticism as it is simply the nature of the beast and Gordon adds more than enough flavor to his dish to keep us pinned firmly in place throughout its 95 minute duration. Mario Vulpiani’s cinematography makes the very most of the Gothic setting and any shadowy recesses that it provides, while the freak of the title acts as something of a metaphor for the wedge driven between John and Susan’s once happy union. Most crucially, it charts a broken man’s quest for absolution and the conclusion is both fitting and realistic as opposed to overly optimistic and contrived. It’s not for everyone but fans of Gordon’s unique brand of storytelling will gobble this up like Giorgio at supper time. It turns out that some freaks are perhaps best left on the leash.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Two things are a given with any Gordon feature – grue and nudity. Castle Freak supplies a fair share of both but never pushes the envelope with either. Watching Giorgio gnaw off his own thumb is enough to have us sporting mittens for the foreseeable and his dining habits leave a lot to be desired. However, the true beauty lies in his gloriously grotesque make-up and a festering face even a mother can’t love.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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