That's the story of my life
Yeah, doin' things wrong is my way of doin' things right
- George Thorogood
Did you ever see those cooking shows where they make food that looks like other food? Like when they create something that looks exactly like a hot dog but it's actually made from Twinkies. Or a pizza that's really a large cookie. Both things look delicious, I mean, who doesn't like hot dogs or pizza? But when you bite into them they're something different altogether. Still delicious but not what you expected.
Castle Freak is kinda like that.
Okay, let me explain. Castle Freak marks a reunion of sorts, with director Stuart Gordon once again teaming up with co-stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. This is the trio that gave us such cheesy classics as From Beyond and Re-Animator, so I gaily bounced into the movie expecting some nice gross-out silliness in the tradition of those two films. Boy was I wrong. Not disappointed mind you, just wrong.
In the beginning of Castle Freak, we see the "monster" chained in a basement and being whipped and flogged by an elderly woman who dies soon after, leaving the poor shrieking thing locked away. Cut to a family visiting the old Italian castle they inherited after the woman's death. The family consists of John Reilly, his beautiful but cold wife Susan and their blind, teen daughter Rebecca. At first, everything seems okay. But you know, the setting is a dark, gothic castle, the kind of 'horror movie' place where rampaging thunderstorms are a natural nightly occurrence, plus there's the chained-up monster in the basement to consider, so of course that 'okay' feeling doesn't last too long.
It's a great premise, so I bit into the movie thinking it was cheese, but it was something completely different altogether. The family isn't made up of people you want to see die. It's made up of people suffering their own personal demons while a sad, pathetic monster who doesn't know anything of the outside world stalks them around the castle. In fact, there's a long stretch in the middle that has nothing to do with the monster, it's more about the family's issues and how they're dealing with them and the actors sell it beautifully. Jeffrey Combs is great as a recovering alcoholic, Barbara Crampton is equally wonderful as his wife who blames him for killing their son and blinding their daughter. But special kudos have to be given to Jessica Dollarhide as the blind daughter. She's not only the most sympathetic member of the family, she also steals every scene she's in. It's a pity the actress didn't do more in her career as she's completely awesome in this.
But forget about them, let's talk monster!
The monster looks great for the most part. Jonathon Fuller, the poor actor who had to undergo the transformation is completely freakish as the suffering creature, and gives him a nice stilted hunch and walk. He looks like what most people would look like if they had been chained and beaten for 40 years. The only issue I had with him was I wasn't sure how I was supposed to feel about him. At first, the monster gets all your sympathy, after all he was beaten and chained, a virtual prisoner. But towards the end of the film, it looks like the filmmakers decided to throw out the sympathy card and just make him a full-fledged perv/killer. I mean, watching him bite the nipple off of a prostitute doesn't really make you feel sorry for him. Though, you will feel sorry for the prostitute. Trust me, if you haven't seen the movie before, you will definitely feel sorry for the prostitute as the torture doesn't just end there.
The end result is dark and haunting, not at all light or silly. It's like ordering cheese, but getting steak and being pleasantly surprised. So, if you're in the mood for something meatier, Castle Freak is totally worth a viewing.
Favorite Moments (may contain spoilers):
- Jeffrey Combs drunken attempt at small talk with an Italian prostitute who doesn't speak English.
- The monster chasing the mother and daughter through the dark castle after murdering the policemen who were protecting them.
- Combs' redemption at the end where he more than makes up for being a terrible Dad.
- Giorgio's (the monster) make-up took 6 hours to apply.
- Jessica Dollarhide spent a week at the Braille Institute to prepare for her role.
- Charles Band owns the Italian castle the movie was filmed in.
- The movie was released unrated direct-to-video, however an R-rated version of the film, with some of the gorier scenes cut out, is available.
Agree? Disagree? Or just have a random string of curse words you'd like to share? Comment!