Castle Freak (1995)
By: Julian on August 26, 2010  | 
Big Sky Video | All Regions, NTSC | 4:3 | English DD 2.0 | 95 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jonathan Fuller, Jessica Dollarhide, Massimo Sarchielli
Screenplay: Dennis Paoli
Country: USA
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Castle Freak opens in a central Italian castle inhabited by an old crone who has locked up and mistreated her kid all of his life until he looks like a mummified slice of fried evil in need of some good dentures. When she drops dead, distant relative John (Jeffrey Combs) finds himself the proud new owner of the estate and he moves there with his wife Susan (Barbara Crampton) and his blind daughter Rebecca in an effort to patch up his failing marriage. John isn't all too proactive about this, mind you, and his undoing is accelerated when he brings home a hooker after a night on the turps, only to unwittingly provide his unknown housemate with a meal.

As a director, Stuart Gordon is an enigma: Re-Animator, Edmond and the director's Masters of Horror episodes Dreams in a Witch House and The Black Cat confirm him as a filmmaker who can brilliantly translate highly tense material to the screen. On the other hand, Castle Freak is completely inadequate as a Lovecraft paean, its aesthetic is Bava-lite and although Gordon does a typically decent job dealing with his material and subjects, his material is yet another sub-par screenplay and his subjects are yet another ensemble of strained actors. Combs has never looked more uncomfortable and the actress who plays John's blind daughter might find herself in the Pantheon of Horror Child Actors alongside the kids in House by the Cemetery and Burial Ground.

Castle Freak is loosely based on HP Lovecraft's 1926 short story The Outsider, and 'loosely' is the operative word. In their manual Horror: the Definitive Guide to the Cinema of Fear, James Marriott and Kim Newman identify Castle Freak as a lazy, inept adaptation, and they succinctly and amusingly consider Gordon to have made "a career of treating [Lovecraft] stories the way Herbert West treats corpses". Although I think that statement is unfairly dismissive of Gordon's obvious talent squandered in too many films, their assessment of Castle Freak is spot on, and the ham-fisted, plodding approach Dennis Paoli took with his screenplay is disappointing. The material could have been the basis for an atmospheric Gothic chiller – instead, Paoli hopes that one-dimensional characters can propel the insipid proceedings.

Castle Freak might be an adequate time-waster, but that's hardly a recommendation and this reviewer's dismay is augmented by Gordon's ardent inability to make an equally good feature-length horror follow-up to his 1985 horror classic. I'll reiterate that Gordon is not a bad director but, if you're watching trash like this, I won't blame you for thinking I'm wrong.
Big Sky Video's presentation is almost offensive in its lack of quality. The picture, a VHS port as far as I can see, is presented in a very soft and occasionally fuzzy 4:3 aspect ratio.
One English Dolby Digital 2.0 track that's as awful as the picture. Kudos must be extended to composer Richard Band, whose screechy Hermannesque violin score is professional effective. Richard, prolific horror director/producer Charles' brother, also scored Gordon's Dreams in a Witch House and a couple of other Masters of Horror episodes.
Extra Features
A 10-minute making of featurette and a trailer. The featurette just saves the disc from being a coaster, but it's of barely watchable AV quality.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
An appalling release of a shoddy film. In some cases, the sheer inferiority of the DVD presentation can damage an otherwise-competent film and I'll be curious to see if that's the case here. But it's hard to conceive that, when audio-visually cleaned up, Castle Freak's pacing will improve, its performances will be enhanced and the screenplay will be less bland. Below-average on all fronts.

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