Castle Freak Review
The FilmViewed from a more adult perspective, the early films of Stuart Gordon are grossly shocking and a tad juvenile - horrors that play to the kids. After his initial breakthrough with Re-Animator, Gordon did try to venture outside of the genre that gave him fame. This is the man who co-wrote Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and the man who had less success with The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit or Space Truckers. Are these efforts recognition that his work needed to grow up a bit?
Gordon apparently returned to Charles Band to make Castle Freak after seeing the film's poster on Band's wall and then discovering no script existed for this planned project. Once Gordon had finished, the film maintained the link to Lovecraft's work that added to the popularity of his early films, and included familiar extreme body horror and transgressive sex, but all of this was couched dramatically in a much more grown-up story of a broken family lost in the company of a beast.
Also returned was the devilish Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, and Gordon's regular co-writer Dennis Paoli. Castle Freak was shot in Italy with the supporting cast drawn from the local population and including Inspector Montalbano himself, Luca Zingaretti. Using glorious Castle exteriors, the story dealt with the alcoholic Combs inheriting Italian riches whilst his alienated wife and his blind daughter accompanied him. Barely talking after a drink drive accident that killed two of their children, the marriage is a ruin even before their new home reveals its evil tenant.
Balancing psychodrama and gory goings on, Castle Freak examines the damage that parents do whilst keeping true to a basic monster story. The monster is revealed as one of the made variety and no little sympathy is built up before its depravity and misunderstanding causes terrible damage and threatens worse for Combs and his family, as the last act allows the lead to travel from douchebag dad to the accused to fighting father. As much as Combs is often winning caricature in genre films, here he delivers one of his best performances as a bad man coming good.
Extensively using POV shots and carefully atmospheric, the film is genuinely scary twisting the audience one way and another. Eschewing horror for horrors sake (the careless exploitation of From Beyond and Re-Animator), there is much more humanity and a grown up understanding of people that leads to a rather bittersweet ending where the sins of parents past are redeemed in the present. Castle Freak is a fine, mature horror film that you should seek out.
The DiscNow back in 1987, Charles Band produced and directed a film of three short stories. Pulse Pounders, that seemingly got lost in the demise of Empire pictures and this blu-ray includes one of those tales re-edited from a discovered vhs work print, The Evil Clergyman. Included here with Castle Freak as it was also shot in Italy, stars Crampton and Combs and was written by Paoli from a Lovecraft source. Also starring David Warner, the story is rather brilliant even if the visual quality is sadly weak and for me this makes the disc an essential purchase if you haven't had the US single disc release of said short.
Extra features are split into 480P features and newer 1080P pieces like the trailers for this film and The Pit and the Pendulum and Gordon contributes a short recent interview on Castle Freak in HD. There is the original VHS feature from the Videozone series showing the film being made, 90 seconds of the rediscovered second episode from Pulse Pounders, Trancers 1.5, and coverage from the premiere of The Evil Clergyman with Combs, Crampton and Band.
Castle Freak is presented here in 1.85:1 for the first time, with a transfer that has undergone restoration as well. The visual results barring marks on the print are frankly astonishing for those who have experienced some dark poorly detailed transfers in standard definition. Edge enhancement is very marginal with a very natural appearance for all of the action and excellent black levels and detail in shadow and out of it. This is a really strong transfer, and has been given two lossless audio tracks as well. First is an LPCM stereo track of the original audio for you purists out there, secondly a master audio mixed in 5.1 which offers plenty of grunt and atmosphere along with an intelligently created soundstage for those rears. It really added to the experience for me, losing me in the dungeons and the shocks.
Castle Freak appears to be an all region disc.
SummaryA terrific horror film gets a really lovely transfer and includes a superb lost extra.
8 out of 10
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