Dir. Stuart Gordon (1995)
A man inherits a castle from his estranged aunt and brings his family along to prepare it to be sold. Unbeknownst to him, his half-brother is a deformed beast living in the basement.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Stuart Gordon, the acclaimed director of Re-Animator, From Beyond, and others, again collaborates with the stars of those movies (Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton) to bring to life another of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. All of those names in one sentence should tell you how amazing this movie is, but it has unfortunately languished in the Land of the Criminally Underseen for almost three decades now. Thankfully, Joe Bob Briggs and his Last Drive In has brought the movie to a new audience’s attention, and it is finally starting to receive the love it so rightly deserves.
Filmed at an actual castle in Italy (owned by Full Moon’s Charles Band, no less), the movie is filled with dark, gothic architecture, gory and disgusting death scenes, and a naked, disfigured monster. Jeffrey Combs is John, a man who has recently inherited a castle from his aunt and who happens to be a recovering alcoholic who was responsible for a car accident resulting in the death of his son and the blinding of his daughter. Crampton plays his wife Susan, who can’t help but hate him despite their years of marriage. As any fan of 80’s horror already knows, Combs and Crampton are absolutely outstanding in every role they were in, and this one is certainly no different. While they are excellent through the entire film, the scene in the crypt, where Susan fights with John about the death of their son and John’s responsibility for the accident, is heartbreaking and amazing. It feels almost out of place in what is essentially an A-list Full Moon film, but it is exactly the kind of quality that you can expect from anything helmed by Gordon.
The creature kills a couple folks throughout the film, including a prostitute who just serviced John, in one of the gnarlier death scenes in film history in which “eating her out” is taken completely literally. This results in John being wanted for her murder and a whole host of problems with the law, which leads to John learning the true nature of his family. The creature, who is just looking for love, then falls head over heels for the blind daughter, and even moreso when he realizes that he doesn’t have to hide his disfigured mug from her. He pulls off the makeshift bandages covering his face in one of the better reveals in horror history, revealing a mangled jaw on a snarling face. Crampton rescues the daughter shortly thereafter, initiating a wild chase through the dark castle as the freak is determined to get his bride. This leads to a Beauty and the Beast-esque ending, a rooftop fight scene with Jeffrey Combs that results in them both falling to their death on the courtyard below.
One of the things about this movie that is never given enough credit is the sound design, which is spectacular. The tapping of the blind daughter’s cane echoes on the castle walls, reverberating along the dark, gothic halls to set the mood and the loneliness of the locale. The great violin score ratchets up the tension with every swell in volume, normally a place where Full Moon films struggle. Not in this case, as it fits everything you see on screen perfectly, and really helps to tell the story that Gordon is directing.
Gordon does a wonderful job of relishing in the atmosphere that is created naturally by the castle’s locale, and the stellar acting just furthers his goal of creating a truly nightmarish film. It’s a haunted house movie where the haunts are real and terrifying, and Gordon leaves nothing to the imagination in exactly the ways it will fuck this family up. As much as some films are better by leaving things to the viewer’s imagination, this film is enthralling because Gordon reveals the monster from the very beginning, giving the viewer inside information to exactly what awaits the family beneath the cold castle floors. What he creates is perhaps Full Moon’s best film, and an all-time cult classic.
Who this movie is for: Cult classic cinema fans; Fans of disgusting Stuart Gordon goodness;
Bottom line: An excellent film that unfortunately has not received the respect it deserves. Stuart Gordon is one of horror’s premiere directors, and in Castle Freak he once again taps the considerable talent of Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. The scene in the crypt alone is worth the price of admission, and it’s a rare truly good film to come out of Full Moon. Highly recommended, check it out whenever you get the chance.