Castle Freak [Movie review by Zeb Carter]

Castle Freak90 min., 1995
Directed by Stuart Gordon
My rating: ***
IMDBNetflix

Free castle on a hill…seems legit.

* * *

Synopsis:

A man inherits a castle and moves his family in while the assets are liquidated. We find he has a half-brother there that has been tortured and freed upon the death of his mother (the castle’s previous owner and his sole torturer). He prowls the castle at night torturing his brother and wreaking havoc in the process.

Review:

I’m sure each and every one of us has one film that according to us is so great yet obscure that it merits “cult classic” status. Little movies like American
Werewolf in London
, A Clockwork Orange, They Live, and so on weren’t always the landmark films we know them as today. Castle Freak, in my opinion, should have gotten the recognition and praise that these other films got once they hit their peak and went mainstream.

First of all, let’s talk scenery. This wasn’t a set made to look like a castle; this was actually filmed in a castle. The authenticity of that, coupled with the lighting and additional props, some of which I’m certain had to have been original to the estate’s décor, help greatly with selling the story. Even if you take a closer look at their clothing options, none of the wardrobe stands out to make the film feel dated.

At some point (since this does require actors), you need to consider the performances. I realize the main cast members are the ones that have to carry the story so their performances are usually a director’s or producer’s primary focus. However the best directors, and by best I don’t mean the ones getting six figures to make a film whether it flops at the box office or not. I mean best in the sense of being so focused on all of the performances that the continuity is solid and the world they’ve built seems free of plot holes to fall in or trip over. Every person on screen does an excellent job of making their character known from the executor of the estate down to the last lazy cop to be murdered. The main cast’s performances were all top notch. If not Oscar worthy, they all at least deserve an Emmy. I ain’t talkin’ the cheap ass daytime Emmys neither.

I realize I’ve spent quite a few words here talking about the other aspects of the film while strategically avoiding the storyline itself, which isn’t my usual M.O. Not to worry ladies and gents, it’s not because there is some great flaw in the story. It’s honestly that there is so much content packed into the running time of this film, I could not do it justice if I tried to explain it all. I will however, give you all some of the highlights and try to give you some grasp of what’s happening here.

The story opens on an elderly woman cutting old meat and stale bread which you soon discover is the only meal that a badly scarred and malnourished man being held in a cell will likely be given. This is not before he receives a literal whipping with a cat o’ nine tails with additional wooden beads and metal pieces braided into its lashes. Once she is satisfied with the beating he has received, she drops his food, locks his cell and while having obvious chest pains, makes her way to her room and promptly dies. These two people are Giorgio, the emaciated man, and the Duchess D’Orsino. The story centers partly on them and her husband’s betrayal. Her husband, whom you don’t see as he is dead, ran off with her sister to America where they sire children of their own, one of which was John Reilly. The old woman’s treatment of Giorgio went unnoticed because the town’s inhabitants believed him to be dead since the age of 5. This obviously was not the case and her subsequent abuse was revenge for the disgrace and shame associated with her husband’s abandonment. With him being believed dead, while secretly locked away, Giorgio was skipped over as the next of kin, which is how John, played by Jeffrey Combs, inherits the D’Orsino castle.

John has a set of problems that followed him to the castle as well. His wife Susan, played by Barbara Crampton, wants nothing to do with him and shuns him at every turn with good reason. Some time ago, John had been drinking heavily and crashed his car with his 5 year old son JJ and his daughter in tow. While he walked away without a scratch, the crash resulted in his daughter being blinded and his son’s unfortunate death. While hoping this place would provide a new start, he relentlessly pursues his wife’s forgiveness and seeing as she won’t or can’t provide it, he struggles that much harder to keep his alcoholism in check.

Even though they only intend to stay in the castle long enough to liquidate their assets, John’s daughter Rebecca keeps hearing strange things. Her certainty that someone else is in the castle and Giorgio’s eventual escape from his cell confirm her fears even though she can’t see them. John senses a presence in the castle as well but is under the impression that is his son’s spirit trying to communicate with him. The lack of cooperation from the police in searching the massive estate, coupled with his wife’s constant dismissal and rebuffing of his affections cause John to seek refuge in a bar. After a night of drinking and debauchery with a local prostitute, he is questioned the next day by the officer who shares a child with said prostitute, all in front of his wife.

Giorgio continues stalking the grounds at night but after watching his brother’s sexual interlude, he attempts to pursue the same acts with the prostitute he now has captive despite lacking the equipment to do so. Her eventual death at his hands, as well as that of the female caretaker for the property draw down the police on John’s head harder than before since he is supposedly the only male occupant there suspected and capable of such heinous acts. Him, having found the mother’s whip earlier and following the clues he deduces that Giorgio must still be alive and in the castle, however they don’t quite buy it and they lock him up. It’s only after John’s removal from the place that Giorgio truly makes his presence known to Susan and Rebecca as well as the officers left behind that he slaughters.

Of course, the film comes to a head when the brothers have a Cain and Abel style showdown that brings this unfinished family business to a close. There’s so much by way of subtle spoken details, facial expressions, and the P.O.V. angles captured by the camera that add layers to this film I don’t have the time to explore or explain. For this particular film I have praised a lot of acting especially Barbara Crampton’s but there are some instances of overacting. Besides that, there are some geographical inconsistencies in the layout of the castle which is a minor thing but would be easier to settle on if the occupants of said castle weren’t being pursued by a killer. If you are willing to overlook those things, you’re almost certain to enjoy the film, however if you focus on those things, andare pursing the film solely for entertainment and a few good laughs it should hit the spot quite nicely. I will definitely say it’s worth triple the bargain basement price that I’m sure the DVD is going for these days. I hope this review adds a gem to your collection rather than whatever polished turd that Disney is pushing on the public this month. It’s been my pleasure to entertain you and until next time, may all your films bring fright.

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About Zeb Carter

About Blick Tolkien: The bastard half brother of Zeb Carter, he grew up in Chicago's urban jungle, forced to be the victim of racial injustice and daily bullying until the day he saw Night of the Living Dead. the immersion into violence on film gave him the tools to externalize his hate and make the world a horror show for all his enemies. A card carrying member of the Black Panther party, he hates whitey and all forms of coonery including any and all Tyler Perry films. You have been warned. About Zeb Carter: The younger brother of Blick Tolkien, he used horror films as a way to open him self up to the social and story telling aspects of cinematic fear as well as his love of the silver screen. After seeing Gremlins at the drive in he was hooked. He also writes short fiction, has 2 daughters and a pack of animals that he is currently serves as the alpha male over. You can read his fiction at forums.drabblecast.org.
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