Directed By: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jonathan Fuller
Tag line: "Hideous... hungry... and loose!"
Trivia: The castle used in the film is an actual Italian castle owned by the president of Full Moon Pictures, the distribution company
Having worked together on 1985’s Re-Animator, director Stuart Gordon and stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton reunited ten years later to make yet another H.P. Lovecraft-inspired film, Castle Freak (it was loosely based on Lovecraft’s short story “The Outsider”). But unlike their earlier effort, which also featured ample doses of comedy, 1995’s Castle Freak was a deadly serious affair.
Shortly after the death of the Duchess D’Orsino (Helen Stirling), her closest living relative, American John Reilly (Combs), travels to Italy with his wife Susan (Crampton) and daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) to take possession of the family castle. In addition to checking out his new property, John hopes this getaway will bring him and Susan closer together. The trouble between the two started a few years earlier, when John, who was drunk at the time, got into a serious car accident, leaving Rebecca completely blind and killing the couple’s 5-year-old son J.J (Alessandro Sebastian Satta). Though John has repeatedly apologized for the incident, Barbarais unable to forgive him, and insists that they sleep in separate rooms.
The next morning, John, who wants to sell the castle and all its belongings, begins taking inventory of the place, but what he doesn’t know is that he and his family aren’t alone there. For years, the Duchess kept a deformed man (Jonathan Fuller) chained in the basement, whipping him regularly and feeding him next to nothing. Rebecca (while searching for the Duchess’s elusive cat) is the first to hear this stranger, though her parents contend she imagined the noise. It won’t be long, however, before this stranger makes his presence known to everyone.
Produced by Full Moon Pictures, Castle Freak has quite a bit going for it, from Stuart Gordon’s dynamic direction (a pre-title sequence, which shows us how the Duchess died, is especially stylish) to the performances delivered by its talented cast (Combs and Crampton do a fine job as the husband and wife dealing with heartbreak, while Jonathan Fuller, hidden under layers of make-up, is imposing as the title character). The setting is also effective (the movie was shot in an actual Italian castle), as are the film’s various scare scenes, which range from intensely creepy (shortly after escaping from the basement, the deformed man makes his way to Rebecca’s room, watching her as she sleeps) to gory as hell (The sequence where a prostitute played by Raffaella Offidani becomes the “freak’s” prisoner is particularly gruesome).
Relating a very dark story (as mentioned above, there’s no comedy whatsoever in this film) and doing so exceptionally well, Castle Freak is, without a doubt, one of the best Full Moon-produced horror flicks I’ve ever seen.