Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Film Review: CASTLE FREAK (1995, Stuart Gordon)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jeffrey Combs, Jonathan Fuller, Barbara Crampton (all three of them Gordon alumni).
Tag-lines: "Hideous... hungry... and loose!," which, I gotta say- though it is somewhat inappropriate- it's so ridiculous that I have no choice but to love it.
Best one-liner: Not really, actually.

Using the short story "The Outsider" as a point of departure, Stuart Gordon crafts one of the more successful H.P. Lovecraft adaptations and a micro-masterpiece of what I call "Melancholy Horror." Like a somber version of PHENOMENA meets DON'T LOOK NOW with a sprinkling of THE SHINING, CASTLE FREAK is a work that completely transcends its dime store origins. (It was a Full Moon release- the illustrious company that gave us such classics as CRYPTZ, EVIL BONG II: KING BONG, and DEMONICUS.) The always-entertaining Jeffrey Combs is our American hero who has inherited an Italian castle which may or may not contain a feral half-brother man-child that is the product of years of child abuse, isolation, and imprisonment.

Combs builds a complex Lovecraftian hero, tortured by his own past and tormented by genealogical forces. Using the darkly depressing backstory (involving alcoholism, a blinding, and the death of his son), Combs derives frustration and real emotional weight, which in a Gordon film of this era (pre-EDMOND and STUCK) is almost unthinkable.

I found myself chuckling a little whenever we see Combs in drunk mode, but I wasn't laughing because he's bad- I was laughing because he's so good!

Everything involving the freak (Jonathan Fuller) is well done (the makeup, the uncanny movement, the tortured cries, etc.), but, as always, when the monster is decent, the a-hole distributors have plastered its mug all over the posters and promotional materials, thus ruining the ominous dread of the initial reveal (which was the big zinger in the original story). I'm all for a sweet poster, but can we not blow the movie's load on it? (For this review, I was able to find 1 poster which didn't completely show the creature.) Anyway, the freak gets loose and its warped attempts at human behavior are briefly humorous, then horrific, and ultimately depressing. There's plenty of depraved gore and a few thrills, but in the end, CASTLE FREAK is a chamber piece of baneful despair that I think even that ole’ crab Lovecraft himself would have gotten a kick out of.

-Sean Gill

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