Although the mid-90s weren’t exactly the best time for horror cinema they weren’t devoid of gems either, as made evident by films like In The Mouth Of Madness and, yes, Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak also. Very loosely based off of H. P. Lovecraft’s grim, somewhat existential tale The Outsider, Castle Freak revolves itself around a family occupying a European castle that they recently inherited and, as you could imagine, things aren’t quite what they seem. On the surface Castle Freak almost sounds like it’s going to be a more traditional haunted castle flick but such expectations won’t last long as the film reveals itself throughout its duration. Castle Freak could very easily have become a rather claustrophobic film taking place only between the walls of the castle but Gordon goes for a bit more of an unorthodox approach that actually ends up adding more to the castle’s hellish atmosphere due to the outside world taking little to no interest in it until things begin to spiral out of control. I found the aforementioned to be rather effective and I think the film is better off because of it.
The “castle freak” itself is quite a thing to behold, being perhaps one of the most repulsive adversaries I’ve seen in all of horror – indeed, this is one ugly critter! The full-body make-up job is fantastic and the various little details that build the creature’s being are certainly worth the viewer’s attention. Despite the fact that the opening sequences of the film attempt to create somewhat of an empathic case for the castle freak the viewer will quickly begin to abhor the creature as it cannibalizes its somewhat limited number of victims with putrid glee. The acting of both Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton (two Stuart Gordon regulars) is excellent and the supporting cast’s performances aren’t too shabby either. The castle itself, while not as impressive as something you’d see in one of Corman’s Poe adaptations, is still admirable in its own right. Unfortunately the castle is at its eerie, majestic best during the first sequence of the film, never quite reaching that same level of malevolence again. Did I mention that there’s a nice abundance of well-crafted gore throughout Castle Freak as well? Yup, you’ve got it, there sure is.
Stuart Gordon will always be remembered first and foremost for Re-Animator, this much is most certainly true, but his body of work includes a number of delightful, Lovecraft-inspired horror pieces that are all gems in their own right, deserving of a place in any horror connoisseur’s collection, no doubt. Castle Freak will probably never go beyond the “cult classic” tag (if its even got that) but horror fans know a film’s reputation isn’t nearly as important as the film itself so consider picking up Castle Freak the next time you’re on the hunt for some new flicks, you won’t be disappointed! Recommended.