CASTLE FREAK

CASTLE FREAK

An elderly Duchess (Helen Stirling) negotiates the walls of her old castle one evening, making her way down to the cellar dungeon with her whip in hand. She opens the cell door and gives the creature inside it a serious hiding. This exerts her so much that she then retires to her bed and dies.

Enter John (Jeffrey Combs), who is driven to the castle by an over-zealous estate agent. John, along with his wife Sue (Barbara Crampton) and blind daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide), has inherited the castle.

The family move in, despite their reservations about the creepy housekeeper who seems to come with the castle. But almost immediately, we learn that this is not a happy family: deep guilt and resentment over past events are issues from the start Ö

All of those things must be set to one side though when strange things begin happening in their new home. For a start, the weather is constantly stormy on a night. Strange howling sounds and occasional whispers torment not only John but soon Sue too.

Even more disconcertingly, Rebecca senses that she is being visited by someone Ė or something Ė in her bedroom on an evening. Unfortunately this is something that not even the local cop believes.

The housekeeper eventually sits John down and tells him the tale of Giorgio (Jonathan Fuller), the Duchessí deformed child who was caged like an animal in the castleís dungeons. She suggests that the screams heard in the night are those of his ghost.

But could it be that the ghost is much more real, and alive, than John could imagine? Certainly when a prostitute he brings home winds up brutally slain, closely followed by the housekeeper, it would be convenient for John if Giorgio does indeed exist Ė especially as the police are trying to pin the murders on him Ö

Director Stuart Gordon co-wrote the screenplay with Dennis Paoli, while Charles Band acted as executive producer under the guise of his Full Moon Pictures banner. Whatís more, the whole thing is based on the HP Lovecraft story, "The Outsider": this is a very familiar set-up indeed Ö

CASTLE FREAK was shot on location in a genuine Italian castle (the same that was used for Gordonís earlier THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM). This wonderful, decaying building is put to good use by Gordonís cameras and quickly becomes the filmís greatest asset. It lends a sense of the Gothic to the otherwise sometimes hammy proceedings.

Speaking of which, readers surely know what to expect of Combs. Heís not as intense here as he was in RE-ANIMATOR, and definitely not comically over-the-top like he was in THE FRIGHTENERS Ė but that camp energy heís become renowned for is still very much in evidence. Thankfully heís tempered somewhat by the ever dependable, ever easy-on-the-eye Crampton. Sheís excellent as the grieving mother, tormented by her past.

The main things that distinguish CASTLE FREAK from Gordonís other works are its tone and its violence. There is much less humour here than in the directorís other films, a sobriety to proceedings lending a nastier edge to the already graphic violence. Itís little surprise that the film suffered censorial cuts upon its original UK video release. The FX (by the Optic Nerves team) are grisly, old-school and impressive.

If one thing can lift a Gordon film in spirit though, itís Richard Bandís score. Even that though is curiously discordant at times. Still, it canít help but bounce in a RE-ANIMATOR style at all other times Ė and is most welcome for doing so.

Well-shot, edited and lit, CASTLE FREAK is a great little film that thankfully eschews the comic elements of many Full Moon features in favour of some deliciously dark, Gothic horrors.

The disc from 88 Films presents CASTLE FREAK uncut in a healthy-looking 185:1 transfer which has been enhanced for 16x9 television sets. All the previously cut violence, most notably the tit-chomping scene, are restored. The framing of the film looks fine to me, although itís interesting to note that the Internet Movie Database lists the original aspect ratio as being 1.33:1 Ė and that, to my knowledge, is how itís always been shown domestically up until now.

The press release from 88 Films does however stress an "anamorphic widescreen picture in original 185:1 aspect ratio for the very first time". Perhaps the film was shot open matte with an intention towards screening theatrically, before sinking more-or-less straight onto video?

Although minor wear is evident and there is some softness throughout, the HD presentation is overall more than satisfying with far greater detail and depth than in previous home video releases. Colours and blacks are strong for the most part.

English audio is provided in a robust 2.0 stereo mix.

The animated main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to CASTLE FREAK by way of 24 chapters.

Of the limited bonus features on offer, a 9-minute featurette is the best. It takes a look at the shoot of the film in short promo-style, offering some canny behind-the-scenes footage along with slightly self-congratulating comments to camera from Gordon et al.

The filmís original 2-minute theatrical trailer is a nice addition, tossing in plenty of rousing score snippets and action to wet the audienceís palette.

Finally we have trailers for a slew of other 88 Films titles: SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA, PUPPET MASTER, THE DEAD WANT WOMEN, GINGERDEAD MAN 2: THE PASSION OF THE CRUST, TOURIST TRAP, KILLER EYE: HALLOWEEN HAUNT, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, SKULL HEADS, MERIDIAN and CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVOCADO JUNGLE OF DEATH.

Although the packaging was not available for review, the DVD also comes with nice double-sided, reversible cover artwork

CASTLE FREAK falls a tad short of being a classic of contemporary horror. Nor is an example of top tier Gordon (RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND take that honour, closely followed by STUCK). But it is certainly a worthwhile film, with lots of standout moments and atmosphere to spare. It ranks above the enjoyable THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM and KING OF THE ANTS in terms of Gordon goodness, and is a whole lot better than ROBOT JOX or FORTRESS.

88 Films give the film by far its best-looking DVD release to date.

Review by Stuart Willis


 
Released by 88 Films
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
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