31 Screams in October, Vol. 4, #30: Castle Freak (1995)

Posted: October 31, 2018 in Movie Review

30. Castle Freak (1995)

Director: Stuart Gordon

Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jonathan Fuller, Jessica Dollarhide

Back in the days when the television network Syfy was still known as the Sci-Fi Channel, before its lineup was burdened by reality series and crappy shark movies, this was often a channel I liked to switch to late at night. Often I would discover some off-the-wall movie that would intrigue me enough to stay up to finish it. One such movie featured a truly horrifying creature terrorizing a blind girl. Because this was a time before one could just press a button on your remote to learn the title of the program you were watching, I never found out the name of the movie. I’d almost forgotten about it until earlier this year when 1995’s “Castle Freak” came up on a list of horror movies ‘you have to see!’

John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs) travels to Italy with his wife Susan (Barbara Crampton) and daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide) when he learns he’s the inheritor of a castle. John is a recovering alcoholic, and his marriage to Susan is nearing its end due to her inability to forgive him for a drunk-driving incident which resulted in the death of their son and Rebecca becoming blind. What no one seems to have been aware of is that the Duchess who until recently was the castle’s owner had locked away her son, Giorgio (Jonathan Fuller), down in the dungeons and had spent the last several years torturing him.

As the Reillys are settling in, Giorgio frees himself of his bonds by chewing off his thumb. Though Rebecca cannot see Giorgio she can clearly hear him moving around her bedroom. It takes a while for anyone else to recognize that something is amiss, even after the cat goes missing. It’s only after people start to go missing that the police start to take the matter seriously. After being rejected by Susan, John suffers a relapse and gets absolutely shitfaced in a bar, where he meets a prostitute whom he brings back to the castle. Giorgio kills the prostitute after John backs out of sex with her and leaves her alone. Naturally, he becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance/death.

John is just about to piece everything together (including the fact that he and Giorgio are brothers) when the cops take him into their custody. Susan and Rebecca aren’t allowed to leave the castle because the cops still have questions. The cops get picked off one by one, and then Giorgio knocks Susan unconscious and takes Rebecca down to the dungeon. This marks the start of the section of the film which I had seen previously, and it turned out to be an even smaller portion than I had remembered. As you might expect, the finale involves John figuring out how to get out of the police station and back to the castle to save his family from his brother.

For a cheap 1990s direct-to-video release, “Castle Freak” is actually pretty good. I can point to two very clear reasons why. The first is the impressive full body cast used to transform actor Jonathan Fuller into the monstrous Giorgio. A large part of the reason why I’ve posted the VHS cover instead of the DVD cover is because the latter spoils what the monster looks like, something the movie waits to reveal until very late. The second is actor Jeffrey Combs. He’s just amazing to watch in whatever he’s in. I first saw him in guest appearances on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” but have since checked out the majority of his horror credits, especially those like “Castle Freak” in which he collaborates with director Stuart Gordon.

I’ll freely admit that nostalgia also plays a role in how I feel about “Castle Freak.” True, I hadn’t seen the whole movie until just recently, but it still harkens back to an earlier time in my life, and that’s never a bad thing. I can fully understand others not placing the same value in the movie as I do. As to those who’ll seek out and watch “Castle Freak” for what it is and not for what memories it can conjure, there’s definitely more substance to this one than the usual made-for-video fare, and I’d recommend it on that basis.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Sounds intriguing!

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