The original 1995 Castle Freak was arguably Stuart Gordon’s last great film. There’s pretty much no doubt that it was the last good film to come out of Full Moon Entertainment. A nasty, gritty little thriller, it slipped out straight to video and proceeded to build up a following. Now twenty-five years later Fangoria Films has given us a remake directed by effects man Tate Steinsiek (Scare Package, Satanic Panic) and written by Kathy Charles. But, even with one of the original’s stars, Barbara Crampton among the producers, can this match the original’s impact?
Castle Freak certainly gets off to a good start with a prologue involving self-flagellation, a first glimpse of the freak and a maggot-infested corpse. And a nice mid-title scene that evokes H.P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider, an obvious, if unacknowledged, influence on both films.
From there we move to the present day and one of those nightclubs that manage to have indoor bonfires and patrons openly doing coke without being shut down. Rebecca (Clair Catherine) finds her boyfriend John (Jake Horowitz, The Vast of Night) getting entirely too close to Shelly (Emily Sweet, Fear Pharm, Mount Adams). But they hang out and get trashed anyway before trying to drive home. They don’t make it, and Rebecca loses her sight in the crash.
Not long afterwards Rebecca finds out she was adopted and her birth mother (Kika Magalhães, The Eyes of My Mother) has left her a castle in Albania. The couple flies over to check it out, with their friends coming over to join them and help clean the place up.
So we have a couple with some serious relationship issues, family secrets, a spooky old castle and something wandering around in the dark. It certainly sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Do I need to add that Rebecca begins having nightmares?
At about the half-hour mark however Castle Freak uses one of those nightmares to serve notice that this isn’t going to be a typical horror film. And it does it with one of the most skin-crawlingly nasty scenes of self-gratification I’ve seen in some time. And that’s not the only scene in this film that may make you consider celibacy.
This is also when the film does a complete 180 turn, from what appears to be a potential Hell Night or Tower of Evil scenario into supernatural territory. A copy of the Necronomicon turns up just in time for their friends to arrive. And one of them, The Professor (Chris Galust) not only knows what it is, but he can also read it. But he goes to Miskatonic University so that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Steinsiek and Charles have crafted a film that definitely feels like it came from the past. It’s loaded with casual drug use, all of the major female characters get naked at least once and there are plenty of gory practical effects. It’s very much a return to traditional trash cinema, complete with a score by Fabio Frizzi (House of Forbidden Secrets, Nightmare Symphony).
On the other hand, the film does lack for really likable characters and it’s obvious that apart from The Professor the rest of the crew are strictly there to be killed. Shelly is the only one we hear called by name. I had to get Larry (Omar Brunson) and Chuck’s (Elisha Pratt, Zombacter: Center City Contagion) names from the end credits. They weren’t even given on IMDB, that’s how disposable the characters are.
But despite that, Castle Freak is an outrageously gross and bloody bit of supernatural body horror. It can indeed stand with the original and with most of the original films I’ve seen this year. As long as you’re not easily offended this should be a blast.
Castle Freak is available on the Shudder streaming service in the US and Canada. For those who don’t subscribe to Shudder it’s available on various streaming and digital platforms via RLJE Films. Blue Finch Films will release it in the UK on December 7th.