9/8/08

A Tale of H.P. Likecraft


There's a lot of kinds of freaks in the world. Rick James extolled the virtues of the Super Freak. Todd Browning brought the world the majesty of his classic Freaks. Korn had a song about a "Freak on a Leash" (Which I always thought described Mad Maxine, the Lightning Bug's faithful dog. ). Stuart Gordon, of Re-Animator fame, had another idea for a freak in his 1995 movie. I'm sure there were long hours where Stuart discarded tons of ideas. School Lunchroom Freak. Dance Club Freak. Dagobah Freak. Deli Freak. Sill he discarded all these ideas for another love letter to his muse, H.P. Lovecraft, and another kind of freak.

Castle Freak (1995) starring Jeffery Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Johnathan Fuller. Directed by Stuart Gordon. 

You know what's always a good sign? When you inherit a giant castle in Italy from a dead relative you've never heard of before. Yep, nothing ever goes wrong when you come into possession of a creepy domicile. Well, John and Susan Reilly (Combs and Crampton) were a bit suspicious at first. John even mentions to his Italian lawyer that he thought it might be a scam. The lawyer has no idea what John could be talking about. I guess Italian lawyers have some hella good spam blockers to keep e-mails from de-throned princes of Nairobi out of their inbox. 

John and Susan have made a trip to Italy to check out the castle and liquidate it's assets even with everything that's been happening to them. Seems a few year back John had something of a drinking problem and got in an accident which killed his young son and blinded their daughter. Since then, their marriage has been slowly disintegrating, but John gets to work inventorying the castle's works of art and tapestries. I'm not sure what would have qualified John for such a job. The list had to go something like this. 

1. Creepy Painting of Skulls
2. Creepy Tapestry of Gods eating Babies.
3. Another Creepy Painting.
4. Cat of Nine Tails

Cat of Nine Tails! Now where did that come from? Well, unbeknownst to the new owners, the Dutchess that used to live there kept the titular freak in the dungeon and beat it daily with her whip for years. The freak first makes it's presence known as it wails in the night causing John to search the castle and find an ominous wine cellar. Then Rebecca, their blind daughter, gets lost in the castle and finds the freak's cell. She tries to convince people that there's someone else there, but no one believes her. The freak is out to prove them wrong and slips it's shackles even though it meant  ridding itself of one opposable thumb. 

Things start to really spiral downhill for John and his marriage to Susan. John goes out to a local bar and starts hitting the sauce again; he brings a hooker back to the castle and the Freak spies them getting their own kind of freak on. On the hooker's way out, the Freak captures her and attempts to mimic John's behavior, but needless to say it's technique leaves something to be desired. The scene here where the freak bites the hooker's nipple off is particularly memorable. Soon, John is under suspicion of killing the hooker, but he begins to put the pieces to the puzzle together. Unfortunately for John, seeing as how the hooker was the police captain's baby mama, the law is not open to some crazy theories about how the Duchess had been torturing her supposedly dead son since he was five.

As the movie winds down, it has a few good thrills and kills to keep the action going, and the tale of one man's unraveling and redemption is a surprisingly taut narrative. However it has it's flaws. For a good portion of the beginning of the film, it seems like the movie is going to take a turn into "Beauty and the Beast" territory and that plot thread fades and takes away from the rest of the film. The effects on the freak and the gore come off really well, but Combs' (a favorite of mine from both Gordon's other films and his turn as Weyoun on Deep Space 9) acting is uneven at best. The other characters seem stiff and not fleshed out, and so when the dramatic end scenes roll around, the emotional punch it could have had is lacking. 
                              
Overall, I would say give this one a shot if you're into Gordon's work or a good creature feature. If you're looking for something gory or with a finely crafted story, then I would say just go back and watch Re-Animator again. So give it a shot. I can see some people really liking it, but I doubt you'll become a Castle Freak freak. 




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