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          John Reilly, Susan and their daughter come face to face with terror when they travel to Italy to move into a castle they have inherited. They soon discover it is haunted by a relentless blood-thirsty creature. When mutilated bodies start turning up, John must uncover the Reilly family's dark secret to save his wife and child from the sadistic being.

"Welcome to Castle Reilly ladies."
              - John Reilly

          Stuart Gordon's Castle Freak is a direct-to-video production that is actually way above the average quality of such fare. Gordon, as most genre fans know, is the director of the highly venerated Re-Animator, the Lovecraft-inspired horror-comedy starring Jeffrey Combs as the titular character, Herbert West, and the beautiful Barbara Crampton as the requisite T&A. With Castle Freak, Gordon re-unites with Combs and Crampton, but this film is much bleaker than the other, dealing with more serious and grimmer themes. Fans of Re-Animator will therefore be disappointed if they go in expecting the same tongue-in-cheek situations and gallows humor, 'cause it just ain't there. Castle Freak is an earnest, adult horror film.
          The film follows the three members of the dysfunctional Reilly family--father John, mother Susan, and daughter Rebecca--as they travel to Italy to check out a castle and surrounding estate that has been bequeathed to John by a recently deceased aunt. But the family arrives at the castle with more baggage than just that which contains their clothing and personal items: A year earlier, an inebriated John had been driving his kids home from school during a rainstorm, and an accident resulting from his drunkenness caused the death of his son and the blindness of his daughter. In spite of John's sincere contrition and his subsequent commitment to remaining sober, wife Susan has been unable to forgive him, and her participation in the marriage has since been perfunctory at best. John hopes that Susan's willingness to come to Italy, stay in the castle, and help him sort out the details of his inheritance is a signal that the wound to their relationship is healing. Once there, however, Susan is as icy as ever, and this depresses John so much that he eventually falls prey to old habits and seeks solace from a bottle...and from a local prostitute. 
          In the mean time, sightless daughter Rebecca decides to explore their new castle on her own, and she learns that she and her parents are not the castle's only inhabitants when, deep in the miasmic caves and catacombs beneath the old building, she inadvertently stumbles upon the dwelling place of a hideous, blood-thirsty freak. In spite of her ocular handicap, Rebecca is able to escape unharmed, but she is unable to subsequently convince her parents or the police that her subterranean encounter was genuine. Eventually, though, everyone associated with the Reilly family will have to face this castle freak, and John Reilly will also come face-to-face with the truth about his heritage and his own past.
          The plot of Castle Freak--very loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's The Outsider--is actually pretty deep, with good character development and tons of subtle Freudian and Existentialist subtext. As fans would expect, Gordon's direction is judicious and tight, and the work of Italian cinematographer Mario Vulpiani is breathtakingly aesthetic. Though Castle Freak lacks the levity and humor of Gordon's Re-Animator, it still has plenty of the shocks and gore. In fact, the current DVD version from Full Moon offers the restored, unrated director's cut, and the gore and violence that has been added back is pretty gut-wrenching and gruesome. Since the special FX and make-up FX are skillfully executed, the blood and guts look quite realistic, so the gore hounds should not be disappointed.
          The acting in Castle Freak is also wonderful. Jeffrey Combs affects his usual smarmy yet likable on-screen persona, and the acting abilities of beautiful Barbara Crampton have only improved with age. (Alas, Ms. Crampton does not have the same degree of--ahem!--exposure here that she had in Re-Animator.) One of the best performances is from newcomer Jessica Dollarhide, who creates a refreshingly sincere average-teen character, one of the best to appear in a horror flick in recent years. Rather than the cocky know-it-all attitude that teenagers exude in most contemporary genre films, Dollarhide's Rebecca is a genuinely nice, likeable kid who loves both of her parents and is struggling to cope with both the growing contention in her family and her new disability. Also outstanding is Jonathan Fuller as the eponymous "castle freak." Presumably because of injury or deformity, the character is unable to articulate normal speech, but Fuller is nonetheless able to relay to the audience all of the character's emotions or thoughts via groans, whines, and guttural sounds or sometimes via pantomime. His is an amazing performance.
          As mentioned before, the DVD from Full Moon offers the restored, unrated director's cut of Castle Freak, meaning that there is some pretty graphic gore and some pretty explicit nudity--all the trappings of a really cool horror flick. Since this film is a direct-to-video production from the mid-1990s, it is assumed that the 1.33:1 aspect ratio is the original format. (Close scrutiny of the framing bears out this assumption, as there is never a shot that appears to be poorly arranged, nor is there any camera motion that clearly indicates pan-and-scan butchery.) The digital transfer from film appears fairly sharp, with only occasionally noticeable digital or film-wear artifacts. A few nice extras include the film's trailer, a cool making-of featurette, and some amusing trailers of other lesser Full Moon home-video offerings.
          All in all, 1995's Castle Freak is a high-quality horror production that belies its conception and design as a direct-to-video release. It is a must-see for fans of director Stuart Gordon, and the superb DVD from Full Moon is priced low enough that any horror aficionado can add it to his or her collection.

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          - The castle used in the film is an actual Italian castle owned by the president of Full Moon Pictures, the distribution company.

          - The "freak" prosthetics and makeup took 6 hours to apply each day.

          - When the Duchess is taking bread and dried sausage to The Freak in the opening sequence the sliced bread has a gaping hole in it in the kitchen but is whole by the time it makes it to the dungeon.

          - Filmed in Giove, Terni, and Umbria, Italy.

          - Cast and crew gathered before filming to brainstorm on what they felt was terrifying in a film. They used these suggestions to add to the direction of filming.

          - The film was blessed by the Vatican for fears of the effect on its viewers.

          - Real brain matter was used for the final sequence.

          - After the family gets to the castle, the castle freak rips off his left thumb to escape the handcuffs. In the end where he is kissing the daughter, he clearly has two thumbs.




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