Friday, March 17, 2006

Castle Freak

Title: Castle Freak (1995)
Dir: Stuart Gordon
Tagline: Hideous...hungry...and loose!
Rating: *** out of 5 stars

If you know anything about this movie, it shouldn't surprise you that I watched it. Stuart Gordon...Jeffrey Combs....Barbara Crampton...HP Lovecraft. It's like a Re-Animator reunion, with fewer zombies but even more bizarre sexual situations. Decapitated-head cunnilingus has got nothing on some of the sick stuff in Castle Freak.

Combs and Crampton play an unhappily married couple who inherit a spooky old castle in Italy. She hates him because his drunken-driving years prior caused the death of their son J.J. and permanently blinded their daughter Rebecca. So while they're squabbling, the daughter discovers they are not alone in the castle. There is a freakish creature living in the dungeon who escapes and decides to do naughty things to the women of the house. Meanwhile, the father goes back to the bottle, and into the arms of a prostitute. After she is brutally killed by the Freak, daddy gets arrested for murder. He gradually realizes who the culprit is, and must go save his family.

It's so weird to see those two actors playing a married couple, after Re-Animator. It's even weirder to imagine Herbert West getting drunk and banging an Italian hooker. But anyway, it works. Castle Freak is not meant to be funny like its aforementioned predecessor. It gets pretty brutal at times. Apparently Gordon likes to show monsters trying to sexually assault girls. I'm noticing that pattern. It is a pretty horrifying image, though.

I would like to point out that it never feels exploitative. I HATE exploitative horror, that shocks for the sake of shocking. I think Gordon knows how terrifying rape is, just like Hitchcock knew claustrophobia, heights, etc. were natural fears. Just like there was nothing wrong with the rape scenes in Boys Don't Cry or Deliverance, there's nothing exploitative about the attempted-monster-rape here. Gordon also doesn't degrade his female characters. The hooker gets it the worst, but Gordon didnt de-humanize her, which was admirable. Usually, those characters in horror movies are treated like token victims and you feel no sympathy for them.

There is also sympathy for the monster, of course. And I think Gordon was trying to compare Combs' character John to the freak, both as "men" who cannot escape their tortured pasts. John never wanted to kill his son, and the freak never asked to be what he became. But neither can ever make things right.

The film has some slow-moving parts, but overall I liked it. With the brutality, it's certainly not everyone's cup o' tea. But really it's one of those horror films where an uncovered secret or history is far more disturbing than anything we actually see onscreen (for examples, see Angels and Insects or Crimson Rivers). So expect more drama and less hack-and-slash. It's just not that kind of horror film, despite its generic b-movie title.