“Hey Daddy-O. I don’t wanna go down to the basement. There’s something down there.” Substitute the word dungeon for basement in the above Ramones song and you have Castle Freak.
Castle Freak is the tale of an unhappily married couple, John and Susan, and their daughter Rebecca. John inherits a castle in the Italian countryside and the three head over to Lo Stivale for a quick flip. However, strange noises coming from below indicate that the three may not be alone. Indeed, chained to the wall is Giorgio, the titular Freak, who has been rotting there for the past 40 years.
On his first night in the castle, John has one of those nightmares that only exists in movies. You know the one where you thrash about wildly and spring out of bed like a demented jack-in-the-box, screaming and drenched in sweat. Seems he once had a son, but Johnny also had more than just a taste for the ol’ bevy and a predilection for driving drunk. The resultant car accident killed the son and blinded his daughter. His wife has never forgiven him and John has a nasty case of survivor’s guilt.
Now back to the freak. In an act of cruelty motivated by jealousy, the Duchess (and original owner) of the castle took her five-year old son and chained him in the dungeon to be beaten and whipped on a daily basis. For over forty years, Giorgio never saw the light of day, and to say this treatment took a bit of a toll is akin to saying that Kanye West is only slightly conceited. The Freak, as played wonderfully by Johnathan Fuller, is a thing of (hideous) beauty. Castrated and emaciated, gnarled and knotted with a face pulled apart at the gums, Giorgio looks like a cross between Sackhead Jason sans sack and a boiled cauliflower.
Also hideously beautiful is the scene where Giorgio breaks free of his shackles. In a moment that alludes to James Whale’s Frankenstein, Giorgio raisies his hands to the light for the first time in four decades and bites off and breaks his fingers so he can liberate himself from his shackles. For those looking for it, Castle Freak is full of nasty stuff. Face-munching, chain bludgeoning, breast gnashing and one of the sickest acts of oral (dis)pleasure ever committed to celluloid are all on the menu.
Castle Freak was directed by Staurt Gordon who reunites with his From Beyond and Re-Animator stars Jeffrey Coombs and Barbara Crampton. The film was produced by Full Moon Pictures, in whose offices Gordon saw a poster for Castle Freak. Intrigued, Gordon inquired about the poster and was told by Full Moon head honcho Charles Band that the film did not exist but Gordon could make it provided he obey two provisions: the film must be set in a castle and the film must have a freak. Gordon took elements of the H.P. Lovecraft short story The Outsider, fleshed it out a bit, and voila, Castle Freak.
I do love me some Staurt Gordon and I really like Castle Freak. Giorgio is a wonderful creation, both pitiable and risible. He’s a monster but only because he was made one. In the tradition of Frankenstein’s monster, Giorgio was deprived of love, so he craves it in his own misunderstood way. He became what he did neither through his own volition nor an innate evil, but rather as a result of circumstance. He’s violent and brutal, sure, but he really knows no other way.
Gordon fans looking for some of the director’s trademark dark humor will be sorely disappointed. Castle Freak is downbeat, creepy and more than a little poignant. It’s also well worth 94 minutes of your time.
***1/2 (out of five)