MadCetologist’s review published on Letterboxd:
with news of Stuart Gordon's passing today, I felt I needed to pay tribute to one of his films. I just recently watched Reanimator, Dagon I am saving for a "fishman" month, and uh...I am just too lazy to set up my blue ray player to watch From Beyond. So I decided to throw in another Gordon classic, albeit one that is more overlooked. Also this gives me another chance to watch a Joe Bob Briggs shudder episode...win win.
But come on, this is classic Stuart Gordon...Gory effects, over the top carnage, Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs. Adaptation of a Lovecraft story. What more could you want?
Taking a much more serious tone than the two aforementioned films, Castle Freak is at it's heart a family drama, as a family still coming to grips with the aftermath of the father's drunk driving (the father played by the always amazing Combs) soon finds themselves the heirs to an Italian castle. Unfortunately they find they also have to deal with a legacy of abuse, in the form of an isolated, feral, and severely abused man who soon escapes from his lifelong confinement.
The family drama angle and overall tone marks a much more mature tone for Gordon than many of his other flicks, and most importantly allows his actors to stretch there skills a bit more than in other films. Combs does an especially great job as a recovering alcoholic desperate to win back the love of his wife, played by Crampton, who herself is trying to deal with her new reality of being married to a man she now hates and taking care of a newly handicapped teenage daughter. I'll pretty much watch anything with Crampton, as she is my favorite screen queen. Hell, at 62 she's still gorgeous.
Castle freak does an okay job at adapting the story of the Outsider, which is really more of a POV vignette than a complex plot. It's also, with the setting and story elements, a chance for Gordon to return to Gothic Horror, which he experimented with in the Pit and the Pendulum. The main elements are there, and the "freak" itself is pretty impressive looking and manages to juggle being both pitiful and sympathetic, while also malevolent and frightening. While it never goes as gonzo as some of Gordon's other works, there is still one scene with a prostitute that manages to be gross and just flat out horrific in a way many other scenes from this director aren't.
Castle Freak doesn't have the cult reputation that it really should, and certainly is far superior than a lot of Full Moon films of this era. A strong recommend, especially if you are looking for a film to watch in honor of Gordon.