Castle Freak (Reviewed by Lisa Marie Bowman)

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Originally released in 1996, Castle Freak is a film that I watched a few years ago and seriously, it totally freaked me out!  Seriously, this is one truly creepy, scary, and disturbing film.  I imagine that I’m not alone in having nightmares after watching Castle Freak.

Castle Freak takes place in Italy and yes, the main setting is a castle.  (One the reasons why Castle Freak was so effective in freaking me out is because I have actually been to Italy and I have stepped inside castles much like the one featured in this film.)  The castle belonged to a duchess who has recently passed away.  The duchess’s son, Giorgio, is still alive.  The duchess it seems was a bit insane and, after being abandoned by her husband, she was so angry that she had Giorgio chained up in the basement.  After being trapped for years, Giorgio has reverted to a feral state, speaking in grunts and growls.  Horribly disfigured, Giorgio is served a meal a day by a frightened maid.  When Giorgio finally escapes (via breaking off his own thumb so he can slip out of his manacles), he is looking for revenge against humanity.

Giorgio is probably one of the most frightening monsters in cinematic history but yet, like all great monsters, he is as much a victim as a villain.  One reason why the film works is that, even though you’re terrified of Giorgio, you can’t blame him for being angry.  Indeed, one of the film’s strongest moments come when Giorgio sees his reflection for the first time and wails at the sight.  Jonathan Fuller gives a great performance as Giorgio.

Just as Giorgio escape, the duchess’s last remaining descendants move into the castle.  John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs) is a recovering alcoholic.  Years ago, a drunk John had an automobile accident, which led to the death of his son and the blinding of his teenage daughter, Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide).  His wife, Susan (Barbara Crampton), cannot bring herself to forgive John for the accident.

Though neither is initially aware of the other’s existence, there’s an obvious bond between John and Giorgio.  Much as the duchess never forgave Giorgio, Susan will never forgive John.  Giorigio was held prisoner by chains while John was held prisoner by both his own guilt and Susan’s anger.  Both of them are capable of monstrous acts with the only difference being that John has yet to totally surrender his humanity to his rage.  It’s somewhat appropriate that, after John picks up a prostitute from town, it’s Giorgio who ends up killing her because Giorgio really is John’s id unleashed.  And now, John’s entire family is in danger to falling victim to that id.

Castle Freak is a frightening movie, one that mixes shocking gore with other more subtle scares.  Director Stuart Gordon makes good use of the castle’s ominous atmosphere and he also gets wonderful performances from his entire cast, with Jeffrey Combs as the stand-out.  This is a scary and gory film that was truly made for intelligent adults.

And finally, that scene where the blind Rebecca talks about her hopes and dreams while Giorgio stands unseen beside her?

Pure nightmare fuel.

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