Co-written and directed by horror icon Stuart Gordon, Castle Freak, was loosely based on several multiple H.P. Lovecraft stories, including “The Outsider”, “Herbert West-Reanimator”, “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Rats in the Wall”, and “The Hound”. Other films Gordon directed or wrote which were also Lovecraft influenced, including ‘From Beyond‘ and ‘Re-Animator‘. These Lovecraft inspired films became iconic 1980s horror cult classics.
In the original film, starring scream queen Barbara Crampton, an American family is in turmoil, after John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs), the father, caused a traumatic car crash by his drunk driving, killing their five-year-old son and blinding their teenage daughter, Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide). John inherits an Italian castle, which unknown to the family, houses a deformed beast. As the family moves into the castle in order to liquidate the estate, the beast breaks free of its prison and terrorizes the family.
In keeping with the original film, we follow Americans in a foreign county. This time, it’s a young couple John (Jake Horowitz) and Rebecca (Clair Catherine) at a castle in Albania called the Whateley Castle. John and Rebecca are a hard partying couple, get into a car crash, resulting in Rebecca going blind. John, feeling guilty for being intoxicated when causing the crash that caused Rebecca’s blindness, cares for her, with increasing resentment and anger towards her. After Rebecca’s mysterious and reclusive mother (Kika Magalhães) dies, she inherits Whateley Castle and the unholy presents within its walls. The young couple travel to the castle with the hopes of selling the castle and its assets, only to find that nothing is what it seems.
Whateley Castle is visually striking, inside and out. The classic style and size of the castle’s rooms give it a cold unwelcoming feeling. While the view from the castle to the small village and nature below, is a lovely vision of old Europe. The old-fashioned village and the isolated feeling it gives, visually resembles the small village seen in ‘Hostel‘.
With all of the potential that the new Castle Freak had, it disappointingly lacked, especially in focus for the plot and the characters, as well as the presentation of the beast. While the plot could have worked as either minimal or complex, the plot felt empty in the beginning and overly concentrated towards the end. The deaths and backstabbing by the cast was predictable. None of the characters were fleshed. Though other horror films (House Of 1000 Corpses and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) had minimal character development, they were able to learn on plot, violence, or action, to keep viewers engaged. These characters didn’t have anything to rely on.
All the characters lacked in personality and chemistry, especially the relationship between Rebecca and John. They lack any connection, either positive or negative, making their relationship obsolete. The friends were used to using subplots that added more bulkiness to the plot, rather than helping create conflict and expanding the story.
While the practical effects of the monster was impressive, it would have worked to the advantage of the film, like the original film, to minimize the beast’s initial appearance on screen, to create mystery and tension. Showing too much so soon took the horror away from the beast, making it unintimidating.
The best part of the film was the end, after the credits. A brief scene references Herbert West from Re-Animator. A treat for Re-Animator fans.
Although horror remakes can be tricky to make, it has the potential to become a classic itself (The Fly, 1986), or a flop (The Wicker Man, 2006). The strength of Castle Freak, is limited to the location and the Re-Animator clip. Fans of Lovecraft influenced horror should instead, stick with the classic Castle Freak. However, if you enjoy very rushed violence, with bold and extended sexual content, then this remake might interest you.
Catch ‘CASTLE FREAK‘ on Shudder and VOD & Digital HD.
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