Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Castle Freak (1995), Or The Art of Bloody Cat Eating

Barbara Crampton Week: Episode Two!

Greetings dearest friends, it is I, the Duke of DVD, spilling forth like a bloated fetus from the womb of opulence to enthrall you with another journey into the depraved minds of mmmmad movie makers, where the men are insane and the freaks (particularly those from castles) engage in bloody cunnilingus with sleazy Italian prostitutes. No, I’m not talking about the Vicar’s last garden féte; I’m instead referring to the stunning genius that is Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak.

Following the success of Gordon’s epic Re-Animator, Gordon decided he needed to crank it up a few more notches and make a movie bereft of the laughs in Re-Animator instead focusing solely on the horror, which Castle Freak has in spades. Our movie opens with a wrinkled old hag preparing a meager meal of bread and few sausage slices. After giving her cat some milk, she travels down to a dungeon. Seems she’s got herself a freak, a Castle Freak no less, and of course before a Freak can eat he must be whipped. Taking a cat-o’-nine-tails off the wall, she does just that, whipping him bloody, before finally feeding him and locking the door.

"Freak.... it's din-din time..."

As she’s leaving, she grabs her chest and sags a little, the whipping having taken a lot out of her. She moseys back up to her bedroom and suffers what appears to be a heart attack, but not before kicking the cat-o’-nine-tails up under the bed, next to a giant wooden phallus and a copy of the Vicar’s autobiography, “Browneye For The Corpulent: A Vicar’s Tale”. We then flash forward a few weeks to meet the Riley family, freshly arrived in Italy. It seems the old hag was none other than a Duchess, who died without any immediate heirs, thus leaving the hapless John Riley (Jeffery Combs) to inherit her castle.

What a castle it is! Castle Freak is shot almost entirely inside and around a real Italian castle, which happened to be owned by the head of the studio fronting the movie, Full Moon Entertainment. The massive edifice has dozens of rooms, a stocked wine cellar, and plenty of Freak storage. Riley arrives with his wife Susan, played by the scrumptious Barbara Crampton, and his blind teenage daughter Rebecca, played by the slightly decent-looking Jessica Dollarhide. Riley wastes no time in trying to cash in on his inheritance, quickly grabbing a clipboard to begin writing down what all he can sell.

"Is there a continental breakfast up in this bitch?"

He takes Rebecca with him and together they explore the castle. It is revealed rather quickly that John and his wife are on the outs, but the cause is not immediately known. Patience, dear readers! Exploring the castle, the daughter and dad team discover lots of sheet-covered furniture, lots of paintings with skulls in them, and a withered old housekeeper, who informs them that supper will consist of boiled cabbage and week-old bread. Whilst exploring, John finds an old photo album, which quickly engrosses him. His neglect allows his blind daughter to roam off in search of the origin of a scratching noise she keeps hearing.

"When I think about me... I touch myself."

Turns out it’s the old Duchess’s cat, a tabby feline with a penchant for meowing every 3 seconds. Following the kitty, she descends into the dungeon, where she discovers the Freak’s cell. Not being able to see, she is overcome with fear and flees, waking the Freak in the process. While he’s too late to try and make a grab for some teenage meat, the cat isn’t so lucky. The freak devours most of the cat, and thus pumped up with the power of the other other other white meat, he quickly bites his own thumb off in order to free himself from his shackles (leaving one hand still chained). It doesn’t take him long to bash his cell door down after this. The Freak is free!

The smell of pussy awakens the Freak.

Meanwhile, after having another argument with his wife, we see why John and his woman are currently sleeping in separate rooms, though his wife is obviously struggling to forgive him. Seems John, a lover of strong drink, drove his car into a tree, only he happened to be transporting his daughter and young son at the time. The daughter ended up blind, and the son ended up dead, a fact that his wife can’t forgive. The housekeeper also catches us up on the local castle lore. Seems the Duchess had a son named George and a husband who was also prone to drinking. In a drunken bender, poor Georgie is killed, driving the Duchess to murderous extremes.

Now that the plot devices are explained, let’s get back to the Freak. Seems his living in a dungeon and being whipped at dinner time for all his life hasn’t helped his complexion any. One of the first things he does is smashes a mirror in a hallway in the castle upon seeing his reflection. Riley chalks it up to expanding wood, but we know wood won’t be expanded until later. That night, the Freak sneaks into Rebecca’s room and pulls the covers off her to gawk at her nubile young body. She awakes, and senses someone in the room. Screaming about it to her parents only brings admonishment.

John begins a search of the castle, just to make sure. This brings us a fantastic scene where John goes through a previously visited room where all the furniture is covered by sheets. The Freak impersonates one of them using a sheet of his own and mimicking a chair, to great effect! While searching, John finds the family wine cellar and the family crypt. In the crypt, he sees poor George’s ossuary, and is stunned to find that young George looks just like his dearly departed JJ! He drags his wife down to look, only to discover the picture is missing! One quickly figures out that not all is as it seems in this castle, oh no!

Note to Self: Chairs may not be all that they seem.

Seeing a picture that reminds him of his son, not to mention having the feeling that he’s constantly being watched (he is, by Le Freak), Riley goes straight to a nearby bar in the small village near the castle. He first drinks enough booze to poleaxe a team of oxen, and then picks up the first Italian poon he can lay his eyes on. Dragging her back to the castle, they raid the wine cellar. One bottle of Chateau du Fuck 1932 later and they are both randy as barn owls.

"One more for the road, bartender, and I'll take the hooker to go."

What follows is a fairly graphic sex scene in which John numbs up the hooker’s breasts and then proceeds to do some Olympic-level muff diving. The Castle Freak shows up to enjoy the show from the cheap seats, his addled brain filling with sexual desire and deviancy. After giving the wench a good rogering and paying her off, John collapses in his own filth while the prostitute makes her way out of the castle. Before you can say “Don’t worry, it’s me Casper,” the Freak jumps out, wraps a sheet around her head, and drags her off to the dungeon!

Remember that shackle that the Freak left on his non-maimed arm? He starts putting it to good use. First he shackles the prostitute to himself and starts kissing her as best he knows how. He doesn’t have much to go on, since his only exposure to kissing was seeing a drunken, sweaty Jeffery Combs rubbing his lips all over a hairy Italian hosehound, but he seems to get the general idea. The chick, sensing that her only way out might be to appease this grotesque creature, starts to act like she’s a little into it. She pulls back his ghost sheet and we get an image that will likely haunt my dreams until the end times. Gordon should be drawn and quartered for forcing the viewer to see the mutilated genitalia of the Freak. He’s missing his penis oh yes, but even more unfortunately for the viewer is that he retains his coin purse, which resembles a weighted, graying grouping of kiwi. Hairy, wrinkled kiwi.

"Tastes like... chicken?"

After witnessing the horror of the Freak’s dangly bits, she grabs a nearby wine bottle and cuts the Freak’s arm. Enraged, he holds her up on the wall, rips her top open, and bites off her left nipple! This shocking bit of violence is only a warm-up for what’s about to happen. The next day, the cops show up, looking for the prostitute, who was seen leaving with John but never arrived home afterwards. Taking this as the last straw, Barbara loads up the car and kid and tries to leave, only to be told by the cops that she needs to stick around while her husband is investigated.

Elsewhere, the housekeeper can’t keep herself from snooping, and finally shuffles down to the dungeon to see what’s what. Walking into the Freak’s cell she is greeted by a sight indeed: the Freak, on all fours, messily eating pussy once again, only this time it isn’t the feline version! There’s just as much blood, however. The Freak doesn’t like this interruption and immediately whips the housekeeper to death with his loose shackle. This attack, I must admit, is brilliant in its brutality. Just when I think this film can’t shock me any more, it manages to do so.

"Aaahh Freak Out! Le Freak, C'est Chic!"

John is meanwhile becoming more and more manic. Accused of murder, and knowing good and well that something isn’t right with this whole “George” story, he enters a new stage of paranoia-fueled rage. Grabbing a handy shovel from the closet, he leads the cops and his wife down to the family crypt, whereupon he opens George’s casket, finding it empty! It seems that young George didn’t die at all, and is instead none other than the Castle Freak! Through flashbacks and musings of old housekeepers, we can piece the puzzle together. The Duchess, overcome by her husband’s idiocy, assumes all men are evil penis-wielders and must be punished. Unfortunately, poor Georgie is the target.

The cops of course aren’t buying John’s story. He’s taken to the police station while two other cops are left to stand guard for Barb and the kid. Very quickly the cops are dispatched by the Freak. One is choked using the Freak’s handy shackle chain, the other has his face bitten off. The cops dealt with, Le Freak runs through the castle, sheet billowing, balls swinging like some Great Dane in the park, straight to Rebecca’s room. He knocks Barbara’s head against the doorframe and absconds with the blind girl.

"They're coming to get you, Barbara!"

Arming herself with a kitchen knife, Crampton looks like she means business, and heads off to save her daughter. Meanwhile, John is still at the police station, but escapes after getting the jump on one of them. He hurries off to the castle. Mean-meanwhile, the Freak has shackled young Rebecca up to the wall and tries showing her the picture of himself, stolen from the crypt. Not realizing she can’t see, he gets angry and starts to disrobe her. Leaving me at half-mast, he’s interrupted by mommy, who, in an attempt to distract du Freak, hurriedly unbuttons and opens her shirt, giving us a quick teat shot that reminds us why we love Barbara Crampton so very, very much. Suitably distracted, the creature doesn’t notice the knife until it’s sticking in-between his shoulder blades.

"It puts the shackle on its wrist or else it gets the Freak again!"

Fleeing in pain, the Freak jumps out a window but quickly recovers and begins to give chase as Barb and blind girl flee. Sack flopping, he bellows as he pursues, finally cornering the girls on the roof, in the rain no less. John arrives just in the nick of time and begins a final showdown that I fear I just can’t spoil. Your assignment, dear readers, is to watch Castle Freak and bask in the glory.

"Tastes like... pig?"

To sum things up, I fucking LOVED this movie. It really contains none of the black comedy of Re-Animator and is instead a brutal, disturbing movie that will stick with you for a while after viewing. The effects used to bring the Freak to life are fantastic, castrated penis and all. The performances are top notch as well. Jeff Combs really comes to life, growing increasingly manic as the movie goes on. The underlying concept of the movie is fantastic as well. A grieving Duchess, a tortured Freak whose only crime was to be born a man, bloody Italian cooter munching, knife-wielding Crampton-capades: what doesn’t this movie have, I ask?!

The Vicar corners one of his lovers during a bit of roleplay.

Even though Crampton doesn’t really get naked much at all, we still love her for this role. She plays the anguished wife well, bouncing back and forth between hate for her husband and forgiveness because she really does love him. All of that flies out the window, however, when he bangs a hooker in the family wine cellar. Not sure what the big deal is--I mean, he’s a man isn’t he? He has needs! Combs rocks it as John, as I said, and the girl does a decent job being blind. Jonathan Fuller does a fantastic job as George the Castle Freak. He hisses with rage and pain believably, and knows just the right hunched gait to affect in order to make his pendulous testicles sway hypnotically.

With more than enough brutal nipple biting, shackle swinging beat-downs, and cat-eating to spare, Castle Freak should have nothing less than top honors: Three Thumbs Up.

Come back Friday for the triumphant conclusion of Barbara Crampton Week: a special multimedia treat from the Vicar of VHS to you!


Martin said...

Castle Freak is an under appreciated gem, good call!

The Headless Werewolf said...

Spot on! CASTLE FREAK deserves more love!

Jeff Allard said...

Oh, man - I love Castle Freak!! One of Gordon's best - definitely an underrated movie.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Ah, my dear friend, you've hit the nail on its stubby, mutilated head with this one! :) CASTLE FREAK is definitely one of those movies that gives so much more than you're expecting, both in the realms of boundary-pushing horror and gore, and in the complexity and emotional resonance of its plot. The relationship between Combs and Crampton here is so layered and tragic and *real*--Combs the failed, guilt-riddled father desperate for redemption, Crampton the mother torn between her love for her husband and inability to forgive him--and the way Gordon plays those real emotions against the Freak and his own tragic history--it moves me every time, seriously.

Though I must say, while nobody can touch Combs when it comes to playing a Mad Scientist, he's not really all that good at playing drunk. I wonder if he ever drank to blackout and woke up with an Italian prostitute a day in his life! ;)

Samuel Wilson said...

It began to sink in as I read the Duke's explication that I had not seen an optimal presentation of Castle Freak on William Shatner's Full Moon Fright Night that long-ago weekend. But surely a truly optimal presentation would retain the great man's introduction and exegesis, given his likely authority in such matters, as these could only be enhanced through exposure to the full context of his comments. But in any event, this review inclines me to watch the movie again.

Johnny said...

Love Castle Freak. Glad to see it getting some much needed and much deserved love!


Another well written article for a movie that should be more well known than it is. It is a real horror film that somehow manages to straddle the Gothic styles of Hammer and Universe and the 'splatterpunk' style of the 80's.

I'll take CASTLE FREAK over WOLF LAKE any day.

On another note, I think this may very well be the most testicle-intensive review I have ever read.

I daresay it's SCROTASTIC!

The Duke of DVD said...

Thanks everyone, I tried to capture the scrotastic (thanks Al Bruno III, for the new word, I will employ it daily) nature of Castle Freak in all its glory. It really is an under appreciated movie that deserves way more attention than it gets.

I mean, it has a drunk Jeffery Combs grinding his sweaty face into the spicy, oregano-tinged crevasse of an Italian prostitute! What's not to love?

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