CASTLE FREAK (2020)

Castle Freak 2020.jpg

Studio:     Shudder/Fangoria
Director:    Tate Steinsiek
Writer:     Kathy Charles
Producer:  Dallas Sonnier, Amanda Presmyk, Justin Martell, Matt Manjourides, Barbara Crampton
Stars:     Clair Catherine, Jake Horowitz, Chris Galust, Emily Sweet, Omar Brunson, Elisha Pratt, Genti Kame, Kika Magalhaes

Review Score:

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Summary:

A blind woman inherits a mysterious Albanian castle hiding a monstrous freak connected to an apocalyptic occult prophecy.


Synopsis:     

Review:

I don¡¯t believe I¡¯ve seen the original ¡°Castle Freak.¡± That¡¯s weird because, as a colossal fan of ¡°Re-Animator¡± and ¡°From Beyond,¡± the prospect of a fresh foray into Lovecraftian horror reteaming Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli with Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton was way up my alley. Fangoria pages showcasing a killer creature design shoveled additional coal into the hype train¡¯s engine. Weren¡¯t there VideoZone spots too? I remember being 100% gung-ho about the movie, which is why it doesn¡¯t seem like a flick I would have forgotten no matter how it turned out.

I think what happened was my neighborhood rental stores ended up not stocking it. Or, now that I notice it premiered on video in November 1995, maybe being away at college at the time reordered priorities. Whatever the reason, this is my way of saying I have no point of reference regarding the original. I can only speak to ¡°Castle Freak¡± 2020 as its own entity, not to what it does or doesn¡¯t do as far as the 1995 film is concerned.

This ¡°Castle Freak¡± concerns Rebecca and John, Rebecca¡¯s extreme assh*le of a boyfriend. Why she got in the car with him after he¡¯d been boozing, snorting, and fooling with another woman at a ridiculous rave all night, I¡¯ve no idea. Why she stayed with him after John¡¯s subsequent car crash caused Rebecca permanent blindness I couldn¡¯t tell you either.

John keeps hitting jackpots without suffering consequences when Rebecca inherits an Albanian castle and brings John along. Rebecca never met her mother Lavinia prior to being pushed away for adoption. By all accounts, Lavinia was something of a weird woman, although not as weird as the something that lurks behind her castle¡¯s walls.

Rebecca would like to leave bad memories behind in Massachusetts, which has a geographically unlikely mountainside backdrop thanks to ¡°Castle Freak¡± being filmed in Albania. Ever the inconsiderate one, John still invites their drunken druggie buddies across the Atlantic. Rebecca doesn¡¯t think that¡¯s wise, partly because strange visions warn of another presence within the stone home. John fulfills the ¡®disbelieving husband¡¯ stereotype by dismissing Rebecca¡¯s concerns to host more douchebag debauchery since she can¡¯t see what he¡¯s up to anyway.

Inadvertently attracting the castle creature¡¯s attention becomes the beginning of Rebecca and John¡¯s problems, er, other than all of the problems already posed by John. It turns out the estate agent representing the property belongs to a secret cult dedicated to summoning Yog-Sothoth. They might be able to do it too. All they need is to link Rebecca¡¯s lineage to the fabled Necronomicon as well as the abomination hidden in the walls.

The best thing I can say about ¡°Castle Freak¡± 2020 is that it feels like a ¡°lost¡± Full Moon feature from the 1990s. More so than Full Moon¡¯s modern hack jobs at any rate. I ¡¯m sure someone scrunched his/her nose at that notion, as not everyone will see the simile as a compliment. I mostly intend it as one though, even if it¡¯s a bit of backhanded flatter.

What I mean by comparing contemporary ¡°Castle Freak¡± to ¡°classic¡± Full Moon flavor is that the film errs on the shaggier side of production quality, but it¡¯s not a total B-movie boondoggle. Like Full Moon films of yore, ¡°Castle Freak¡± features an Eastern European shooting location, sketchy yet not universally awful acting, unnecessary nudity for three different actresses, and some tastelessly tacky bits like a masturbating monster and otherworldly vagina tentacles. Those probably aren¡¯t the greatest ingredients for a 2020 film. I¡¯m still cutting ¡°Castle Freak¡± some slack because if it came out 25 years earlier, which it did as a different entity altogether, fans would be more forgiving of its throwback trappings.

I¡¯m also cutting slack since ¡°Castle Freak¡± is the first full horror film for director Tate Steinsiek, whom ¡°Face Off¡± fans remember as a two-time finalist in the makeup FX competition. Steinsiek stood out as a genuinely cool guy on that show, and as someone with true affection for the genre. Steinsiek¡¯s affinity for horror is evident in his familiar filmmaking approach, and certainly in the expectedly excellent practical effects he makes sure are onscreen here.

On the flipside, Steinsiek also brings rookie roughness to the project. ¡°Castle Freak¡± bounces all over with out-of-whack inclusions such as overlong establishing interludes, glass shattering in slow motion, sudden freeze frames, an obsession with rich red lighting schemes, and heavy-handed Christian imagery. Experience should eventually teach Steinsiek to tame the allure of unmotivated indulgences serving little practical purpose. In the meantime, editors Austin Jennings and Stephen Mlinarcik should have pushed to trim a minimum of 15 minutes from the gassy 105-minute runtime.

Fabio Frizzi¡¯s eclectic score provides a prime example of ¡°Castle Freak¡¯s¡± internal identity crisis, and probably Steinsiek¡¯s green inability to firmly funnel everything toward a distinct vision. Apparently freed from any reasonable leash, Frizzi¡¯s music mixes an unbridled mash of epic arias that sound straight out of a Fulci film, but with jarring doorbell tones that seem like he¡¯s poking a single finger around a synthesizer.

Inconsistencies abound in Spiro Niro¡¯s cinematography too. Niro lets the landscape and massive castle do a lot of legwork simply by having them in frame, which is both smart and economical. Then he gets sloppy with bursts of soft focus and overexposed backgrounds that blow out several scenes.

Actors are iffy, but they at least look like actors instead of random roommates, uncles, and one-timers. A lot of unlikability comes from everyone, even Rebecca during her introduction, being written as a coke sniffing, wine chugging, sex-obsessed party fiend with no other aspects to their identities. Jake Horowitz tests every limit of a viewer¡¯s patience by overplaying John¡¯s obnoxiousness, and that¡¯s due to his grating portrayal. Horowitz was terrific in ¡°The Vast of Night¡± (review here), so we know he has talent. That swings the blame finger at Steinsiek, the script, or something with the shooting situation for whatever went awry with Horowitz¡¯s unenthusiastic performance here.

The person playing ¡®The Professor¡¯ further amplifies annoyance. I won¡¯t use his name but suffice to say, this newcomer is not good. Not only is his dialogue delivery stiffer than a slug of Old Crow, he projects like he¡¯s begrudgingly reading storybooks to deaf senior citizens as part of community service punishment.

¡°Castle Freak¡± has been bashed for cardboard characters, schlocky tone, and not living up to its predecessor. I won¡¯t argue those criticisms are undeserved. At the same time, a recent viewing of ¡°Blade: The Iron Cross¡± reignited my ire for what Full Moon turned into with crap like ¡°Corona Zombies¡± and choppy clip shows pretending to be new anthologies. ¡°Castle Freak¡± 2020 reminded me what Full Moon movies were like at their height, with silly storylines, shoddy yet sincere craftsmanship, and midnight movie charm. For me, I appreciate ¡°Castle Freak¡± for momentarily bringing back those memories, even though I don¡¯t have one of the original.

NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.

Review Score: 55