Year 1995
Studio Full Moon
Producer Maurizo Maggi
Director Stuart Gordon

Stuart Gordon

Dennis Paoli

Music Richard Band

Jeffrey Combs

Barbara Crampton

Jessica Dollarhide

Length 90 mins

Castle Freak

‘‘ Hideous. Hungry. And Loose . . . ’’

castle picture"Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness."

So begins Lovecraft's creepy Poe-esque fable called "The Outsider," a short Weird Tales story of loneliness and rejection written in 1921—and the inspiration for Stuart Gordon's film Castle Freak.

"I think whoever nursed me must have been shockingly aged, since my first conception of a living person was that of something mockingly like myself, yet distorted, shriveled, and decaying like the castle."

Decaying like the castle is the witch-like Duchess D'Orsino, a vicious woman who keeps her fifty-year-old son Giorgio (hauntingly played by Jonathan Fuller) as a deformed and naked thing chained to a wall in the castle's dungeon. He's a pitiful, moaning creature she beats with a steel-embedded cat-o'-nine-tails before feeding.

"I know not where I was born, save that the castle was infinitely old and infinitely horrible . . ."

Jeffrey Combs stars as John Reilly, and Barbara Crampton is his estranged wife, Susan. Along with their blind daughter Rebecca, played by Jessica Dollarhide, they inherit the ancient Italian castle holding the abused Giorgio.

"The stones in the crumbling corridors seemed always hideously damp, and there was an accursed smell everywhere, as of the piled-up corpses of dead generations."

Dead generations also play an important part in this film. John Reilly inherits the castle because his dead mother was the sister of Duchess D'Orsino, who dies in the opening scene after beating her poor son Giorgio. Reilly is obsessed by his son's death, a death resulting from an automobile accident he drunkenly caused that also blinded his daughter. It's a guilt that almost drives him to suicide.

"So through endless twilights I dreamed and waited though I knew not what I waited for."

Giorgio, starving since the death of his mother, feeds on the castle cat and then frees himself from his shackles by biting off his own thumb. Wrapped in a white sheet, the deformed man haunts the castle like a ghost. In an obvious tribute to HPL's "The Outsider," Giorgio confronts his own image for the first time in a large mirror. Disgusted and shocked by what he sees, he smashes the mirror and runs down the hall. Not knowing what he is looking for, Giorgio stalks the castle until he discovers the lovely teenage Rebecca in her bed and is overtaken by years of frustrated sexuality. But his vengeful mother has denied him any normal satisfaction: she's castrated him for the sins of his American father who ran off to the U.S. with her sister. Giorgio is both John Reilly's half-brother and cousin.

"I cannot even hint what it was like, for it was a compound of all that is unclean, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal and detestable. It was the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity, and desolation; the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation; the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide."

The horror of John Reilly's life is hidden inside: the guilt of killing his own son and blinding his daughter. But the horror in his half-brother Giorgio is on display for the entire world to see: his bent form, beaten and corpse-like.

In a classic grand finale, the cousin-brothers meet on the castle's roof and bring their mutual suffering to an end: John defending his family from a monster, Giorgio wanting the love he could never have. They lock in a death struggle and fall to their doom on the rain-soaked castle courtyard far below—both, in their own ways, outsiders.

Castle Freak is a solid and almost classical horror movie. Unlike the gory roller-coaster rides of Re-Animator and From Beyond, it is very serious and very adult.

The only major flaw is Stuart Gordon's unnecessary and detestable scene of Giorgio biting off the nipple of a terrorized prostitute. But perhaps taboos are meant to be broken, chewed up and spit out . . . just like Giorgio's thumb.