is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and
So begins Lovecraft's creepy Poe-esque fable called "The
Outsider," a short Weird Tales story of loneliness and rejection
written in 1921and 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
"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."
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
"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
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 belowboth, 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.