Saturday, January 9, 2021

Castle Freak (2020)

Directed by: Tate Steinsiek

Notable cast: Clair Catherine, Kika Magalhães, Jake Horowitz. Genti Kame


*Editor's Note: Blood Brothers and its writers do not condone nor support the atocities that Cinestate allowed and promoted under their banner in the treatment of their staff. Their predatory actions are disturbing. We asked the author of this article to review the film on its own merits to fulfill requests we had from readers to cover this film. However, this film is produced by Cinestate and all of our readers should be aware of their actions. Here is a link to the original article from The Daily Beast concerning this issue: THE DAILY BEAST CINESTATE ARTICLE.  Thank you. 

There are few names in horror that stand as tall as Stuart Gordon. Even if you don’t know his name, his unimpeachable legacy, including most famously Re-Animator, left a mark on the genre I hold so dearly as one of the few who successfully managed to film any adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s work, much less to any acclaim critically or by the masses. One of his most oddball films, which he infamously took on after seeing a concept poster in the Full Moon offices and was loosely inspired by the Lovecraft story The Outsider - deep emphasis on “loosely,” and the infamous edict by producer Charles Band that it contains “a castle, a freak, and a low budget.” Released to little fanfare, and being a controversial at best cult classic, Castle Freak in many ways is exactly the kind of film that is ripe for a remake. And remade it has been.


Director Tate Steinsiek (mostly known as an upper-tier effects artist on everything from Piranaconda to Scare Package (2019)) and writer Kathy Charles reconfigure the elements of the original in some new and fairly exciting ways. Whereas the original, despite the freak makeup and gore effects is largely grounded as an extremely dour family drama, In the original, Jeffrey Combs plays a recovering alcoholic trying to hold his family together in the titular castle (inherited from a distant relative) after he caused a drunk driving accident that blinded his daughter. While the horror elements largely relate to the freak in the castle walls who falls in love with said daughter...  the villain thematically is alcohol and alcoholism. The remake is an out and out weird horror film. And that’s “weird” as in the genre, read: Lovecraftian, not as an adjective.


After her inebriated boyfriend gets in a catastrophic wreck tragically blinding her, Rebecca and newly sober John travel to an Albanian castle that she inherits from her long-estranged mother. They stay there while attempting to sell the home and everything within in order to fund a better life for themselves. Rebecca starts to hear things and becomes convinced that there’s something living there with them. Eventually, they have some friends come over, ostensibly to assist, and they bring drugs and alcohol with them. Splintering eventually happens to the group (including John) where one group just wants to party while thinking Rebecca is crazy, and the other group attempt to root out the mysteries of the castle which includes its connection to a certain book, the Necronomicon.


Yes, this movie does cover a lot of the same territory as the original but also blends in (shockingly seamlessly) a few different aspects of Lovecraft’s eldrich mythos. Mileage with these elements may vary, and it certainly rides the line of silliness for most of its runtime, while also being brutal, violent, grim and darkly sexual. The freak itself is an amazing makeup job and its kills are fierce. This isn’t a gore fest by any means, but certainly not for the faint of heart either.


The aspect of this movie that really worked for me the best is the religious cult undertones to the whole endeavor. The townsfolk call the castle cursed, and they find a room full of unusual religious artifacts. The opening scene of the film (the non-vehicular inciting incident) is a woman whipping the titular freak, chained in the walls, and then self-flagellating… to death. And everything typed so far doesn’t even begin to broach the subject of the full insanity of the final half-hour or so.


I don’t mean to oversell this movie, critically speaking the acting is a bit sketchy, this is definitely a young director, more focused on getting the effects shots than setting any kind of tone or defining any particular style. Even the story, as much as I enjoyed it personally, is frankly held together with little more than hope, a dream, passion and some bubble gum. However, the kills are decent, the pace is bordering on frantic, the film is never once boring and sometimes a movie deserves credit for swinging for the fences, which Castle Freak (2020) most certainly does. It’s also a prime example of what a remake should be in an ideal world. Someone took an older concept and modernizes it, rejiggers it in a form that’s both familiar and wholly new. In this particular case, even tries to elevate it into a wholly different thing.


Castle Freak (2020) is nothing less than a transformational work, and if you’re already a Shudder subscriber it’s impossible to oversell the movie on that service, it’s one of the finest examples of the point of a dedicated horror streaming service. (That and Joe Bob Briggs, who coincidentally does have an episode of his Last Drive-In dedicated to the original Castle Freak) I argue this movie makes a pretty good case for rental otherwise as well, as it is at the very least and exceptionally bold new take. To reiterate, I can’t promise everyone will like this movie, but I can’t imagine anyone being bored by it.


Written By Sean Caylor

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