Castle Freak review – reimagining a cult favourite

November 25, 2020
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews


Influenced as much by Lovecraft as Gordon, Castle Freak is a rich and ambitious film about a blind young woman who inherits a castle with a secret.



Influenced as much by Lovecraft as Gordon, Castle Freak is a rich and ambitious film about a blind young woman who inherits a castle with a secret.

Having watched the new Castle Freak last night, and determined to write about it tonight, I keep finding myself distracted by looking into the source material. It’s a rare reboot that has captivated me like that! No, it’s not a reboot, nor a remake, but “a bold reimagining of a horror classic.” More on that in a bit; let me give you the conclusion now, in case I get distracted again:

I absolutely adored this Castle Freak with all my senses.

OK, if you’re familiar with the Full Moon Castle Freak directed by Stuart Gordon, I’ll give you a quick compare-and-contrast and then put that one aside: this Fangoria Castle Freak directed by Tate Steinsiek is truly its own film. The earlier film was about John (Jeffrey Combs) who inherited an Italian castle and travels there with his wife Susan (Barbara Crampton) and blind daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide). John, drunk and unfaithful, is accused of gruesome murders, which were actually carried out by a “freak” living in the castle’s basement. Although the opening credits of the new Castle Freak declare that it is “Based on the Original Story by Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli and the Original Screenplay by Dennis Paoli”, writer Kathy Charles has taken the bare bones of that earlier film and gone back to the HP Lovecraft stories which inspired it to make something new and nasty.

In this Castle Freak – the only one I’ll refer to from here on – Rebecca (Clair Catherine) is the one who inherits a castle, this time in Albania. John (Jake Horowitz) is her boyfriend, and it is an accident resulting from their reckless lifestyle which blinds her. John may have a similar personality in this new film, but instead of dealing with his issues, Castle Freak instead digs into “how our current culture views ‘the other’” while embracing some of the tangents available in Lovecraft’s seedier lore.

There aren’t many familiar names: Horowitz starred in The Vast of Night, and Kika Magalhães of Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother opens Castle Freak as Rebecca’s estranged mother; the rest of the cast is virtually unknown. But then there are composer Fabio Frizzi (Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond) and producer Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Castle Freak 1995, We Are Still Here, etc.) to add the strength of experience. Director Tate Steinsiek comes from a special effects background and I never would have expected a film to benefit from that perspective in a director so much as this does, but it really does: makeup, body horror, violence, gore, and bigger stuff that I don’t want to spoil; it’s all here and done with care and relish. Each of these experienced individuals with their own angles and their own affection for the genre has formed a truly effective team and created an impressive film.

Oh, and it’s good. Beautiful set – castle interior, chapel, luxurious chambers, broken mirrors – luscious cinematography which adjusts to keep up with poor Rebecca’s story, and sensuous throughout. Sometimes there were dreamlike scenes, sometimes trippy or nightmarish, but wherever it went, my eyes grew wider as the film went on. Castle Freak pushed limits while pulling me in. Yes, as Ms. Crampton had alluded to, there are themes here of rejection, abandonment, and prejudice; almost an extrapolation of what Lovecraft had injected into his original story. But I confess I got so engrossed in the atmosphere that I hardly noticed those at the time.

Now, having opened with my conclusion, I must end with the end of the film: there is a mid-credits scene which fans of classic horror may cheer at. It gives one of the secondary characters in Castle Freak their place in the Lovecraft mythos and suggests that there will be more films – or at least another – to expand on this Fangoria/Steinsiek vision. I truly hope that is the case, but if not, I might be happy with the Professor’s Miskatonic University t-shirt.

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