Castle Freak ★★★★

When I was attending school five days a week to learn Norwegian, we were often paired up with people who can not speak our native tongue, so we would obviously be forced to use Norwegian to communicate. After spending a few days on the vocabulary associated with the rooms of a house, I was paired up with a classmate from Palestine. We began talking about basements, she told me that her house in Norway has one that she has not explored, she won't even open the door to the basement because she is too scared. When I asked why she was afraid to go down into her basement, she pointed directly at me and as we're communicating in broken Norwegian she confessed it was because of American horror films and that nothing good ever happens in basements. I can not even begin to tell you just how often the class was disrupted by my boisterous laughter, but this was one of those countless times.

The horrifying thing lurking in the basement of the Italian castle owned by the Band (Full Moon Pictures/Features) family is the titular castle freak, a perpetual reminder of a duchess' failed relationship with an American; for over 40 years the product of the aforementioned coupling was buried deep within the castle, chained and whipped, tortured to the point that any of his human qualities were replaced by primordial rage and misunderstood sexual frustration (you see, Castle Freak's penis was removed but he still sported some fairly disgusting testicles, and if you know basic anatomy, testicles produce most of what is needed for sexual desire, but without a penis, the frustration--excruciating).

The duchess, toothless and tired, dies at the very start of Castle Freak, and in the next scene an American family comprised of Stuart Gordon regulars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton are introduced as the inheritors of the Italian duchess' estate, joining John (Combs) and Susan (Crampton) is their recently blinded teenage daughter, Rebecca.

Castle Freak isn't the only dark shame housed deep within the castle walls, as the wine cellar down in the basement with him is just as troubling to the new inhabitants.

This film was an interesting departure for Stuart Gordon, his '80s horror films filled to the brim with Lovecraftian lore and underlining hints of comedy, Castle Freak, while inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's The Outsider, is far more focused on familial drama, isolation and unrelenting shame. For once, Jeffrey Combs isn't portraying a mad scientist/doctor obsessed with pineal glands or immortality, he's a broken, lonely man who has destroyed his family in direct relation to his alcoholism.

While Gordon juggles the heaviness of the drama and the dank gore strewn about, there are still instances for an audience to find unintentional comedy; whether in Barbara Crampton's utter lack of maternal instincts or how to, not so forcefully, depict them, a blind girl constantly looking over her shoulder as she's being chased or leaning in over her mother to get a look at her father on the ground, to the adorable housekeeper played by a Hungarian actress trying her hardest at an Italian speaking English accent (fucking Full Moon pictures and their forced accents, I tell ya...). I burst into laughter when Richard mockingly said in a stereotypical accent (after Agnese says "You go! You sell!") -- "Thisa castle coma witha freaka!" One could maybe even make a drinking game out of the amount of times someone says "We need to search the castle!" without anyone actually following through to disastrous results...

Despite the typical trappings of a direct-to-video movie, Castle Freak remains rather horrifying. Whether the camera was pointed at Castle Freak's feet or his mouth, ajar, ready to clamp down on a woman's breast, I was pretty tense, yet joyfully revolted.

From the visibly jittery Jeffrey Combs to bloody drool dripping from Castle Freak's jaw, the 88-Films DVD release of Castle Freak is absolutely stunning, I have never seen the movie look so good. Thankfully for Street, this movie totally holds up and it's quite easy to understand why it's one of his favorites.