The F*cking Black Sheep: Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak (1995)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

CASTLE FREAK (1995)

DIRECTED BY STUART GORDON

No to belabor the sentiment, but it was a damn sad sight of news when word dropped of the late great Stuart Gordon’s passing last month. Here’s one more sincere and heartfelt RIP, you’re work will live on Stu!

So, the first chapter in the book on Gordon is that he is the authoritative figure when it comes to adapting the macabre writings of famed horror H.P. Lovecraft. No single director has translated such lethal Lovecraftian lore with as much alacrity and frequency as Gordon has over the years. Now, the next chapter in Gordon’s bio might suggest that, in terms of cinematic quality, he was a filmmaker who burst on to the scene with two highly entertaining, instant cult-classics, RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, only to fall back down to Earth in the 1990s with the massive castration of the horror genre writ large. That is, through no real fault of his own, Gordon was only allowed to stretch his talents to the absolute limits of the MPAA strictures and a widespread effort to ditch graphic onscreen carnage.

To this end, there’s one flick of Gordon’s that is so unjustly overlooked that was ultimately released on video after a theatrical bow fell by the wayside. No bullsh*tting, Gordon’s 1995 horror joint CASTLE FREAK (WATCH IT HERE) is one of the best horror movies of the director’s entire canon. I might be a F*cking Black Sheep in believing so, but so too is the film among Gordon’s own eclectic filmography. Let’s chop up the reasons why below!

Loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft vignette The Outsider, CASTLE FREAK opens with the intro of John and Susan Reilly (RE-ANIMATOR stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton), whose marriage is frayed over the former’s lusty wandering eye. The couple is also grieving over the death of their son via auto-accident. John has recently inherited a moldering Roman castle, which the couple moves into with their blind teenage daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide). Upon arrival, we instantly sense a frostily atmospheric setting with inviolable authenticity. This is because the film was shot on location in a real Roman Castle owned by the great B-movie producer Charles Band, the head of Full Moon Pictures that also produced this very film. Word is crew members rushed to scrub the gory viscera off the walls before Band held a family reunion in the castle. Anyway, a truly unsettling locale is instantly established. Shortly after arrival, poor Rebecca is instantly harassed by an ultra-perverted, hideously deformed man-child who has been consigned to the basement for years, subjected to severe abuse involving whips and chains. Think Sloth from THE GOONIES times f*cking ten!

A truly inspired dynamic in the first act has Rebecca certain that a deleterious creep is skulking around the cold stone walls of the castle. But nobody will believe her. Not her parents, not her great Aunt Agnese (Elizabeth Kaza), nobody. Even cooler is how only we the audience see how foully grotesque the Freak is, a sickening sight that Rebecca cannot share. She’s blindly tormented while we see how nasty her attacker truly is. Love that shite. Later, however, the dynamic changes when The Freak finally breaks free of his shackles and proceed to not only go on a kill-crazy rampage but a lewd and lascivious rape campaign as well. Shite’s gnarly as f*ck!

First off, the Freak skins a cat with his filthy decaying teeth and eats the pussy for lunch. Later the Freak watches John eat out a fiery hooker while he wails, moans and all but beats off in a corner. Without a hint of irony, the Freak puts two and two together and sets out to imbibe more human flesh than Ron F*cking Jeremy. No joke. During one of the most jaw-dropping scenes, the Freak chains the aforesaid hooker to the wall before literally biting one of her breasts and nipples right the f*ck off. And we see it all. No bullshit 90s cutaways. Then as we then cut to Rebecca hiding, Susan wandering about, and John drunkenly pondering a line of recourse, the next time we see the Freak he’s buried headlong in the hooker’s gore-sodden crotch, literally chewing and chomping away at her naked nether region with giant smears of fresh grue glistening across the stone floor. Shite’s beyond insane! What’s crazier is how John is then blamed for the whole death toll, as he was the last one seen with the hooker before her brutal dismemberment. John works to prove his innocence while the Freak wreaks more havoc than a goddamn Mobb Deep album!

Yo, for a movie released in 1995, this is just about as gory and gruesome a movie you’ll ever find. In fact, real brain matter was used at the pinnacle of the plot. The graphic carnage is probably the reason why the film was removed from a 1994 theatrical Halloween release date and bumped to a lowly November 1995 video release. And yeah, even that date was bumped back, rendering the film a lost relic floating in oblivion for months. Either way, major props go out to Optic Nerve Studio Inc. and the great Hiroshi Katagiri (THE HUNGER GAMES, PACIFIC RIM) for his superb practical FX work in the film. For the makeup and FX work on the Freak alone, the process too six hours a day to achieve. In this regard, the film feels like a throwback to 1986 where rampant blood flew faster than Kal mother*cking El! Even a self-destructive scene where the Freak forcibly slides the shackles over his wrist is handled with wince-worthy credulity as he rips and flays the skin and bone away in one fell swoop. By the time the Freak’s face is smothered in crimson hemoglobin, we’re taken aback by the combo of his contorted facial disfigurement and his insatiable bloodlust. Honestly, this shite’s way gorier than SCREAM, largely hailed as rejuvenating the horror genre just one year later.

Other standout aspects of this supremely forgotten gem include the richly textured cinematography by Italian DP Mario Vulpiani (ORG, BLOODSTAINED SHADOW, etc.). This movie just oozes Giallo stylings amid a period-setting, with beautiful ambient lighting schemes and deft uses of shadow that go a long way in making one feel deeply unnerved and unsure what lurks around each corner. We know the Freak is there to rape and slaughter, but the when and how functions as an exciting guessing game. Between the inspired photography and effectively unsettling score by Richard Band, which uses jagged strings to shock and jar us when appropriate, the film stands out more than being just a slashing blood-soaked monster-movie. It’s truly an underrated movie that also ranks as one of Gordon’s absolute best!

GET CASTLE FREAK ON MULT-FORMAT HERE

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.