Here’s a piece of advice if you decide to cue up the Castle Freak remake on Shudder. Do NOT expect it to resemble the 1995 Stuart Gordon film. It’s not that. Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton are no where to be found on the cast list, though Crampton did produce the remake. This is a different film, one that leans heavily into Lovecraftian elements, especially in the second half. That’s probably the remake’s biggest flaw. It’s uneven in its execution. At first, like the original film, it feels like a Gothic tale about a hideous creature lurking in a castle, but then it becomes a full-on bonkers Lovecraft story, complete with the Old Ones and those who worship them.
Written by Kathy Charles and directed by Tate Steinseik, Castle Freak is more a reimagining than a remake. It takes some general elements of the plot, but even the characters are changed around. In the original, an American family (Combs, Crampton, and Jessica Dollarhide), inherit an Italian castle, complete with the monster. Their daughter is blind and isn’t initially terrified by the creature. In the new film, her part is given to Rebecca Whateley (Clair Catherine), who is older and inherits the castle. She and her boyfriend, John (Jake Horowitz), are the film’s leads.
As mentioned, the first half of the film leans into the Gothic tropes and atmosphere, with exterior shots of the castle’s spires and long walls filling the frames, dwarfing Rebecca and Marku (Genti Kame), who is in charge of handing the castle over to Rebecca. The interior shots are generally shadowy and feature long hallways and stone walls, which the monster hides behind, spying on Rebecca and John, even when they have sex. I could have done without some of the creature’s reactions and perversion. They’re just… well…. gross.
The past also haunts the present, specifically the story of Rebecca’s mom, who killed herself through self-flagellation. Rebecca initially spends her time exploring the castle with John and discovering her mom’s possessions, including her red robe. John and Rebecca butt heads about the past and its value. She wants to piece together her mom’s story, while he only cares about selling the castle and everything in it, pocketing the profits. At one point, he even screams that it’s “his castle!” In another scene, he refers to the artifacts they find as “old religious crap.” Further, the past manifests itself in a series of violent dreams in which Rebecca relives the torment that her mom faced. When she asks John basic questions, like the color of her mom’s robe, he lies to her. He makes for a good villain, often more so than the castle freak. He uses Rebecca’s inheritance to make himself wealthy.
I wish that the film toyed with the Gothic elements more. The remake’s first half is the strongest because it does just this and explores Rebecca’s character and her mother’s tragedy. The storyline is tight. The rest of the film, however, is all about the Lovecraft mythos. To be fair, Castle Freak is loosely based on his story “The Outsider,” but the film becomes so outlandish that it offsets the more serious tone of the first half. Suddenly, there are worshippers of the Old Ones and characters that run around screaming “Yog-Sothoth!” It becomes laugh out loud funny, and it’s unclear if that was the intent. The ending is grotesque, but hey, maybe Lovecraft fans will enjoy it.
As for the special effects, they might be the best part of the film. Steinseik is a SFX artist, and the creature looks good. So do some of the Lovecraftian monsters.
Overall, there are a few scenes in Castle Freak that are worth a watch, but overall, it’s pretty forgettable. Its tone is all over the place and the monster’s sexual sadistic streak is too much. Stick to the 1995 film.