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'Castle Freak' Review: Freaks apparently don't always have more fun

Tate Steinsiek’s 'Castle Freak' is an aesthetically unappealing remake that relies too heavily on bare breasts and bonkers storytelling motivations without fluid conceptualizations.

Clair Catherine in 'Castle Freak.'
(Image: © RLJE Films)

Our Verdict

'Castle Freak' is an irredeemably dull eyesore that fails its characters and exquisite backdrop; a hodgepodge of B-Movie "signatures" that amount to nothing but cheap-o perversions in a meandering-at-best narrative.

For

  • 🏰 I laughed, unintentionally.
  • 🏰 There are one or two shots that capture the castle's beauty.

Against

  • 🏰 Ugly cinematography.
  • 🏰 Frequent off-screen violence.
  • 🏰 Flat performances.
  • 🏰 Dead score.

It's pertinent to review remakes as standalone from an addressing perspective. For example, Tate Steinsiek’s Castle Freak update is a low-class mess with or without comparisons to Stuart Gordon’s vastly superior cult classic. It’s the Skinemax answer to Gordon’s gothically Renaissance creature-feature, removing any mystery and replacing it with wooden acting and unsavory sleaze. Writer Kathy Charles draws newfound influences from H.P. Lovecraft since Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli famously drew inspiration from “The Outsider,” which veers 2020's iteration into a new, outrageous direction. Regrettably, that’s the only amount of praise one might be able to muster once the credits roll, and especially after an unearned end-credits stinger.

Rebecca (Clair Catherine), left permanently blind after her boyfriend John (Jake Horowitz) wrecks his automobile while irresponsibly driving drunk and high, has just inherited an Albanian castle from her deceased mother. The couple arrives, are floored by their discovery, and John begins hurrying the listing process. Rebecca explores her namesake estate and discovers a Necronomicon before their American friends come to help offload items. Worse, she starts having connected visions of her mother’s torture. Somehow worse, still, she hears voices and rustling between the stone and wooden walls. That’s when the “Castle Freak” presents itself.

In Gordon’s thriller, an Italian castle owned by Charles Band becomes a character based on the way it’s adored, romanticized, and presented on-screen. In Steinsiek’s reboot, woozy and wobbly cinematography cheapens any Eastern European charm of statues and dungeons. The opening pre-accident sequence is disastrous enough, as the camera continually blurs focus and wobbles as characters complete simple tasks like walking to their car. Often, scenes lack a cinematic quality that’s so desperately missing as another intercourse, or nude leer defines plotted benchmarks. Intentions fall into question as we ponder priorities if it’s not clean or artful lensing.

Performances aren’t strong enough to distract from an otherwise amateurish Castle Freak production, as men become raging douchebro archetypes while women entertain based on their ability to strip-down. Less horror B-Movie, more softcore porno Halloween Hentai Special (you'll see) both in distractions and likeness. Take Kika Magalhães pleasuring herself with the braided whip her flashbacks-only character typically uses for self-flagellation or the evolution of Rebecca’s horniness. Subplots unenthusiastically crash together as Rebecca attempts to reconcile her orphaned past, or John embraces every instance to outdo his unpleasantness, or stoner soothsayer The Professor (Chris Galust) chases his obsession with unleashing whatever’s inside the Necronomicon pages. All deader than the air in the sealed Casque of Amontillado and never match what outright lunacy unfolds on-screen.

As Charles’ screenplay embraces the cosmic, the unexplainable, and the cultish, Steinsiek only fumbles further narrative cohesion. Again, don’t expect a one-to-one remake of Gordon’s Castle Freak. Said “Freak” experiences a vastly different backstory, imbued with "shocking" significance (think 2018's Suspiria), but unholy hell does nothing glue together. What starts as a pervy stalk-and-interact between monster and sightless Rebecca (Clair Catherine does a well enough job stumbling around) becomes something uncontainable, something tentacle-slippery, and something that’s just utter nonsense. Nothing more telling than the film’s finale, where an impossible-to-follow montage of flash-edits switches from human to pulsating CGI “thing,” to Castle Freak, back to the strange animated blob, then boom - credits. Like smashing into a poorly computer-generated brick wall.

Given Steinsiek’s notoriety as a special effects guru, you’d imagine more emphasis on nasty practical deaths, but even there, Castle Freak disappoints. You’ll get intestines spilling from a sliced belly, a squished fake head, and a few instances where objects stab into flesh off-screen, where the ensuing reveal shows pin-cushion corpses. Then again, Steinsiek has trouble keeping clean continuity even in his kill sequences. One so egregious, Le Freak is shown de-jawing an unfortunate cowgirl rider via effects. The camera cuts back to the human head, then another close-up on even more prosthetic head ripping (emphatically showing detachment), then back to the panned-out human. Fun, except each revisit to the actress clearly reveals no such damage previously done to the warehouse prop. Like, seconds prior. I...am at a loss.

From top-to-bottom, Castle Freak is an inferior cinematic experience whether analyzed against horror as a whole genre or stacked against 1995’s original. Camerawork fails tremendously in the darkness (that flashlight framework, yikes), lacks an inherent architectural oomph, and is drabber than 3AM Starz originals. Characters are never empowered, exist as vapid horror stereotypes with narcotics in their system, and are all-around detestable. The titular Castle Freak? Damn sure looks the part, but all the off-putting sliminess and inappropriate demon-seed foretellings never succeed on gross-out, gore-first exploitations alone. In fact, there's an ickiness about the chosen method of reinvention here between Rebecca and Freak (and familial backstories we're forced to watch, mouths agape). Oh, and don’t even get me started on Fabio Frizzi’s Casio keyboard, mood-devoid score. A legacy unhonored, an experience worse than forgettable.