“Castle Freak” (2020) – Movie Review

Remaking a beloved cult classic is no easy task.  But the latest reboot of Castle Freak (produced by the star of the original Barbara Crampton) takes a stab and winds up pulling off a really fun and incredibly disturbing adaptation of an old H.P. Lovecraft story.  It’s bold in its ambitions, but seems to pay off, for the most part.

Changing the Story Up
One of the most annoying things about many remakes/reboots is when they attempt to just mimic the original almost beat-for-beat (or even shot-by-shot in the case of Psycho).  And while Castle Freak does follow the same basic premise of a family inheriting a castle and discovering that something mysterious lives there, it modernizes the story quite a bit and expands on it in ways the original never did.

They remove the teenage daughter character and give the blind attribute to the female lead.

The film follows John and Rebecca, a couple who recently went through the trauma of Rebecca being blinded in a car accident caused by driving under the influence.  She then discovers that she’s inherited a castle in Albania from her birth mother, and they travel there with plans to sell it, while Rebecca uncovers the mystery of where she came from (having been adopted).

Unlike the original, which was a bit on the nose with its dialogue and conflicts, the tension between this couple is much more subtle and feels more realistic.  There’s certainly a sense that things haven’t been the same between them and there’s a resentment on both sides, with Rebecca blaming John for being the driver, and John being upset that Rebecca isn’t who she used to be.  It makes the breakdown of their relationship (as well as some of John’s choices) make all the more sense.

Rebecca is treated better by most other characters than by her own boyfriend, John.

Full Immersion
The vast majority of the movie takes place at the titular castle, and for good reason.  From the exteriors (and interiors), it appears that they shot in and around a real medieval castle and it’s absolutely beautiful.

Everything from its design, to the cinematography around it, to the amazing art direction inside it all serve to elevate Castle Freak above your typical (and sometimes forgettable) low budget indie horror film.  Director Tate Steinsiek really utilized the location and blended it perfectly with a gorgeous use of color and shadows to help set the movie’s tone.

In a really cool way, the castle itself almost feels like a character.

(Minor Spoilers Ahead)

Connecting to the Greater Mythos
The legacy of H.P. Lovecraft is a fascinating one (which sadly includes his virulent racism which was extreme even for his time) as it relates to the greater Cthulhu mythos and the legendary “Ancient Ones”.  The Necronomicon itself, which is credited to Lovecraft himself, has really transcended into horror itself, even in movies not based on his works.

Castle Freak strives to connect itself to that greater mythology by tying in the story of the “freak” living in the castle to a cult worshipping one of the aforementioned ancient deities.  It helps add a layer that wasn’t there in the original (at least not overtly) and it makes certain character motivations all the more understandable and compelling.

It adds more depth to the “freak” by giving her a strong motivation.

All of this culminates in a finale that goes full Color Out of Space in its grotesque surrealism and it really doesn’t disappoint.  There’s even a bonus for those who sit through the credits, as Castle Freak links itself to another Lovecraft classic, and which falls in line to what producer Barbara Crampton has said about creating a new “universe”.  Horror fans will be as excited as Marvel fans were when Nick Fury appeared at the end of the credits in the first Iron Man movie.

Overall, Castle Freak is a solid remake that pays respect the original, but doesn’t try to outright copy it.  It boasts great visuals, including a few hilariously brutal WTF moments, and it just may be the beginning of a franchise that will hopefully be more like the Conjuring Universe and less like Universal’s failed Dark Universe!

Castle Freak (2020) is streaming exclusively on Shudder!

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