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People seem to have Lovecraft on the mind lately, for more than one reason. Horror is receiving a new wave of appreciation and creators have gotten an itch for Lovecraftian themes and adaptations, releasing films like The Beach House, Color out of Space, Underwater and the HBO series Lovecraft Country all at once. Well, now it’s time for the remakes, and the first one up is a reimagining of the Stuart Gordon 1995 classic, Castle Freak.

Loosely based on the H.P. Lovecraft stories “The Outsider” and “Rats in the Walls,” 1995’s Castle Freak starred the great scream king and queen Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton as an estranged married couple with a blind daughter (Jessica Dollarhide) who inherits a castle they don’t know also comes with a freakish monster (Johnathan Fuller). In 2020, a collaboration between Full Moon Features and Fangoria resulted in a remake with makeup artist Tate Steinsiek taking over as director. Starring Clair Catherine and Jake Horowitz, the film takes only a fraction of Gorgon and Dennis Paoli’s original plot and puts its own spin on it and I actually like it a lot.

It’s not good but it’s not bad either. I love the original so I didn’t think I would like this new version but it surprised me. Not to say that it isn’t inferior to the original because it is, very much so, but it stands on its own which I appreciate. Plus, it has a nice little surprise at the end done Marvel style, meaning it’s a post-credits scene. Think little vials of green reagent.

For the most part, the new Castle Freak starts out like the old but everything has a new flavor. The location has been moved from Italy to Albania and the Duchess (Kika Magalhães) does not die from a heart attack but is instead murdered.

Apart from the “freak” living in the castle, Rebecca “Becca” Reilly is the only original character to return. This time played by Clair Catherine, the only similarities Becca shares with her predecessor are her name and the fact that she’s blinded in a car crash. This time around, Becca is blinded not by her father but by her boyfriend, John (Horowitz). After the accident, the two travel to see the castle Becca has just inherited where it’s revealed that Becca was given up for adoption by her troubled mother, the Dutchess. It’s the mystery surrounding this that becomes the driving force of the film.

Same as the original, Becca senses that someone else is living in the castle but no one believes her. The closer she gets to the “freak,” the more she experiences violent visions of her dead mother being torture by a cult that may or may not be responsible for the mysterious resident.

It’s at this point where Castle Freak loses its mind.

Becca and John’s friends from America eventually join them in Albania to help sell the castle, and with them arrives the other major character of the film, The Professor (Chris Galust). He’s not really a professor though, his friends just call him that. This character could’ve been something incredible but the movie doesn’t know how to use him properly. He’s really only there for exposition and to enforce the Lovecraftianess of it all. While exploring, John and Becca find an ancient book written in Latin that’s filled with horrific images of various monsters, which The Professor is conveniently able to translate. Now comes the Easter egg hunt. The book is revealed to be the Necronomicon (an ancient text compiled by Abdul Alhazred in Lovecraft lore) which is basically a catalog of Lovecraft’s other works.

It’s a run-through of his most famous creatures including Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth. It’s all fun but it’s also the moment where the film goes completely coo-coo bananas.

At this point, any resemblance Castle Freak has to the original is long gone. It’s gone on vacation in Hawaii and is never coming back. Everything, from the ending, to the nature of the “freak” itself, has been changed. The focus switches around going from Becca to John to the “freak” and finally to The Professor who slowly becomes a less constipated, half-hipster menial version of Herbert West.

(Stop if you don’t want the mid-credits scene spoiled)

Speaking of Herbert West…the manic twink of a scientist has a cameo! He is the great surprise at the end and the ultimate hint at a possible expanded Lovecraft universe.

In the film’s final moments, The Professor’s name is revealed to be Henry Armitage, the head librarian at Miskatonic University who appears in the Lovecraft story, “The Dunwich Horror.” Back in America armed with the Necronomicon, Armitage walks into his mentor’s office to find a man with his back facing the camera sitting beside a tiny vial of green formula. Armitage greets him like a Bond villain on steroids: “West.”

It’s the best part of the movie and in all honestly, is probably the only reason I liked it as much as I did. This whole thing is silly, it drags on at times, and the whole middle is wasted on explanations but it was entertaining and weird. Makes it a win in my book.

Shared universe??

It’s hard to tell what’s going on because this film didn’t get a lot of press or a big marketing plan, but there is a chance that Castle Freak is meant to be the intro to a series of Lovecraftian films produced by Full Moon.

The creator of many cult films and “B” features, the Full Moon production company is currently working on an ambitious project titled Miskatonic U: The Resonator, a film based in Lovecraft mythology that will take place at Miskatonic University located in Arkham, Massachusetts. The university is found in many of Lovecraft’s work and is apart of the hospital where Herbert West was accepted as a student in Re-Animator. Charles Band, director of Full Moon Features, described Miskatonic U as the first installment of eighteen “shows” that will tell different stories set within a Lovecraftian universe. With this description in mind, it’s hard not to think that Castle Freak isn’t supposed to be apart of that. If not an actual installment, a type of prequel to the series. Guess we’ll have to wait for Miskatonic U to come out.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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Movies n TV

Horror Noire, a Film Review

Horror Noire is a horror collection that includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.”

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Horror Noire is a horror collection brought by the combined efforts of AMC+ and Shudder. The collection includes “Daddy,” “The Lake,” “Brand of Evil,” “Bride Before You,” “Fugue State,” and “Sundown.” Horror Noire boasts Black directors and screenwriters, providing six unique stories.

As this collection explores six stories, I will skip the usual synopsis to assess the genres and ideas explored, albeit limited as needed. Expect to find supernatural horror, creature features, and psychological thrillers. Many short films deal with these genres while exploring Black issues, but this isn’t universal for the collection.

The directors and writers include Zandashé Brown, Robin Givens, Rob Greenlea, Kimani Ray Smith, Steven Barnes, Ezra Clayton Daniels, Tananarive Due, Shernold Edwards, Victor LaValle, and Al Letson.

Woman and man wearing a vote for candidate shirt, scared of something off screne
Image from “Sundown” Directed by Kimani Ray Smith

What I Like

Each story remains unique, holding different strengths and weaknesses that highlight drastically different perspectives. Collections like VHS hold a similar premise to create their collection, but Horror Noire gives more creative freedom to its talent to be independent.

My personal favorite short film is Zandashé Brown’s “Bride Before You.” This period piece unravels a fable set in the Reconstruction Era. The entry feels Fabulistic in approach, which happens to be my preferred niche.

However, the best example of horror goes to Robin Givens’ “Daddy,” providing an existential horror tied directly to the characters involved.

Woman listening to a preacher amidst a crowd
Image from “Fugue State” directed by Rob Greenlea

What I Dislike

As mentioned, all have a particular style and idea. The downside of this approach always remains to keep the viewer interested long enough to find their favorite. If you find several underwhelming choices, this becomes a chore. But I imagine that is rare as the variety makes the options refreshing.

Personally, “Brand of Evil” had an interesting premise, but the execution fell short. On paper, it might have sounded like my favorite, which makes the lackluster execution a bigger letdown.

Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Horror Noire gives power and control to Black creators, providing a formula for a unique collection against others in the space. While the various subjects and approaches mean you aren’t likely to love them all, there should be a short film for everyone.
3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Dahmer, Silenced

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Episode six of Netflix’s Dahmer was not, honestly about our title character. Instead, it was about one of his victims, a man named Tony. We’ve actually seen Tony a few times during this series. We just didn’t know it was him.

Rodney Burford in Dahmer

And, well, he wasn’t exactly alive the first time we saw him.

Tony was born into a supportive, loving family. This is good because soon after he was born a viral infection took his hearing. He is black, deaf, and gay in the early 90’s.

Tony has a dream of becoming a model. And he certainly has the looks for it. He is beautiful, body and soul. He has lots of opportunities for romance, but it’s not what he’s looking for. He wants a real relationship. 

Eventually Tony moves to Madison, trying to pursue his dream. He gets a job and starts getting modeling work.

Then, he meets Jeff Dahmer at a bar. 

At first, we can almost believe that it’s going to be alright. Jeff seems happy. He’s taking care of himself. He’s not drinking as much. He even has his dad and stepmom over for dinner. It seems like his life is getting on track. Even better, he’s treating Tony right.

Then, of course, things go bad. 

One thing that has always bothered me as a true crime fan is that we know so much about the killers, but not as much about the victims. Not so much if we don’t know who the killer is, of course. But the names that are part of our pop culture are those of the killers. Dahmer, Manson, Jones, Bundy, Holms. The names we don’t know are Roberta Parks, Beth LaBiancas, Leno LaBiancas, and Tony Hughes. And clearly, we should know them.

If Tony Hughes was half the shining, positive person that the show Dahmer made him out to be, I’m so sad that he isn’t with us anymore. We need so many more people like him. And many of Dahmer’s victims were likely just like him. After all, he was attracted to them for a reason.

This was a significant episode, and I understand why it’s the highest-rated episode of the series. I finished it with a heavy heart, saddened by the loss of a man who should still be with us today. 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Mandrake, a Film Review

Mandrake is a 2022 supernatural horror directed by Lynne Davison and written by Matt Harvey, starring Deirdre Mullins and Derbhle Crotty.

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Mandrake is a 2022 supernatural horror directed by Lynne Davison and written by Matt Harvey. This film boasts a cast that includes Deirdre Mullins, Derbhle Crotty, and Paul Kennedy. It is currently available for subscribers in DirectTV, Shudder, Amazon Prime, or AMC+.

Cathy Madden (Deirdre Mullins) is a probation officer tasked with the most vilified case in her town, Mary Laidlaw (Derbhle Crotty). When a child goes missing, all eyes turn to the infamous Bloody Mary. Cathy, always believing in the best of people, tries to protect Mary. But evidence begins to mount, and Cathy finds herself in increasing danger.

Derbhle Crotty as Mary Laidlaw
In the forest
Derbhle Crotty as Mary Laidlaw

What I Like

Deirdre Mullins and Derbhle Crotty add weight to the film in their performances. Cathy proves resilient against the challenges she faces, while Mary can make any actions intimidating.
To not spoil anything, the ending is bittersweet in the best of ways, showing Cathy grow and mend relationships.

The atmosphere around Mary Laidlaw brings about the intimidation that earns the nickname Bloody Mary. It becomes easier to see why a town would fear this woman as we find her motives sinister.

Mandrake Cover Art: A mandrake behind Deirdre Mullins' Cathy Madden
Deirdre Mullins as Cathy Madden

What I Dislike

While there may be external magical elements, I found people obeyed Mary Laidlaw a little too easily for a vilified woman. There wasn’t enough for me to be convinced she intimidated them to action or magically charmed them. Or perhaps the performances felt underwhelmingly passive?

There was an irritating moment where a stalker helped save the day. The assistance is minor, but it still irritates me.

The daytime scenes of the film are bland. Perhaps it’s intentional, but the night scenes are stunning, making the contrast greater. While this film focuses on its night scenes, I couldn’t understand why it looked so bland, and sometimes poor quality, in the day.

Kraken eating a boat icon for Zeth M. Martinez
Zeth M. Martinez

Final Thoughts

Mandrake can be a frightful enjoyment, especially when set at night where the details work. However, many elements left me wanting more or better. If you’re looking for a witchy tale, I’d say there are better options, but Mandrake can keep you entertained.
2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

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