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.
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 / 5)
Goosebumps, Cuckoo Clock of Doom
Named for the 28th installment of the original book series, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom has the least in common so far with its source material.
Thankfully, the story isn’t negatively impacted by this. I can honestly say so far that these episodes just keep getting better.
After the last episode’s explosive ending, I’m sure we were all more than a little worried about James. I for one was worried we were going to have an example of the Bury Your Gays trope on a kid’s show.
Thankfully, that’s not the case.
We go back in time again to Halloween night, and this time we see what James was up to.
Mostly he was up to trying to flirt with his crush. Everything seems to be going well until James lies about being interested in football.
He tries to leave the house, but instead finds himself back at the basement door when Isaiah is trapped and the cuckoo clock is going off. James then shows a remarkable amount of genre savvy and tries his best to escape the house. Each time he does, we see another version of him walking away.
Eventually, he devises a plan to break the clock at just the right moment, but not before he gets some intel on his crush’s favorite team so he can score a date.
Back in the real world free of the time loop though, James finds that he has far more worries. Every time he tried to escape the house, a duplicate version of him was created. And all of those duplicates are waiting for him.
Back at the Biddle house, though, there’s a surprise waiting. One of the James duplicates has brought Harold Biddle a box. A ventriloquist dummy-sized box.
An empty box.
The effects of this show so far have been wonderful. When the other characters hit a James duplicate, it doesn’t just die. It explodes in a Nickelodeon-style wave of slime. This is just fun, and I’m kind of sad there doesn’t appear to be more of the duplicates around.
I mean, I wouldn’t rule it out.
Did I mention that these duplicates appeared to smell like watermelon Jolly Ranchers when they exploded? That was a visceral detail that was both alarming and terrific. They could have smelled bad. They could have smelled like rotting plants or people. But no, they smell like candy.
Of course, the characters continue to steal the show. Margot and Isaiah could be said to be the main characters, but everyone comes into this with main character energy. They are all funny, all capable, all smart. And they all seem to care about each other.
I loved that James and Isaiah talked about how they were feeling. I think it’s important that we’re modeling that for young men. They talked about what was bothering them, and they made up.
Finally, though, we have to talk about Justin Long again. His acting in this just keeps stealing the show. He dances like a cartoon and jumps from joyful to violently furious at a moment’s notice. The character doesn’t know how to act, and watching him fail to act right in front of people never fails to make me laugh.
What didn’t work
I honestly can’t say that anything didn’t work in this episode. But there is something about the show that I, at least, don’t like.
There’s no real blood or gore. There’s more blood when I eat an actual jolly rancher because I always cut my tongue on them.
Now, this show is pretty clearly not for kids and young adults so there’s probably not a lot of need for too much gore and violence. But if the bloody stuff is more your style, like me, the lack of it might disappoint you.
Fans of the Goosebumps books will know that everyone ended with a twist. And the show so far has been no different. And the ending of this episode has been the best so far. The tension of Margot’s mom’s impassioned reaction, blended with the revelation that Slappy is somewhere in town is just too much. I can’t believe we’re only three episodes in and I am this invested. I hope you are too.
Viewer beware, I suspect things are going to get a lot worse for our characters before they get better.(4.5 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Goosebumps, The Haunted Mask
Based loosely on the 1993 story of the same name, The Haunted Mask begins sort of partway through the first episode.
We’re introduced to a character we haven’t seen much of so far, named Isabella.
Isabella’s life doesn’t seem great. She’s all but invisible at school. She is responsible for taking care of her little brother. It seems like her only real joy is bullying people online. She was the person who tried to get Allison’s party canceled by sending the invite to her parents. Why? Because she is a very unhappy person.
Despite trying to get the party canceled, she decides to go anyway. At the Biddle house, a voice calls her down to the basement. There, she finds a mask.
The mask inspires her to do wild things. She wanders around the party, flirting with everyone. And she has a great time.
Several days later, after Isaiah breaks his arm, Isabella brings an expensive drone to school to get shots of the football team’s practice. Unfortunately, Lucas breaks it fooling around. And Isabella, tired of being ignored, says some awful things to him.
When her mother grounds her because she took the drone without asking, the mask compels her to do some awful things.
I would first like to talk about the storytelling structure in this season. It appears that we’re going to be getting the events of Halloween night multiple times, from multiple points of view.
I love this structure. It’s unique, and it allows for more mystery in a shorter period. It’s also more complex, showing just how much madness was happening, while just showing one part of the story at a time.
Another thing I appreciated was the evolution of the character Lucas.
On one hand, it’s easy to be angry at Lucas. Even if he thought the drone belonged to the school, it’s still kind of a selfish move to break it.
But Lucas just lost his father. We don’t know how yet, but we know from Nora that his death caused Lucas to start doing things like jumping on drones and skateboarding off the roof from his bedroom window.
We all mourn differently. Losing a parent as a teen is awful. So while we can all agree that he’s being a problem, he’s also being a sad kid working through something hard.
And the same can be said for Isabella.
Look, we still don’t know what the adults of this town did to make Harold Biddle haunt them. But we do know that these parents are messing up in all sorts of other ways. And Isabella is suffering from parentification. She’s being forced to play mom at home while being ignored by her classmates at school. Even without the mask, I could see her lashing out and trashing the house.
Finally, I love Justin Long in this series. His visual comedy was fantastic here, as he falls through the hallways. But he also manages to be scary as hell. His creepy smile and jerky movements are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. I honestly can’t think of a living actor who could have played this better.
What didn’t work
If I have one complaint about this episode, it’s the music. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. Every song seems like it’s just screaming what the characters are thinking. Which isn’t really what I’d consider the point of a soundtrack.
Maybe it’s just a curse on RL Stine. None of his projects can ever have good soundtracks aside from the theme song.
Unlike the original Goosebumps series, there were moments in this episode that did startle me and unnerve me. Which is wonderful. And while it’s still clearly for kids, it’s something anyone can sit down and enjoy. I’m very excited for the rest of the season. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.
(4.5 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters launch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die
Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.
With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.
So, how was the first episode?
We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.
We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.
The teens end up not being thrilled either.
Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.
While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.
All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.
For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.
It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.
That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.
More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.
This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.
What didn’t work
All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”
Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.
It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.
But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.
(4 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.