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Exclusive: An American “CASTLE FREAK” in Albania, Part Two

Monday, January 18, 2021 | Exclusives, Guest Posts


In Part One of this first-person chronicle, effects artist Steinsiek (PLAGUE TOWN, SCARE PACKAGE) explained the circumstances that led him to both direct and supervise the special makeup for the CASTLE FREAK remake. Below, he recounts assembling his team and venturing to a faraway land for the shoot…

With the main effects obstacle dealt with thanks to the hiring of designer/creator Wayne Anderson, I needed my crew. I called up my longtime friend Ben Bornstein, who was fresh off of wrapping the final season of GOTHAM. We were both “Savini kids,” and I knew he was game to go to war. “Got a passport? Ever heard of a movie called CASTLE FREAK?” He laughed and called me a motherfucker. He was in.

I then reached out to longtime collaborator and all-around wonderful human Eric Zapata. He had similarly just wrapped his season of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and was suddenly available. Now, Eric is a nice guy–overly nice, potentially to his detriment. The kind of guy you could call with two weeks’ notice and say, “Hey, want to fly to Albania and work on CASTLE FREAK and not make much money?” Zapata was in, and he didn’t even call me a motherfucker. Such a nice guy.​

Then there was Ali Gordon, my longtime friend from Ireland, master trauma prosthetics artist and auteur of all things blood. Ali is not a nice guy. He beat me senseless for half an hour about the rate. He called me everything but a motherfucker. After he had worn himself breathless cutting me to pieces verbally, like only the Irish can do, he too was in.

Finally, I called my girl from Belgium, Melissa Popsel. I had taught with her and Ali in Belgium and been blown away by her finesse and ability to invisibly blend pieces, and her incredible hair work. We needed a “woman’s touch” to soften this all-boy department, and to work hand in hand with our female freak, very specifically. I’ll get to that a little later…

Now the effects team was assembled. Five people, three countries, two weeks, one creature. What could go wrong? Here we were, a U.S.-backed production shooting in Albania with an American, Irish and Belgian special makeup department. Producer Justin Martell got us a “local guy,” actually an Italian–a robust and handsomely mustached man named Jacapo. Not a word of English, but now we could add Italy to the team. When I finally slept off the jet lag, Justin and fellow producer Matt Manjourides introduced me to our sergeant, our militant vessel of diligence and time management: Seager Dixon. Our production manager, and a one-man army. I liked the guy. He had long hair. He played in a metal band. Yes, let’s make a horror movie.

I met my local crew, including my fantastic 1st AD Mateo Cingu and cinematographer Spiro Nino–who was Greek and also spoke no English. Quickly, Mateo and I worked out a basic translation protocol, both literal translations and a series of hand signals that would come to be a private language between me and Spiro. At last, we all sat down in Tirana, Albania for our first read-through of Kathy Charles’ script with our core team. It was an amazing experience.

So now we had our team, we had our castle, but what about the freak? I told you I would get back to that…

When we decided to do a gender transformation in this reimagining, I immediately started thinking about who was going to be our monster. I didn’t want to risk waiting to travel to Albania and searching for local talent, and potentially not finding the right fit. Full disclosure: This was a subject that I would realize I was firmly wrong about. When we arrived in Albania, I found the local actors staggeringly good. Genti Kame embodied the secretive eeriness needed for the character of Marku, and was such a professional on set. I can assure you that the character of the doctor is about as accurate as you can get when it comes to Eastern European street dealers. And I don’t want to leave out the Grandfather Whateley performance; my goodness, that was one terrifying Albanian man. From these talented actors to the stunning, picturesque locations, to the constant hustle of the local camera crew, props, art and wardrobe departments, my expectations of the Albanians were wholly exceeded. Justin told me they would be terrific, and I should have saved myself some worry and listened.

Back to the freak again: Exactly who is behind those prosthetics? We opted to “cryptically” (as it’s been described in reviews) leave her out of the credits. See, when I was looking for someone to play the freak, my primary focus was acting ability. I wanted someone who could channel true emotions into that performance. In one of her early moments, when the freak discovers the corpse of her mother, played by Kika Magalhães (known for her haunting performance in THE EYES OF MY MOTHER), there needed to be an outpouring of pure emotion from the character. Even when the sounds and motions were minimal, the real emotions needed to be there. When the freak encounters her sister on the other side of the castle wall for the first time, that whimper had to be real. I didn’t want to just find someone with “the right frame for a creature suit.” I wanted a performer with real access to her emotions…and little did I know, I had already found her.

Enter Kika Magalhães: Yes, she plays not only the mother, Lavinia, but also CASTLE FREAK’S title role. We had to get tricky using stand-in hands for certain scenes in which Kika was playing either the living or dead Lavinia, but in every other moment, including the one in which the freak cries over a silicone Lavinia dummy head, that was Kika under the makeup. I couldn’t be more thankful for the trust she put in me. She was concerned, and with good reason: She was taking on not only such an iconic role in the horror world, but a feminine incarnation. Beyond the performance aspects, the sheer terror of having to adapt to Albanian summer heat while buried beneath 20 pounds of foam rubber…she is brave in a way I’ll never know.

After the movie’s release, I caught up with Kika, or “Freaka,” as she was commonly known on set (and coincidently means “freak” in Albanian), for her thoughts an enacting our female fiend. “I’d always wanted to play a creature role,” she says. “I was very much inspired by actors like Doug Jones and Javier Botet. I love the idea of transforming myself entirely, changing my body movement and voice. I love to play and explore with the physicality of each character, and there’s nothing better than a creature role to do that!

“It was the hardest role I’ve played so far,” she continues. “The most difficult aspect was the fact that I was wearing a full body suit, mask, lenses, dentures, gloves and shoes. That meant that no part of my skin or body could breathe, and I would get extremely hot. One of the lenses made me blind, and the other only left me with around 30 percent of my vision, so going into the depths of the castle dungeons was very difficult. Outside of all the physical challenges, though, when I was in character, it felt amazing! It was an incredible experience to transform myself in such a tremendous way. Also the fact that I was working with such great people and making good friends. Tate was amazing, and the special makeup team gave me an experience I’d never had before. The whole film was practical effects, and seeing the team pull off all those gags first-hand, then watching them on film, seeing how great and effective they look, was a great experience!”

Kika adds, “I am always up for a good challenge. That why I love being an actress: I want to push myself and have the most distinctive experiences possible. Transforming into the freak was definitely one of the most intense things I’ve done in my life!”

And with that sentiment, I fully agree. It was a life-changing experience for all of us. A team of people working harder than hard, going outside their comfort zones in every way, with the common goal to make the best goddamn version of the script possible. We did that, and then some. Sadly, Stuart Gordon didn’t live to see our take on his classic film, and some critics will surely pluck the low-hanging fruit and respond, “It’s probably best he didn’t.” And if you do, you know what? You’re right. And the people that say, “It’s amazing” are right. The people calling it “low-class sleaze” and the people proclaiming that our CASTLE FREAK “harks back to nights spent by the light of VHS”–you are all correct.

See, that was the point the entire time. Remember when I said “Above all else, we had to shock and polarize”? I meant that. I find it more than satisfying that here we are in 2021, 30 years after the original, yet dividing audiences just the way that first movie did. Further offending the offended, further twisting the twisted and, most importantly, causing “pearls to be clutched” all across the world.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you cannot handle interspecies sex scenes in slo-mo with a Fabio Frizzi screaming guitar-solo crescendo, or an otherworldly eyeball and 15-foot tentacle shooting out of a woman’s vagina to intertwine with the vaginal tentacle of her freak sister, kickstarting the end of times and welcoming into our world our one true black, slick, dread Lord Yog-Sothoth…well, this movie ain’t for you. Now you know.)

All love to Stuart and Giorgio; You are both my heroes.