It's great to come across a B-movie that actually impresses you. When it's a Full Moon flick, it's even more amazing. And when it's a Full Moon Lovecraftian flick that actually lives up to its box's hype -- break out the bubbly!
All right, it's not technically Lovecraft; there's no note in the credits claiming "Based on 'The Horribly Icky Thing' by H.P. Lovecraft." But it's directed by Stuart Gordon, famous for Re-Animator and From Beyond, along with several of the better Full Moon offerings; it stars Jeffrey Combs, probably the most Lovecraftian actor ever (having appeared in Re-Animator, Bride of Re-Animator, H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon -- as HP himself! -- and The Lurking Fear); and deals with one of Lovecraft's favorite themes: dark ancestral secrets.
The Duchess Rossino, last of a down-on-their-luck line, dies alone in her castle, and it's inherited by her long-lost nephew, John Reilly (Combs). Reilly and his wife are barely speaking to each other since the car accident that claimed the life of their five-year-old J.J. and blinded their teenager Rebecca but let him walk away without a scratch, even though he had been drinking. (A Full Moon Lovecraftian picture with actual backstory and emotional motivations for the characters! Do you realize the magnitude of this?)
The Reillys move in and begin and inventory -- and slowly discover (the blind girl first, though no one believes her) that the Duchess left behind a final gift: When her husband abandoned her and her five-year-old Giorgio, she sent away all the servants and pretended that her son had died, when in reality she cut out his tongue (and apparently, his genitalia) and chained him in the dungeon to torture in place of his father. For forty-odd years. He grew to maturity chained to a wall and whipped daily. And after the Reillys move in, he breaks free, half-starved and almost completely feral. Those of you with children, try that on for horrific.
There are plenty of plot twists to keep it from getting predictable, and enough genuine tension for any horror fan. Character isn't given short shrift here: one of the best scenes, with no character dialogue, is simply Rebecca listening to her Italian language tapes; she slowly starts to cry as every example sentence is visual: "The book is green. The lake is blue. The flower is red." Combs actually gets a chance to act (very rare in his career), and does it well (although he makes a horrible drunk). Jonathan Fuller, the actor under the Giorgio makeup, does a commendable job of being both pitiful and fearsome; the scene where he realizes the similarities between the handicapped Rebecca and his own mutilated self is actually moving. Richard Band's half-hearted score is one of the weak points, but even he used some real violins instead of 100% synthesizers. And, of course, the fact that the setting is Italy -- which means it's NOT Romania.
I highly recommend this one.