Monday, August 23, 2010

H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond (1986)

Title: From Beyond (1986)

Director: Stuart Gordon

Writers: Dennis Paoli, Brian Yuzna (based on short story by H.P. Lovecraft)

Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree


From Beyond was Stuart Gordon’s second feature film, it’s the one he made after Re-Animator (1985). Usually when a director is given the opportunity to direct a second film, they will try to do everything better than they did in their first film. The second film is a directors opportunity to wow audiences a little more, and say “see? I know how to do this! I can do it on a regular basis!” And essentially, this is exactly what Gordon did with From Beyond. With this film Gordon was trying to be gorier and scarier. He tried having more action, more special effects. And for all intents and purposes I think Gordon achieved this with From Beyond. There is this ongoing debate amongst horror fans to try and decide which of these two films is Gordon’s best, as much as I love Re-Animator to death, I lean towards From Beyond being Gordon’s best film and I’ll state my reasons why during this review.

Dr. Tillingast working on The Resonator

From Beyond is a film based on H.P. Lovecrafts short story of the same name. It tells the story of Dr. Crawford Tillingast (Jeffrey Combs) who is a laboratory assistant for one Dr. Edward Pretorious, a mad scientist of sorts who has built a machine called The Resonator which stimulates your pineal gland and enhances your emotions and feelings. Suddenly, you feel everything that much more acutely. So you can imagine what this machine will do to your sexual desires! It enhances them to uncontrollable levels. The Resonator has many other side effects. For example, you will see creatures from other dimensions suddenly appear before you and trust me, they are not very nice! In fact, they are hungry for human flesh and will have no problem taking a bite right out of your face! . The use of The Resonator to stimulate the pineal gland will also turn you into a junky! You become addicted to the machine and will want to experience the intense wave of emotions and pleasure over and over again. One final detail, using The Resonator will also make you hungry for human brains! Will anyone ever destroy the damned thing?

Great thing about From Beyond is that it reunites the same creative team that brought us Re-Animator. Stuart Gordon as a director and Brian Yuzna producing. These two guys worked together on many horror films after this one, they brought us films like Dagon (2001) Dolls (1987) and Castle Freak (1995). Can’t blame them for wanting to exploit the greatness of H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories. They are perfect for translating into horror films because they always play with the idea of the unknown. The supernatural, the horrifying. Many of his stories talk about creatures from other dimensions that defy descriptions. “Old Gods” and things that are beyond our human comprehension. Stuart Gordon and the rest of his creative team obviously love Lovecraft’s universe and have dived into it on more than one occasion. So we got a movie here that’s made by Lovecraft fans for Lovecraft fans. From Beyond also brings together two Stuart Gordons regulars: Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, who would get to work together yet again in  another excellent Stuart Gordon film: Castle Freak. To top things off, Gordon is a horror director known for some of the grizzliest moments ever commited on celluloid, so rest assured my gore loving friends, you will be pleased in that department!

One of the side effects of using The Resonator, you have to eat brains!

From Beyond reminded me a bit of Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage (1988) because it plays with themes of drug addiction and loss of control over ones actions. In Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage the main character encounters a small creature that injects an addictive blue liquid into his brain that gives him intense sensations and makes him experience the world just a bit differently. Unfortunately, the creature has to feed on human brains! From Beyond is a lot like that. You have a machine that when turned on will give you intense pleasure, will make you do things you would normally never do, and when you turn it off, and come off the high, you feel used, dirty and ashamed of yourself. This is what happens to Barbara Crampton’s character: Dr. Katherine McMichaels. She starts out all nerdy and clean cut, but when out of curiosity she decides to experience The Resonator, well, then we see her turn completely slutty and overtly sexual. In one scene, while still under the influence of the machine, she dresses up in S&M gear and starts to seduce Jeffrey Combs. When she snaps out of it, she can’t believe what she’s done and ends up being ashamed of her actions. So what we have here is a film that talks about addiction, and how it can change a person. One moment you are a fully functional thinking human being and the next you are a person who can only think about your next fix!

But don’t take From Beyond for a preachy film, because it isn’t. Its main purpose is to entertain us with its fantasy, and with its gore and effects, and there are plenty of those! You see, Dr. Pretorious, the creator of The Resonator gets taken to another dimension when a creature bites of his head! His head melds with a creature “From Beyond” so Dr. Pretorious suddenly becomes two beings in one. And every time Pretorious returns from the other dimension, he looks less and less human, which basically means we get to see a bunch of cool transformations, creatures and make up effects! This is one of those movies that was made when latex and make up effects reigned supreme, so every time Dr. Pretorious comes from his dimensional travels, he looks more monstrous!

Dr. Pretorious after returning from another dimension

My only gripe with this movie is that sometimes, the Pretorious creature wasn’t pulled off so well. This is a problem that the filmmakers of Slither (2006) also had. In Slither we encounter a creature called the Grant Grant monster, a giant fleshy mess of a creature that looks cool but is ultimately not that menacing because it looks so static. Same thing happened in From Beyond. The Dr. Pretorious creature looks cool, but it doesn’t look like it can move, it looks like a puppet that doesn’t have much mobility and as a result, the performance of the creature looks stiff and clunky, not like something that is alive, not like something that can hurt you. This translates to loss of believability to me. You kind of disconnect because you know you’re just watching a clunky looking puppet. But the thing with this movie is that I’m having so much fun with it that I don’t care, I love the make up effects and the gore. I just wish they had pulled off that creature slightly better. Other creatures look awesome, like this giant worm thing that Dr. Tillingast and Bubba (Ken Foree) have to fight off in the house’s basement, while trying to turn off The Resonator. The worm thing looks like one of the worms from Dune (1984) only smaller. This giant worm thing grabs Dr. Tillingast by the mellon and sucks on his head! Pretty cool sequence! Like I said, there’s lots of gooey fun in store for you guys if you like that sort of film with lots of monsters and creatures coming from other dimensions.

"Humans are such easy prey..."

This is one of those movies that’s constantly trying to wow you and amaze you and I love that about it. Stuart Gordon knows that the worst thing a horror movie can be is boring, so he always builds his horror movies on a frenetic pace. From Beyond is never boring, and its always going over the top with everything! One of the many things that is over the top about this movie is its performances. Jeffrey Combs once again plays the crazy scientists searching for that truth, that new experiment that will put him on the map. Unfortunately, with Dr. Pretorious’s Resonator machine he seems to have bitten off more than he can chew. He plays the wacky crazy doctor, his transformation is extremely grizzly, not gonna spoil it for you. But it’s always a treat to see Jeffrey Combs playing the crazy guy in a horror movie. Check out The Frightners (1996) if you don’t believe me! Barbara Crampton plays a nerdy doctor, who’s curious for the machine and its effects. Once she gives the machine a try, she goes from nerdy to slut in 0.5 seconds! She shows a little more skin than she did in Re-Animator, but in the movies defense I will say that her nudity actually goes with the story, because The Resonator enhances your sensual side. Finally, we got Ken Foree who plays the conscience of the team, the one trying to make sense of it all, always trying to do the right thing. So we got a good cast rounding up the film.

The Resonator reminded me of the dimensional portal in the Phantasm films because they also worked with sonic vibrations. Cool thing about The Resonator is that whenever it was turned on, it cast these purple flashes of light that gave the film its own unique color palette, appropriately otherworldly. Everything is made that much more exciting thanks to the musical score composed by Richard Band. It is a very cinematic score and reminded me of the good old days when films had that kind of music to them. In closing I’ll just say that there are many gory delights in store for you in this film. It is fast paced, over the top and simply put: tons of fun! I wish Stuart Gordon would give us another gory film sometime soon!

Rating: 4 out of 5

From Beyond (Unrated Director's Cut)Re-AnimatorDagon


Unknown said...

Awesome post! I dig this film too and it makes a good double bill with REANIMATOR. If I'm not mistaken, Gordon shot this back-to-back with the other film employing the same crew and, as you point out, some of the same cast. Gordon certainly was an a roll back then and he hit this one out of the park for all the reasons you stated so eloquently.

As for the Pretorious creature, it's a shame Gordon couldn't have hooked up with Rob Bottin who is the master at making realistic prosthetic creatures that move. Man, just imagine what he would have done with that monster!

Franco Macabro said...

You are right, Gordon shot this one back to back with DOLLS, they used the same house for that movie, all they did was move the furniture around a bit. He, he. Good trick if you ask me! Hammer use to do the same thing, they shot Dracula Prince of Darkness and Rasputing: The Mad Monk on the same set.

For this show Gordon employed the make artistry of Mark Shostrom who has worked on many make up effects heavy movies like Evil Dead II, Phantasm II and III, My Demon Lover and many many others, even mainstream movies like MIB II.
But maybe it was the budget that limited the way the creature was portrayed.

I agree, Rob Botting would have done something memorable here, still, the make up effects work we got on From Beyond are fun to watch even though they are not perfect.

Richard of DM said...

Excellent write up on one of my childhood confusing favorites. This movie just blew me away when I was a kid. I had just rented Re-Animator and loved it. I went right to From Beyond and it just went right over my head. I knew it was good but I was just left totally confused and horrified. God bless MGM for an excellent DVD treatment.

Franco Macabro said...

I just felt I had to do a review for one of my favorite Lovecraft movies, since it was H.P.L.'s birthday a couple of days ago.

Totally agree on that MGM DVD, thank god they put it out before they went bankrupt! It has excellent interviews on the making of the film, I love those Stuart Gordon interviews where he gives us insights to the whole creative process.

I love how they added a bit more gore and nudity, theres a bit more brain sucking, a bit more pineal gland ripping and more Barbara Crampton sexy stuff. Well worth the price of admission!

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Excellent review Franco! I havent seen this film for years. I remember my parents renting it back in the late 1980's, and I managed to sneek a peek. I must revisit this weird would make a great double bill with SOCIETY.

Franco Macabro said...

Funny you should mention Society because that one was directed by Brian Yuzna, I agree it would make a great double bill with this one.

The whole thing with the merging of the bodies and the mess of flesh and sinew! Havent seen THAT one in ages, I think its about time for a re-watch!

Johnny Thunder said...

Another really wonderful review, man. Funny, I just watched this not too long ago as well........

I Like Horror Movies said...

I like From Beyond, and it makes for plenty of gooey fun, but it always leaves me wanting more. The 2nd act always begins to lose me, but it comes back strong in the end. Planning on giving this one another go here shortly Franco!

Franco Macabro said...

I really enjoyed it when I re-watched it just recently, though I know what you mean about wanting more, but hey, considering the budgets these movies were made under, I think they achieved a lot!


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