Way back in the 1980s, when I was just finding my way in the world and long before my interest in horror movies, or movies in general, found a way to the foreground of my mind, there was a grand era of horror films moving silently through the motion picture landscape. Well, perhaps it wasn't so silent, but my interests lay in other areas so it might as well have been silent to me.
One of the filmmakers who was making an impression on said landscape was Stuart Gordon. In 1985 he made his big screen debut with Re-Animator. It turned out to be a success, so producer Charles Band tapped him to attempt to recreate that success. The follow-up turned out to be another HP Lovecraft-inspired gem, From Beyond. It may not have lived up to its predecessor, but there is no denying just how captivating the movie is.
I did not experience the gooey glory of Gordon's creation until the latter half of the 1990s, during my short tenure working as a video store clerk. I remember watching the worn out VHS tape and loving what I saw. However, as the DVD age dawned, the film was buried in a corner of my mind and more or less forgotten. Every once in awhile I would look for a DVD, but it was never found. Then came the fall of 2007, and the DVD was announced for release by MGM. Not only that, but it would be an unrated director's cut! Now, I know that it has been out for a while — I have had it in my possession as long — however it is only now that I am able to revisit it.
From Beyond centers on the invention of Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel). It is called the Resonator, and it acts directly on the pineal gland in the brain. The device stimulates the gland, awakening the so-called sixth sense. With this gland active creatures are seen all around, swimming through the air like malevolent eels.
The phenomenon is first witnessed by Pretorius' assistant, Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs). He shuts it down and tells his boss, who proceeds to turn it back on and turn the power back up. This proves to be a mistake, as something else comes through and takes over Pretorius' mind, and it is not friendly. Crawford narrowly escapes, but cannot convince anyone of his sanity and the very real threat posed by the invention.
Crawford is eventually turned over to the custody of Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), a hot shot young psychiatrist who wants to revisit the experiment, against Crawford's emphatic requests. Off they go, along with Bubba (Ken Foree of Dawn of the Dead), their muscle, back to the Pretorius house.
Now anyone who has ever seen a horror movie before knows that this is a mistake. This trip is going to prove to be a rather terrifying one for those taking it. It is a different story altogether for those sitting in a theater (or, rather, their favorite easy chair), where the journey is considerably more entertaining.
What follows the reactivation of the Resonator is a journey into the mind, where all is not as it seems, where sexuality is awakened and put to use in unintended ways. It is a fight for survival, a defense of the mind, and a truly gruesome visual experience.
There are a number of elements that make this movie work so well. The primary way to make this wild tale believable is to have characters sell the believability. This does not necesarrily translate to a performance that is believable — rather it is up to their energy. If you believe that they believe, you are halfway home. To that end, the cast of From Beyond does a fine job of selling the situation. Leading the charge is Jeffrey Combs who always turns in an entertaining performance. I hesitate to call it good, but there is a definite charisma and energy to the way he dives into the role. Then there is Barbara Crampton, who personifies drive and has a bravery that allows her to be somewhat exploited, yet retain her power and control. Ken Foree is no slouch either, giving us a more everyday kind of character to identify with and say some of the things we're thinking. Finally, Ted Sorel is pure maniacal evil as Pretorius and the thing that Pretorius becomes.
The next element is definitely the effects. In From Beyond the effects are suitably gruesome, gooey, and bloody. This was in the midst of the grand era of practical effects prior to the rise of CG. There is nothing quite like seeing a deformed body sprout an insect head, or see a stalk protrude from a man's forehead as sucks out an eyeball on the way to eating some brain matter and knowing that it is actually happening and not an element added in later. Sure, some of it may seem a bit hokey, but tell me that you don't believe it within the context of the film.
The final element is going to be the writing/directing team. The screenplay is based on the Lovecraft tale and was crafted by the trio of Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, and Dennis Paoli. It is wild and crazy and features such gems as: "It bit his head off like a gingerbread man!" How can you not love a line like that? Then there is Stuart Gordon who also sat in the director's chair. He knows how to move his pieces around the screen and how to inject an overall energy that encompasses that of the actors and completely makes it believable.
Audio/Video. This DVD looks and sounds fantastic. The colors are sharp and well separated. You could hardly tell that the film is more than twenty years old. The audio is also strong, crisp, and clear. It should also be mentioned that the material that was added back in matches perfectly, you cannot tell where the splices were made.
Extras. This edition contains a nice selection of extras. About the only thing missing is the original trailer.
- Commentary. This is a very good track featuring Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs. It covers cut scenes, how the story was developed, how it was shot, and it is never boring.
- The Director's Perspective. This featurette has Stuart Gordon talking about the film and the relation of horror to real events. (~9 minutes)
- The Editing Room: Lost and Found. We learn here that the film's editor held onto a a reel of cut scenes and moments for an eventual director's cut. It also talks of how they went through the trims, cleaned them up and fit them back into the film. (~5 minutes)
- Interview with the Composer. A conversation with composer Richard Band and the creativity he was able to employ when working on the music for the film. (4.5 minutes)
- Photo Montage. A collection of production stills set to music. (4.5 minutes)
- Storyboard to Film Comparisons. This begins with an introduction from Gordon discussing how he would storyboard his films and the need to give as much detail as possible to the effects team. Four sequences are presented, showing the finished film alongside the storyboards. These are interesting to watch and perfectly illustrate the point made by Gordon in the introduction. (~10 minutes)
Bottom line. This movie is an absolute blast. It has all of the classic elements that make an '80s era gore film work. It has an intriguing tale of depravity, characters to root for, others to despise, and everything in between. This is a must see film for any self-respecting horror fan.