(*Warning: There might be one or two spoilers here, for those who haven’t seen this movie before.*)
Prepare to be slimed! An other-dimensional creature feature is coming to getcha!
Weren’t the 1980s wonderful? I know Stuart Gordon and the cast of Re-Animator and From Beyond think so, as they rode a wave of success following the surprisingly high box-office gross of relatively low-budget Lovecraftian horror-comedy Re-Animator (1985). And when a movie is a success, the cast typically gets to do another one, and this time they chose, one year later, to revisit Lovecraftian territory in an updated form, making an adaptation of the short story “From Beyond”, and having five times the budget of Re-Animator with which to do it.
As usual with Lovecraft, the story concerns monstrous and mysterious forces from parallel dimensions, containing things “man was never meant to know”. But in From Beyond we get a bigger story. The short pre-credits sequence basically covers the original short story, and the rest of the movie builds a new story on this foundation, updated to modern times.
Jeffrey Combs plays Crawford Tillinghast, the assistant to mad scientist Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel). He has been committed to a mental hospital for his ravings about the experiments performed by Dr. Pretorius, whose body was found with his head sort of twisted off. Coming to question Tillinghast is the young Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), into whose custody Tillinghast is released. She insists, against Tillinghast’s objections, that they return to the laboratory to recreate the experiments in an effort to understand what has happened. The machine built by Pretorius and Tillinghast – looking beautifully like a giant computer complex, just like what you used to see in comic books in the ‘70s and ‘80s – has the effect of enlarging the pineal gland in the brain, and hence expand the human sensory apparatus to perceive creatures from a dimension co-existing with ours. And when humans can see these creatures, they can also see the humans, and strange and terrifying things happen.
As they duplicate the experiment, they come into contact with an altered Dr. Pretorius, who is still alive – in other words, his head was not so much severed from his body as the other way around! He is crazier than ever, and elated about his new state; on being asked what he has become, he gleefully replies: “Myself!” He has become a grotesque blob of writhing flesh, and all he wants is for Tillinghast and Dr. McMichaels to join him. The first time he appears, they succeed in turning the machine off, re-sealing the dimensional portal, but! Then the machine starts turning itself back on…!
Tillinghast, already influenced by the machine, now grows a small tentacle out of his forehead; a perverted over-sized pineal gland that gives him extra senses – and, naturally, an inexplicable craving for sucking people’s brains out.
And there you have it; that’s what you get in From Beyond. No, I tell a lie; you get a lot more. There are quite a few dramatic plot elements scattered throughout this movie, besides what I have mentioned, combining its strands into a quite effective narrative saga. Tillinghast and the delectable Dr. McMichaels travel back and forth between the lab and the hospital several times, analyzing and understanding events as they do so. The machine also has an effect on Dr. McMichaels and on her police bodyguard, Bubba Brownlee (the underrated Ken Foree, who was the hero in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), increasing their sex drives. As they dig into Dr. Pretorius’ personal life, they discover that his motivations are also sexual, and we are therefore led to understand that this entire story (Gordon and adapter/producer Yuzna’s; not Lovecraft’s) is a meditation on the uncontrollable consequences of sexual dysfunction and repression.
Pretty impressive. Although I’m not entirely sure how the brain-sucking fits into that analogy – but hey, who cares? Brain-sucking was really big in the ‘80s; that’s part of why we love them! The ‘80s, I mean – not brains. Well, brains, too. Actually, I don’t trust anybody who doesn’t like brains.
Anyway! The release reviewed here is the new Blu-ray, out on Feb. 25, and it’s a doozy of a beauty! Many ‘80s movies were filmed with equipment that were not up to previous and subsequent standards, often making Blu-ray versions of such movies a somewhat disappointing experience. Not so here! I’m no technical expert, but to my eyes the picture on this disc is so crisp that I doubt it will ever occur to you to complain about anything. Just lean back and enjoy!
Plus! Ask for bonus features and ye shall receive them. There is an amazing goody-list of ten items, from a commentary track to multiple interviews, and lots of other yummy stuff. And most of these extras are new, and in hi-rez quality, made specially for this release. It’s everything your heart desires. Prepare to be spoiled!
From Beyond is out on blu-ray 25th February 2013.
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, Ken Foree and others.
Runtime: 86 min.