From Beyond is another film from the golden decade of horror, but instead of trying to make a quick buck off of a preexisting trend, Stuart Gordon and frequent collaborator of Brian Yuzna (co-writer and producer) tapped into the works of influential and ground breaking author H.P. Lovecraft for some challenging material to bring to the silver screen. Having faithfully brought a slightly revamped and modernized version of Lovecraft’s Re-Animator to celluloid glory the previous year, Gordon reached for a more experimental and psychologically geared piece, which From Beyond surely is. Exploring the very real and quantifiable mystery that is the Pineal Gland, and all the wonderment that could ensue should science find a way to unlock it’s power, From Beyond is as much a horror story as it is a work of hypothetical science fiction heavily based on fact.
From Beyond is the tale of Dr. Crawford Tillenghast and his superior, Dr. Edward Pretorious, two brilliant scientists and physicists who have actually succeeded (when do you ever see a science experiment in a movie actually succeed?) in constructing a resonator that opens a door in the mind many before them have referred to as the mystical and spiritual “Third Eye.” Unfortunately, this release of awareness and new found Sense has severely debilitating effects on whomever it is subjected too, often causing death and subsequent spectral rebirth, along with insanity for anyone lucky enough to not die. When the experiments costs Pretorious his earthly existence, Tillenghast is left to try to plead his case to whomever will listen, and gets an opportunity to prove his innocence by recreating the events that took place on the night Pretorious was shook loose the mortal coil.
In order to tell such an intriguing tale Gordon needed some actors of considerable acting ability, as well as genre credit. Cue Jeffrey Combs and Ken Foree, who are both horror hall of famers for their roles in Re-Animator and the original Dawn of the Dead respectively. Combs plays Tillenghast, a character not too far removed from Herbert West. While on the surface it may seem like a simple retreat of old ground for Combs, as the movie progresses, so does his character in new and unimaginable ways, both physically and psychologically, and Combs is the perfect man for this job. Foree plays the ex-football star turned cop Bubba Brownlee assigned to babysit the second experiment, and brings some down to earth language and logic, as well as some much needed humor to the film. He also gets a chance to stretch his acting ability, and this may be the best role I have seen him in save for his work in Dawn of the Dead. Barbara Crampton plays Dr. McMichaels who believes that Tillenghast may not be insane, due to his scientific brilliance as well as his abnormally large Pineal gland which suggest the resonator has indeed worked the way it was designed too. This trio consumes much of the screen time as they rebuild and tinker with the resonator, and they are all very likable and capable of shouldering that responsibility. Combs does a bulk of the show stealing, but there are scenes catered to showing all three in the best light possible, and thus we get a balanced amount of exposure for each of them. The other performance of note is that of Carolyn Purdy-Gordon who plays the insufferable Dr. Bloch, a hard line medical doctor who doesn’t have much, if any sympathy, for the mentally unbalanced. From Beyond is in very capable hands on the acting front.
With the acting locked up tight, Gordon was free to craft what I can best describe as a driven, but very experimental type of horror flick. Gordon again taps in one main color, much like he did in Re-Animator with the neon green that was so prevalent. In From Beyond, he uses a light, neon-ish purple to signal the opening of the inter-dimensional gate by the resonator device. It’s a wonderful hue that adds a lot to an already wonderfully photographed, framed, and lit movie. Gordon is never shy about fully lighting a scene, which is an extension of his confidence in his special effects team and set designers. The results is a movie that’s very striking and sharp, full of rich colors and detail during a time when dimly and poorly lit backwoods and houses were the norm. The level of detail is eye popping, and the crispness to the image adds a lot of texture to a film that is, visually and aurally, superior to many of it’s predecessors, peers, AND successors. Gordon also has a good sense of pacing, and while From Beyond isn’t as brisk and fun a yarn as Re-Animator, it is also a movie that isn’t trying to be. From Beyond is just as much about the gore and creatures as it is about the discussion and reaction to the gore and creatures who are not of this planet or plane of existence. Stuart also manages to slip in some tastefully done sexual tension and analysis, which existed in some of the works of Lovecraft as well. The amount of enjoyment you get out of From Beyond will be directly related to how much you submit to its unique characteristics and subject matter. But regardless of your personal leanings, Gordon surely has crafted himself a looker.
But if you aren’t impressed with the philosophical and psychological meandering of From Beyond, you will probably be blown away by the special effects and make up. Sitting somewhere right in between hideously grotesque and artistically gorgeous, the special effects in From Beyond are some of the most well conceived and constructed I’ve personally seen outside of a more major production. As with the directing, the level of detail in them is astounding and really helps to bring to life these wild and slightly wacky creature designs. Constantly pulsating and full of slime and general ickyness, the monsters and hybrids are truly the stuff nightmares are made of…very disturbing and mobile nightmares. The score that accompanies these atrocities is subtle and, at times, hardly noticeable, but it does a nice job pf punctuating certain scenes and adding emphasis when required. As mentioned before, the lighting and sets are all great, if not a little basic. Hardly a concern when you have such immaculately vile things running amok however. If you see From Beyond for any reason, make sure it is to appreciate the handwork of Mark Shostrom and Bruce Barlow who aimed to gross out even hardened horror fans out and, by my count, truly accomplished that goal.
Gordon and Co. certainly did a one-two number oon Lovecraft in ’85 and ’86, adapting two of his best stories for cinema while retaining much of what made him such an influence on what we define as “scary” today. From Beyond still holds up today , save for a couple of ancient “floating creature” effects, and the picture quality still shimmers and shines with the best of them. While I would still probably take Re-Animator over From Beyond if I had to choose, From Beyond tries to incorporate some very different, experimental, and heady ideas and concepts into a genre that is often maligned for being devoid of any cultural relevance, intellect, or intelligence. While I’m not suggesting From Beyond is some vast, deep ocean of knowledge and learning, it is an entertaining piece of cult fiction that makes genuine stabs at ascending to the next level of the genre, testing the waters of what may have become the thinking mans horror picture. Despite my insignificant analysis, From Beyond delivers the goods; a tight plot without an over-abundance of holes, and some horrific monsters and gore that are sure to please anyone hound who feasts their eyes on it. Just don’t slip into an alternate dimension and get decapitated in the process please, I can’t afford the legal fees.