From Beyond (1986)
“Everything is alive…and hungry.”
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel
Synopsis: A group of scientists have developed the Resonator, a machine which allows whoever is within range to see beyond normal perceptible reality. But when the experiment succeeds, they are immediately attacked by terrible life forms.
From Beyond, Stuart Gordon’s follow-up to his 1985 hit Re-Animator, has that feel of being made by people who are simply thrilled by the fact that they really are making a horror movie. There’s an enthusiasm in every colourful scene, a desire to revolt, and the sense that a bunch of enthusiasts are endeavouring to provide their audience with something the cinema has never seen before. And to be fair to them, given that From Beyond was made before the age of CGI, they make a pretty good job of dreaming up some seriously out-there visual effects. It’s just a shame that first-timer Brian Yuzna’s adaptation of an H. P. Lovecraft short story doesn’t match the SFX department’s ingenuity or director Gordon’s artistry.
Mad scientists don’t come much more deranged than Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel — Network), whose experiments to stimulate the pineal gland using The Resonatorâ„¢, result in anyone standing within range of the machine seeing creatures from a previously unknown dimension that exists alongside our own. Unfortunately, Pretorius gets so high on the effects of the machine that he ends up being slaughtered by the creatures it brings forth from the parallel dimension. They can’t see us, apparently, but they sense movement and instinctively attack, which results in Pretorius literally losing his head. While this is bad news for the doctor, it’s arguably even worse for his hapless assistant, Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs — Would You Rather) who, having narrowly avoided the same fate as his late employer, is found wandering around outside Pretorius’s house with an axe in his hand. Naturally, the police dismiss Tillinghast’s story of what happened as the ravings of a lunatic and place him in the hands of psychologist Dr Katherine MacMichaels (Barbara Crampton — You’re Next) which, considering she’s both young and beautiful, isn’t that bad a place to be.
When a brain scan reveals that her patient does, in fact, have an enlarged pineal gland, MacMichaels begins to suspect there might be something to Tillinghast’s story so she takes her patient and police officer Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree) back to the scene of the crime to kick-start Pretorius’s contraption and see what happens. Her attempt to replicate the experiment calls forth not only the same creatures as before, but also the good doctor, complete with head, but with an altogether stranger set of physical properties which grow increasingly revolting as the film progresses.
From Beyond is really just a melding of the old mad scientist movies of the 1940s with the ‘80s fad for body horror movies like David Cronenberg’s The Fly, which was released in the States just a couple of months before Gordon’s movie. In fact, the look of the mutated bodies of The Resonator’sâ„¢ victims brings to mind the monstrosities devised by the mind of 80s’ horror novelist Clive Barker rather than H. P. Lovecraft. As Gordon has only a cartoonish story and strictly one-dimensional characters to deal with, he takes the sensible decision to focus the movie on the effects. Of course, what makes movies like From Beyond so enjoyable is being able to appreciate all the effort that has gone into creating these illusions. It’s ironic that since advances in technology have made it possible for a computer to create wholly convincing effects that are limited only by the programmers’ imaginations we seem to have grown increasingly indifferent to the fantastic creations they place on the screen. There’s no real cause for awe because we know that it was all created with a few clicks of a mouse. Back in the ‘80s (and before) they had to physically build those monster suits and some poor slob had to sweat away a couple of pounds after climbing inside of it.
From Beyond enjoys a continuing fan base today not only because its effects are deliberately gross, but because its makers so obviously take such great pride and delight in them. We have bodies breaking apart as other bodies emerge from their mouths, grossly deformed vestiges of men with misplaced limbs, and a sexual subtext typified by the worm-like parasite that protrudes from its nest inside the wretched Tillinghast’s forehead. At least all these revolting images — which will undoubtedly repulse many casual viewers — are briefly tempered by the site of the delectable Barbara Crampton, in the throes of sexual desire induced by The Resonatorâ„¢, writhing around in a dominatrix outfit.
From Beyond was written with a narrow but clearly-defined subset of moviegoers in mind (you know who you are…) and it succeeds remarkably well in surpassing all the twisted benchmarks by which these moviegoers judge the quality of a movie. For the rest of us, From Beyond will remain a sick, juvenile little movie that quickly grabs our attention and refuses to let go…
(Reviewed 19th September 2014)