Saturday, October 1, 2016

#2,208. From Beyond (1986)

Directed By: Stuart Gordon

Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel

Tag line: "Everything is alive...and hungry"

Trivia: Barbara Crampton sold the leather dominatrix outfit she wore in this film at a yard sale

Along with being a damn good horror film, Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond has what I consider to be one of the all-time great pre-title sequences. 

The movie opens with physicist Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), the assistant of Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel), hard at work in the lab (Pretorius has called it an evening and gone to bed). After switching on what looks to be a very complex piece of machinery, Crawford notices a snake-like creature, which suddenly appeared out of nowhere, swimming through the air. When it attacks him, Crawford immediately shuts the machine down (at which point the snake vanishes).

In a panic, Crawford bangs on Dr. Pretorius' door and tells him what’s happened. Elated by his assistant’s report, the good Doctor rushes into the lab and cranks the machine up to full power. 

Needless to say, chaos ensues, and when the smoke clears, Pretorius’ lifeless (and headless) body lies bleeding on the floor. Crawford, now almost completely insane, is charged with his murder and hauled off to jail (the police were called to the scene by Pretorius’s neighbor, played by Bunny Summers, who was complaining about the noise). 

Aside from setting the stage, story-wise, for what’s to come, this opening also establishes an eerie tone, which only gets darker and more intense as the movie progresses.

Due to his deteriorating mental state, Crawford is transferred to an asylum, where he’s treated by Dr. Roberta Bloch (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon). To determine whether or not he’s fit to stand trial for Pretorius’s murder, The District Attorney asks noted psychologist Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) to interview Crawford. Still in a state of nervous hysteria, Crawford tells McMichaels about the experiments he and Pretorius were conducting, which centered on the human brain, notably the Pineal gland. It was Pretorius’ belief that the Pineal was, in fact, a sensory organ, and if stimulated might awaken a “sixth sense”, allowing mankind to interact with beings on another plane of existence.

A CAT scan reveals Crawford’s Pineal gland has, indeed, increased in size. Intrigued, Dr. McMichaels decides to continue Pretorius’s experiment, and with ex-football player Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree) acting as her bodyguard, she authorizes Crawford’s release from the institution and the three head to Pretorius’ lab. 

When Crawford fires up the machine, the creatures return, but someone else also turns up: Dr. Pretorius himself! Though he appears human (at first, anyway), Pretorius is now part of the alternate universe, and tries to persuade the others to join him. When they refuse, he resorts to more extreme measures to “convince” them, leading to a stand-off that, in the end, may just kill them all.

Though the H.P. Lovecraft story that inspired it (also titled From Beyond) is only about 17 paragraphs long, Gordon and company successfully stretch the material into a disturbing, yet utterly fascinating full-length motion picture. With its intense pre-title sequence, the movie hooks us right from the get-go, and never once loosens its grip. 

This is due in large part to the film's special effects, which were undoubtedly amazing in the ‘80s and still look damn good today (the make-up used to distort Pretorius’s “body” is especially impressive), and there’s plenty of blood and gore to keep you squirming in your seat (a late sequence, when a slightly deformed Crawford is roaming the halls of the asylum, features three or four truly stomach-churning moments).

The cast is stellar: as Crawford, Jeffrey Combs walks a fine line between sanity and hysteria, and from scene to scene you’re never quite sure which side he’ll end up on, while Ken Foree’s Bubba remains the voice of reason throughout, doing everything short of dragging McMichaels out of the lab once the experiment gets out of hand. But it’s Barbara Crampton (as the extremely intelligent yet obviously confused Dr. McMichaels) and Ted Sorel (as the maniacal Pretorius) who deliver the film’s most chilling performances.

Re-Animator is, without a doubt, my favorite Stuart Gordon movie, and I really enjoyed his Castle Freak as well. To be fair, I have yet to see 2001’s Dagon, but when it comes to Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations, From Beyond ranks right up there as one of the best. 

I’d even go so far as to call it a masterpiece.


Unknown said...

Well, the last comment I made was on The Stuff and now I see this other mid eighties gem. In what is my favorite Lovecraft adaptation (closely followed by in the Mouth of Madness), I was so happy to see Combs again. I think that Gordon was trying to do something similar to Roget Corman by using repeated actors.


David of

James Robert Smith said...

Those movies were a hoot!

ThomasOtterman said...

From Beyond was one of the 80s films that really shocked me as a child. The worm like creature in Dr. West forehead always would freak me out, the film has the awesome 80s FX in my opinion were excellent. From Beyond is definitely a film that I would recommend to any horror fan that is delving into the 80s classics, very enjoyable from start to finish 💀✌🏼