Stuart Gordon was a true master, and a visionary of those cold places where darkness reigns and the indescribable refuse to be ignored. But Gordon had a secret weapon that set him apart from the others who tried to exhume Lovecraft for the big screen: Humor. Prevalent in his spectacular debut, Re-Animator (1985), it is deployed with subtle shading – by Gordon’s Grand Guignol designs, that is – in his follow-up From Beyond (1986); a film no less entertaining, just as gory, way goopier, and très salace. (That’s French. It means ‘super horny’. I run a classy joint here.)
Released late October by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, From Beyond was met with acclaim but relatively little return at the box office, ensuring a cult status very much earned; that it still resonates (foreshadowing pun!) with horror audiences today is a lasting testament to it – and Gordon’s – appeal.
Science pays well, especially if you’re Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel - Network). Knee deep in chains, whips, chip and dips, he entertains a lascivious female in his opulent manor while his assistant Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs - Re-Animator) runs another experiment on the Resonator, the kind of grandiose, big switch-activated lab equipment necessary to sell the story. This time, the experiment works; when Crawford flips the switch, crackles of electricity scream through the air as carnivorous, translucent eels tear through the cacophony and hunt for flesh… in our dimension.
Crawford pulls a coitus interruptus on Edward, which is fine by him; he rushes into the lab and embraces these new friends from far away, who in turn, eat his head. Not one for cleanup, Crawford hightails it out of there as the windows shatter and pink light floods out of the house, only to be caught by the police and taken in.
Once he’s at the hospital, he’s put under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton - Re-Animator), who believes the best cure for Crawford is to take him back to the manor and have him face his fear, and try to figure out what happened. Detective Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree - Dawn of the Dead) tags along, as he investigated the case when it happened.
So the three head off to rid our world of creatures gatecrashing from another; the only problem is, they’ll have to fire up the Resonator again, and when they do, an interdimensional Eddie tries to ensure it stays on… forever. Will the world be overrun with these beings… From Beyond?
I caught this when it first came out on videotape (sorry, the theater in the Bahamas never showed it), and even at 16 years of age, the only uncomfortable movie viewing moments with my parents always involved sex. Violence was good, often glorious; nudity inspired nothing but hemming, hawing, and refusing to make eye contact with another in the room. Wonderful? Yes. Horribly uncomfortable? Also yes.
So, From Beyond came on as subversive when released; Edward’s proclivity towards leather apparel and bondage upped the “dangerous” factor of the film, at least to Mom & Pop in Middleville. You see, the Resonator causes the pineal gland to grow, which increases sexual arousal. Look, I’m sure they weren’t watching anyway; unless they were big boosters of Re-Animator, in which case, go Mom & Pop.
This is to say, From Beyond is pretty randy; not in terms of what is shown, but rather implied – a great trick to pull off, I think. It’s more of a total mood; a warm sin blanket that wraps around you from opening frame til the screaming lady at the end. Aiding immeasurably is returning Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg, who fills the Resonator scenes with lurid purple (pink?) tones once removed from Harlequin bodice-rippers. Without the swarms of flesh eating maggots, of course. Fabio would never.
But it’s just another part of Gordon’s genius: the scenes with the Resonator (the name Orgasmatron already being taken) house all the glamor of Hollywood – okay fine, in this case, Rome – while the hospital scenes are appropriately bright and harsh. Still gorgeous of course; Ahlberg had a beautiful eye.
Speaking of eyes, From Beyond has many, but not always where you’d normally find them; once that pineal gland gets activated by the Resonator, it grows and punches its way out of your brain with its own stemmed eye. Well, not you, but Crawford sure does get to see a lot of deadly things that others can’t, even without the aid of the Resonator. It does have a bit of an appetite though; Crawford obliges by sucking the eyeball out a malicious doctor, deliciously played by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Dolls). Note for haters of eye trauma in horror: you may have to look away once or twice. Okay, maybe three times.
But the way I see it, penny or pound is the only method to Gordon’s madness, at least here; not only is he bringing unknown creatures into existence, he smothers you in their ectoplasmic orgy and doesn’t let you go. (I wonder if Producer Brian Yuzna got a slime discount when he later made Society? Shunting isn’t cheap, you know.) All the credit to a large international effects crew including the likes of legends Mark Shostrom, Greg Nicotero, Alfredo Tiberi, John Carl Buechler, and many more for giving life to the unseen – their work is so effective, you couldn’t unsee even if you tried.
With his theater background, ensembles seemed a natural fit for Gordon, and served him very well. It was exciting – and a little heartwarming – to see a troupe of actors in the horror of the ‘80s. Reminiscent of British stalwarts like Hammer and Amicus, Gordon’s cast has Combs returning not as the arrogant scientist (here assayed with a braying oiliness by Sorel), but rather the conventional hero – until he has all his hair involuntarily removed by a creature and pops out his pineal, that is. And eats eyeballs. But before that, I assure you, he makes quite a dashing and charming protagonist. It’s after that the occasional personality flaws pop up. Crampton and Gordon also made the perfect pair; while her role in Re-Animator was mainly as the victim, her Katherine is center stage and the film’s true protagonist. Smart and in control, the Resonator brings her deepest desires to the surface; while she resists, she’s incapable of escape. A terrific performance. Foree is the wild card here, and he fits in so well. Bubba is the voice of reason; Bubba is us. Bubba’s underwear are really tight.
The humor isn’t the story of From Beyond; no, it looks at impulses, and fear, and how the two are often entwined. And it takes its horror very seriously. The humor is simply inherent in Gordon’s storytelling, certainly in Re-Animator, and with a more measured touch here. But if your most serious scenes involve a big man in child-sized striped gitch telling a psychiatrist in leather to take a look at herself – you know you’re not doing Shakespeare In The Park. But you are doing something even more enriching; my parents and I would never have bonded over Othello.
From Beyond is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985)