Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Review - From Beyond (1986 - Dir. Stuart Gordon)

When I recently rewatched Re-Animator, I was a little disappointed by it. My memory of the film, on its first release, was so much better. Whereas I saw From Beyond on video in the eighties and I could hardly remember a thing about it. Strange how watching it now, it's actually a pretty good film.

Based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft this is Stuart Gordon's second foray into Lovecraft territory (but not his last) after the aforementioned Re-Animator. I say it is based on a short story but in reality the nine page story forms the prologue to the film where we meet Crawford Tillinghast (the always excellent Jeffrey Combs) and Dr Edward Petorius (Ted Sorel) both larking around with a strange electrical machine that can stimulate the pineal gland in the human brain, allowing them to gain a sixth sense and 'see' the world around them as it really is. Funnily enough, this involves floating fish and creatures that rip your head off. The Beyond was never going to be filled with marshmallows, cushions and My Little Ponies, was it? Getting the prologue out of the way so quickly allows the director space to slightly embellish on the facts of the original story. And embellish he does...

Barbara Crampton. Leather gear. Not in the original story. But should have been.

Yep. Barbara Crampton appears again in a Stuart Gordon film but this time her role is reversed with that of Jeffrey Combs. She plays an ambitious psychologist, willing to go to any lengths to get what she wants. Her desires gradually drag her from fulfilling her job professionally into total insanity. Combs, meanwhile, is along for the ride (a ride which includes developing a filthy little head proboscis and an appetite for sucking human eyeballs out of their sockets - another embellishment).

Another horror icon appears in the form of Ken Foree. He plays an everyman kind of guy who even gets to prance around in just his undercrackers. A much lighter role than his one in Dawn of the Dead  then.

The cinematography and effects look stunning even now (well, most of them). Inspired by The Thing, the main creature is a mass of pulsating, morphing flesh. The creature's head, suspended on its spindly neck, is so convincing that it was a while before I actually considered how they'd accomplished the effect. It's fairly simple, but really effective. The stop-motion animation doesn't fare as well under not-co-close scrutiny. But as with films like The Gate and Hardcover it all adds to the atmosphere and appeal.

The recent Blu-ray from Second Sight is a joy to behold. The image quality and colours are a showcase for the Blu-ray format and the extras complete a very comprehensive package. (There's even an interview with Barbara Crampton looking back at the film, and she's still as gorgeous as ever. Maybe her involvement in these films has led her to become privvy to a Lovecraftian youth potion?) 

So, From Beyond is far better than I remember and goes to prove that it's sometimes worth going back and seeing initially forgettable films again. (Can't see that I'll bother with Ong-Bak 2 though.)

If you liked this you could also try:
Re-Animator, Dagon, The Whisperer in Darkness.

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