Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, Ken Foree, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon
Stuart Gordon’s follow-up to Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), reassembles some of the earlier film’s cast and once again goes to H.P. Lovecraft for its source material. This round, Gordon came up with a movie that was more faithful to its source—within Gordonian limits. Snipping a few seconds of gore (now restored) managed to barely get the film an R rating. The results are fun and impressive, but fall just slightly shy of the full-tilt craziness that made Re-Animator such a preposterous delight. That’s not to say that this tale about a mad (and kinky) scientist (Ted Sorel) creating a machine that opens a portal to another—and very nasty—dimension isn’t crazy and quirky. It’s just not as crazy as its predecessor. The presence of Jeffrey Combs (in standard pint-sized Tony Perkins mode) and Barbara Crampton (at one point in dominatrix togs) are certainly a plus, as is the presence of 1980s cult figure Ken Foree.
Gordon obviously has a little more budget (helped by shooting the film in Italy) this round and has crafted a very good-looking film with some amazing uses of color in its lighting scheme. He has also—for better or worse—approached the material a little more seriously. The comedic edge is still there, but it’s toned down. Its splattery horrors—though sometimes on the silly side just becaue of the wigged-out concepts—are handled fairly straight.
The story concerns the experiments of Dr. Edward Pretorius (TV actor Ted Sorel), who has created a machine called the resonator. This machine allows him—and anyone in its range—to see into and interact with another dimension by stimulating the pineal gland. This has the rather drastic downside of having some creature from that realm twist his head off and eat it (“like a gingerbread man”) in the opening scene. Not to worry, though, he’ll be back in somewhat altered form thanks to the device. Unfortunately, his death—despite the fact that his head can’t be found—is blamed on his assistant Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), whom the authorities think is insane. Not entirely sure of this is state-appointed psychiatrist Katherine MacMichaels (Barbara Crampton), who, much to the annoyance of asylum head Dr. Bloch (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon), opts to take him back to the scene of the crime to find out what really happened. Mayhem follows.
While the film duplicates the basics of Lovecraft’s story, it has certainly been expanded on and horror-movied up—as witness characters named Dr. Pretorius (after Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein) and Dr. Bloch (after Robert Bloch, author of Psycho). It’s also debatable whether über-prude Lovecraft would have approved of the addition of the kinky bits and the whole idea of Pretorius’ impotency, but since he died in 1937, his opinion wasn’t asked. In any case, this movie is probably the closest anyone has gotten to capturing his work on the screen—at least to date. Now, if Guillermo del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness ever actually gets made that could well change.
Promoting Jeffrey Combs to star status with this film, Gordon neatly disposed of the need for a bland leading man à la Bruce Abbott in Re-Animator. That, however, comes with the downside of not providing a dull-witted straight man for Combs. Still, Combs is terrific in the role. Crampton—who suffers fewer personal indignities than in Re-Animator—is good, too, and Ken Foree always is. Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon—in reality, a very nice woman—is pretty much reprising her patented cold-hearted bitch role from Re-Animator, which is to say she’s nicely loathsome. Ted Sorel may not be quite as good as the similarly libido-driven David Gale from Re-Animator, but he’s certainly more than adequate—and it’s a smaller role.
In any case, From Beyond is a good and gooey horror picture with doses of deliberate—and very quirky and dark—comedy. It works on nearly every level and qualifies as one of the classics of modern horror. Now, if only someone would bring out a decent copy of Gordon’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1991) ...
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen From Beyond Thursday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville. Hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.