Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From Beyond (1986) review


Jeffrey Combs (Crawford Tillinghast), Barbara Crampton (Dr. Katherine McMichaels), Ted Sorel (Dr. Edward Pretorius), Ken Foree (Buford "Bubba" Brownlee), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Dr. Bloch)

Directed by Stuart Gordon

The Short Version: The director of RE-ANIMATOR fires on all cylinders for this sexually charged body horror follow up that, in some ways, surpasses his previous, more well known effort. The special effects are incredibly ambitious and gruesomely creative. Hopefully, more fans will get turned on by FROM BEYOND.

Dr. Pretorious is found dead after both he and his associate, Dr. Tillinghast were working on an unusual experiment using a machine called the Resonator, a contraption that stimulates the pineal gland in the brain and opens portals to other dimensions. The test goes terribly wrong and leaves Dr. Pretorious mysteriously decapitated. Confined to an insane asylum, the babbling doctor Tillinghast is put under the supervision of Dr. Katherine McMichaels and a police officer named Brownlee. In an attempt to recreate the seemingly failed experiment by the two physicians, the plan is to learn what exactly happened to Dr. Pretorious. Upon turning on the Resonator, the trio become unwitting subjects to the side effects of the machine which opens another dimension, unleashing bizarre beasts and a now transmogrified Dr. Pretorious into our world.

Barbara Crampton in a similar predicament she found herself in in RE-ANIMATOR.

Stuart Gordon had the sad distinction of making two of his most well known features for Empire Pictures, a then struggling, if ambitious independent company toiling in predominantly forgettable, lifeless dreck such as ZONE TROOPERS (1985), TROLL (1986), CREEPOZOIDS (1987) and GHOULIES 2 (1988) before collapsing by the start of the 1990s. The company did have a few fondly remembered titles in their mostly middling catalog such as RE-ANIMATOR (1985), RAWHEAD REX (1987) and DOLLS (1987). What's most curious about those last three is that two of those movies were directed by Stuart Gordon, inarguably the most talented filmmaker in Charles Band's "Empire". FROM BEYOND is another such film. Like Gordon's other films at this time, they failed to ignite at the box office mainly from meager distribution, but such publications as Fangoria and their (at the time) sister rag GOREZONE kept Gordon's movies in the public eye. If rabid horror hounds couldn't catch Gordon's films in the theater, their release on videotape weren't far behind.

After his resounding cult success with RE-ANIMATOR, Gordon had quite the undertaking to match that pictures mixture of horror, humor and gross out special effects. While FROM BEYOND isn't quite the classick his previous mad scientist outing was, this new tale based on another H.P. Lovecraft story has steadily grown in fan appreciation over the years. My acclamation for the film has definitely increased after revisiting it on the uncut MGM special edition. Now with all the cut gore put back in place, it makes for an even wilder experience. Some of Gordon's crew from RE-ANIMATOR return as well as in front of the camera. The most important alum, Herbert West himself--Jeffrey Combs, stars along with Barbara Crampton. Combs plays Pretorious' colleague, the ill fated Dr. Tillinghast. Crampton has a bit more to do here from her prior role in RE-ANIMATOR and sizzles in a sexy dominatrix outfit. Ken Foree, popular cult actor from the original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) completes the main cast.

In addition to eyes and brains, noggins are a popular food choice to the inter-dimensional denizens FROM BEYOND

The Resonator that both doctors were working on stimulates the pineal gland of its users (or victims, depending on ones perspective) enabling them to see into other dimensions and the bizarre creatures that occupy this alternate world, normally invisible to human eyes. The use of this machine also causes peculiar side effects which prove disastrous to those that operate the machine; mainly of the licentious variety. That being said, there's a major sexual vibe that penetrates the film. Whether it be rampantly perverse deviancy, or cravings of a more visceral sort, Gordon's movie, in a few ways, goes beyond (haha) the bloody parameters set by his previous, delightfully grim endeavor.

This reliance on libidinous behavior reflects Pretorious' Resonator as something of a metaphor for drug addiction and possibly pent up sexual desire. The violation, or mutation of the human form echoes what Carpenter did in his version of THE THING (1982). One could also allocate INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (particularly the remake) with the subject of bodily defilement. The creatures seen in FROM BEYOND often times bear a phallic physiology such as the many worm and snake-like monstrosities. Dr. Tillinghast, after having his head sucked, slobbered and nearly severed from his torso, is left looking like a "new man"--a craving for brains, a bald dome and a phallic antennae that erupts from his forehead when he's "aroused".

While the film may not have quite the following of its predecessor, FROM BEYOND is a more ambitious affair both in its scope and its effects work. Mark (SWORD & THE SORCERER, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, EVIL DEAD 2) Shostrom designed some outrageously creative monsters and over the top gore effects for this gruesome cult item. BEYOND this movie, Gordon directed the ghoulishly frightful fairy tale, DOLLS in 1987, the gory, blackly comical excess of THE PIT & THE PENDULUM (1991), a film that benefited from a completely out of control performance by Lance Henriksen. CASTLE FREAK (1995) was something of a return to form for Gordon, this time mirroring any number of nasty numbers from Italy. Between these, Gordon flirted with science fiction with the fun outings, ROBOT JOX (1990) and FORTRESS (1992).

Gordon later came back to his horror roots with his Lovecraftian labor of love, DAGON in 2001 and the dark, vicious revenge thriller KING OF THE ANTS in 2003. With his work remaining largely popular with fans, Gordon has cemented his place in horror history with his signature work, RE-ANIMATOR (1985). Its bigger follow up, FROM BEYOND (1986), will likely, and hopefully accrue the same accolades down the road now that the unexpurgated version is available to the monster masses.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD

Mail Order Madness! Return of the Horror Adverts!

Back in the day, if you were a horror, or trash film collector, the only way to get your hands on such cinematic grotesqueries as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, DERANGED, SALO, THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET, BARBED WIRE DOLLS and many other sickeningly sweet examples of grue sinema was by mail order video outlets. Video Mania was showcased last time, and for this follow up post, it's the very first mail order catalog I ever got. This one being Donald Farmer's Mondo Video. Double click a pic to read all the gory details and check out some of the still obscure titles!

I first spied Mondo Video around 1988 inside the late, great Chas. Balun's splatastic terror tome of biblical proportions, 'The Deep Red Horror Handbook'. This was the company where I picked up my first VHS of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST with Spanish subs running across the bottom. Prior to the film starting was some totally bizarre, but disgustingly bewildering mondo flick that translated to SAVAGE AFRICA if I remember correctly. "Highlights" included little boys being circumcized without anesthesia, women having snakes pushed into their vaginas and lots of nakedness.

One thing fans will likely recall was the lurid descriptions of the films which weren't always completely truthful. The point was to get you to buy a particular film and if that meant hyping up the more salacious aspects beyond what's actually there, then so be it. Another ploy by mail order tape operators was to verbally enhance the quality of the print they had. Such as the case with CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Mondo Video describes it as an upgraded "Laser Version". The one I got, which looked fine as it was, was from no laserdisc. The hyping up of details made the hunt for that "special" forbidden fruit all the more exciting. The whole point was getting movies you couldn't get anywhere else!

Another thing fans had to contend with was that many times these tapes weren't always in English. Sometime's there'd be English subs and sometime's there wouldn't be. On many occasions, a rare Italian film might be available, but in French language only, or some other European dialect. Also, print quality varied wildly from one tape to the next. For the most part, I was always satisfied with image quality on the tapes I used to get, but there were exceptions.

On most of the catalogs I saw during this time, these sellers also offered original tapes with their original color boxes. Video Mania was this type of outlet. They only offered original tapes. Prices were high and this, again, was part of the fun of getting tapes. Sure, it was saddening to be unable to pick up a particular tape because of its cost, but the need and desire to see said film only increased because of it.

Another way of finding these outlaw companies was through magazines like Fangoria at the back of the mags in the Classified section. Also, fanzines such as The Gore Gazette and dozens of others were also an outlet by which horror fans could get leads on where to get their foul film fix.

I scanned and uploaded this entire Mondo Video catalog. I got one more from a year, or two later (1990 or 1991). Other catalogs I seem to have lost, or misplaced were ones from the likes of JARS Video Collectibles (kung fu movies--original boxes), Midnight Video (This one was real bad about hyping a lot of details that made their videotape discoveries such a time consuming endeavor) and Far East Flix (still going strong over 13 years later).

Nowadays, so many of these controversial cinema hot topics are available on remastered--restored DVD's, and with a plethora of extras in some cases. In some ways, I miss those days and in others, I wouldn't trade my wonderfully packaged sleazily epic treats on the shiny disc for anything.
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