Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.
Along with being a damn good horror film, Stuart Gordon’s “From Beyond” (inspired by a short story of the same name by H.P. Lovecraft) has what I consider to be one of the all-time great pre-title sequences. It opens with physicist Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), the assistant of Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel), hard at work in their 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 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’s bedroom 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’s lifeless (and headless) body lies bleeding on the floor and Crawford, now almost completely insane, is charged with his murder and hauled off to jail (the police were called to the scene by Pretoria’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 the film’s eerie tone, which grows darker as the movie progresses.
Due to his deteriorating mental state, Crawford is transferred to an asylum, where he’s being 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 were centered on the human brain, notably the Pineal gland. It was Pretorius’s 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 that 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’s lab. When Crawford fires up the machine, the creatures return, but something 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 Lovecraft story that inspired it is only about 17 paragraphs long, “From Beyond” successfully stretches the material into a disturbing, yet utterly fascinating, 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 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, a great movie, and I really enjoyed “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” is going to be a hard one to beat.
I’d even go so far as to call it his masterpiece.
If you’d like more Lovecraft-related coverage, give a listen to our special themed episode, “H.P. Lovecraft 101: An Introduction” with feature reviews of Re-Animator (1985), Castle Freak (1995), and Dagon (2001) as well as an interview with Lovecraft scholar Carl Sederholm, Phd, co-author of The Age of Lovecraft. LISTEN: http://bit.ly/1oZuXVc
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