31 Days of Halloween — Day 2: From Beyond (1986) — by Dr. Shock

From Beyond 1986

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.

—Dr. Shock

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

Links for Dr. Shock:

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Dr. Shock also appears on this horror podcast: Land of the Creeps

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16 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 2: From Beyond (1986) — by Dr. Shock

  1. I’m just last minute trying to come up a cobbled together list of horror movies to watch in October and this one is definitely getting thrown on there thanks to this review. I’ve seen From Beyond before and remember enjoying it but it’s one of those movies that just doesn’t pop into my head very often as something I might want to revisit. Not the case now though as Doc’s review has me excited to watch the movie again.


    Day 02 – You’re Next (2011)

    On the surface, 2011’s You’re Next is just a more recent version of the great 2008 film, The Strangers. After all, both films are about three masked killers terrifying and hoping to kill off a family in their secluded home. Initially, the only difference that is noticeable is that You’re Next has far more potential victims. Yet, the longer the film goes, the clearer it becomes that You’re Next has a lot to offer, most of which have nothing in common with The Strangers.

    One clear difference is the lead character of Erin. The say the least, she’s one of the biggest bad asses and most likely female protagonists in horror. Even before the horror kicks in, she’s such a likable character. Here she is going to this big scary family event of her boyfriend and yet she’s so upbeat, happy, and seemingly the most genuinely excited person at the event. This becomes even more obvious once we meet the other loved ones of Erin’s boyfriend, Crispian’s siblings. First there’s Crispian’s sister-in-law. She seems nice on the surface, but once she’s alone with her husband, Drake (Played by Joe Swanberg), she’s talking trash about Erin. Then there’s Zee, the girlfriend of Crispian’s other brother, Felix. Zee can’t even be bothered to put up a fake front around others. Lastly, there’s Tariq (Played by Ti West), the boyfriend of Crispian’s sister. Unlike the other two significant others, Tariq isn’t rude or anything, but he isn’t as outgoing or friendly as Erin. So pre-horror Erin? Totally awesome. However, it’s once the attacks begin that we find that out that Erin is far more knowledgeable about home protection than anyone could have expected. This sort of level of being able to take care of things never reaches the point of being too powerful that it exceeds expectations. Essentially, Erin is just doing everything that any horror viewer would yell at characters for not doing. Shit goes down and Erin quickly grabs a weapon. If she’s attacking one of the killers, she refuses to stop pummeling the killer until he’s a smashed up bloody mess. It’s beautiful. Besides just being likable, Erin manages to do something that is so rare in horror – she’s also smart.

    The other two characters that stood out to me the most are Crispian and Drake. Being that I’ve seen the film before, I remembered that Crispian was partially responsible for the attacks. So this time around, every time he was involved in a scene, I was trying to notice any clues that hint at his nefarious plans. Two such moments that stood out to me was Crispian stopping his father from opening up a closet door on the second floor, where it was believed that one of the masked men were hiding out. The second was when everyone began to realize that Erin was far more equip to handle this incident than anyone else. Crispian’s face is a mix of shock and “Oh…shit”. Love it. As for Drake, I love him. Especially pre-attack, every single thing Drake says is something offensive towards someone. He’s a total asshole. It’s no wonder Crispian and Felix were willing to kill their brother. I would too if I had to deal with that bully for my entire life. Yet, it would be too quick to kill Drake right away. After the attacks begin, it’s one bad moment after another for Drake. Poor Drake is shot with an arrow, passes out for awhile, learns that his wife has been killed, and even has to be stabbed multiple times by Felix before he finally dies. When compared to everyone else, Drake got punished so much more than anyone else. A perfect treatment towards a character that couldn’t help but be a jackass.

    While I did mostly love the movie, there were a few things I wasn’t a fan of. All of these things are fairly small and mostly logic based. For starters, there’s the main song that can be heard throughout various points of the movie. “Looking for the Magic” by Dwight Twilley may be a really catchy tune, but why was it always playing at the neighbor’s house? Thanks to the various shots of the DVD player that is playing the CD, we can see that it’s on disc repeat. Okay, cool, but is this only an one track CD? Why is it that every time the song ends, the same song plays yet again? Another problem was the decision to allow Crispian’s sister to try and run out of the house for help shortly after the attack began. Literally, the attacks just begun and you’re already thinking about running outside to where the killers are? Lastly, there’s the fact that after the mother is killed when alone in her bedroom upstairs, no one seems concerned about the fact that they don’t know what happened to her killer. Despite this, no one is bothered when Drake’s wife stays upstairs alone in that very bedroom where literally the last person who was alone in there was killed. Even though she doesn’t die in the bedroom as well, surprise surprise…the killer is still in the bedroom and she’s forced to flee for her life. However, it does make me wonder if the only reason why no one cared is because she wasn’t a blood relative. It’s not as if anyone cared about Tariq’s death other than his girlfriend. Once she’s killed, everyone cares though.

    You’re Next also features one of my favorite things in horror – nods to other horror movies. Like always, I’m sure I’d pick up on more nods with each additional viewing, but the ones I noticed several this time around. After Drake’s wife is killed at the neighbor’s house, the killer sits down on the couch and tilts his masked face to the side just as Michael Myers would when looking at one of his victims. Erin’s little montage of prepping the house for another invasion reminded me of Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street. We even saw Erin set up an ax above the door, fairly similar to Nancy doing the same with a sledgehammer. The scene with Erin using her camera to disorient one of the masked killers is certainly reminiscent of the climatic ending to Rear Window. The big end reveal of Crispian being responsible for the killings when for awhile we didn’t even know if he was alive, reminded me of Billy’s reveal as a killer in the original Scream. Just before the film wrapped up, we get an end of the movie Night of the Living Dead-like gunshot to the hero from outside of the house from someone believing that Erin was an enemy force. As I said at the start of the film, this is a movie about three masked killers terrorizing a family in a secluded location. Whether an official nod or not, it reminds me greatly of The Strangers. Any time there’s nods to other horror films in a movie, it greatly increases the replay value of You’re Next.

    I wouldn’t necessarily consider this a negative, but I found the death scenes to be a little unusual. There’s a ton of deaths. I believe there’s a total of fifteen kills with a great emphasis on making each one different from the rest. That’s rather cool too. However, despite these cool deaths, we never get to see very long shots of the kills. Typically, each kill has such quick cuts that we only briefly get to see a stabbing, impalement, or strike rather than staying on each death to see it in it’s bloody glory. With so many deaths, I wouldn’t be surprised if the MPAA stepped in and in order to achieve an R rating, director, Adam Wingard, had to get in a lot of edits to keep the MPAA happy.

    Overall, since You’re Next was released, I’ve heard a good amount of horror fans praise it as one of the better horrors of recent years. I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s quite as good as The Strangers, but it comes awfully close. As a fan of the whole mumblecore movement, it’s especially nice to see another good mumblecore horror to go along with V/H/S 2, The House of the Devil, and Baghead. If You’re Next never sees a sequel made, I would be more than happy to see You’re Next remain a great stand alone horror from an era where such films are nearly nonexistent.

    Rating: 9/10

    • The main difference between You’re Next and The Strangers is that the attackers’ motivation is revealed in the former, whereas the audience is left in the dark with the latter. For me, that’s a big part of why The Strangers is so terrifying and why, of the two, it’s the superior film.

      • I would agree that The Strangers is the superior film, even just slightly. While I prefer the motivation in The Strangers, but the motivation/people behind the killings in You’re Next is more emotional. Both of them are highly effective for me.

        • Do we ever learn the intruders’ motivation in The Strangers? It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, but I remember the lack of clear motivation being one of the scariest elements.

      • Agreed. I’ve voiced my displeasure over You’re Next, but I plan to give it another go. I absolutely think the wrong setting and mood will kill a movie experience. The Strangers scared me more than any movie ever has, simply because I have a terrible fear of someone breaking into my house while we’re home. So realistic! Fantastic film, and on my 31 Days list.

        • These films weren’t meant to be the same thing and I don’t think one is better than the other. They both do exactly what they set out to do and do it perfectly. While The Strangers is a straight forward seriously (and serious) creepy af home invasion movie, You’re Next turns the formula on its head and is out to have fun playing with expectations. I personally prefer You’re Next, but I also love The Strangers. Totally different movies within the same sub-genre.

  3. Day 2: Southbound (2016)

    Rating: 7/10 (rental)

    — — — — — Contains spoilers — — — — —

    What I liked:
    – How the film seamlessly ties together the individual stories, both in construct and theme, rather than resorting to the typical anthology mechanism of using a wrap-around story to connect unrelated shorts.
    – The overarching theme of guilt is carried throughout the film and, incidentally, is directly represented by the title “Southbound.”
    – How purgatory is represented as an endless loop in the desert.
    – The desolate desert setting really adds to the sense of dread and being alone, both of which are feelings associated with someone carrying guilt.
    – How the film comes full circle, with the ending segment informing the audience of what we saw in the beginning; incidentally, this “time-warp” effect also helps impart a sense of confusion and feeling of being stuck in the same loop that the film represents.
    – Despite being tied together in construct and theme, each segment is very different from the next.
    – Each segment is strong; my favorite is “The Accident,” followed closely by “Siren.”

    What I didn’t like:
    – The character design of the omnipresent floating creatures is sort of like a low-rent version of the dementors.
    – The ending when Hell opens up to claim Mitch and Jack and the keepers of purgatory emerge from the people they killed doesn’t look great and is a little too on the nose.

  4. Day 2: The House of the Devil

    ————SPOILERS BELOW————

    I cannot say enough good things about this film. Ti West outdid himself, in my humble opinion. The story follows Samantha, a college student who has just scored a fantastic apartment, but doesn’t have the necessary funds to pay for it. She accepts a sketchy babysitting job in the middle of nowhere on the night of a lunar eclipse. Samantha is informed when she arrives that there is no child to sit for, but an elderly woman who lives on the third floor. She initially balks, but Mr. Ullman (a fantastic Tom Noonan), the homeowner, agrees to pay her substantially more. Her best friend Megan, who drove her to the job, does not like the change in plans, but ultimately agrees to come back later on to pick Samantha up. Megan stops in a graveyard to smoke a cigarette and is scared by a stranger who appears out of nowhere. When he discovers that she is not the babysitter, he shoots her in the head.

    Samantha wanders around the huge, dark house and, after finding a series of photographs depicting a different family with the same car we see the Ullmans leave in, Samantha scares herself enough to call 911. She ultimately tells the dispatcher that she has made a mistake. We, however, see the family in the photographs has been murdered and arranged in a formation in a locked room upstairs. She orders a pizza from the number listed on the refrigerator and, when it arrives, we discover the delivery driver is the same person who killed Megan (kinda saw that one coming). The pizza is drugged and Samantha suddenly finds herself trying to escape from a satanic cult, which includes Mr. Ullman, his wife and the elderly “mother”. She is forced to drink blood from a skull during the ritual they are performing. We then find out that the pizza delivery person is Mr. Ullman’s son, Victor, also a member of the cult. Samantha manages to escape the house by killing Victor and Mrs. Ullman. Mr. Ullman follows her to the graveyard where Megan was killed. Samantha begins having terrible visions, and is informed by Mr. Ullman that she was chosen. Instead of shooting Ullman, she shoots herself in the head. The movie ends with Samantha in the hospital and a nurse patting her stomach and reassuring her that they are “both” going to be fine.

    I love this movie so much. There is a fantastic late 70’s/early 80’s vibe to this film. The use of older technology (a Walkman, a pay phone) really sets the time frame well. I love how the movie holds tension from the moment Samantha arrives at the house until the climax. Minus the satanic cult, I have been the babysitter in a large, dark house and was absolutely terrified. That really stirred something in me and I find that watching this film takes me back to those scary nights as a babysitter.

    I give this film a 9.5 out of 10 and I say absolutely BUY IT!!!

  5. Day 2: House on Haunted Hill (1959)
    Rating: 9/10

    My parents were visiting me on the 2nd day of October so I picked a movie I hoped they would like. I love this movie and watch it several times a year and at least once in the month of October. Frederick Loren is the perfect role for Vincent Price. He creepily hosts a party while being charismatic and yet, far from innocent. There was enough mystery to keep my parents’ interest yet not too much gore to scare them away.

  6. Day 2 – Demon (2016)

    A beautiful and strange film. Only vaguely horror, but also vaguely any other genre. It’s haunting and gorgeous. The acting is superb and the dialogue is rich. Lots of humor, but also sublimely grim and hopeless. You can’t walk away from this film without feeling really confused and simultaneously dazzled. It’s a mixed bag in some respects, but it will undoubtedly make its way on to my top 10 horror for 2016. Check it out ya’ll


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