“Re-Animator” may be the definitive Stuart Gordon cult classic, but his follow-up film entitled “From Beyond” is just as good. Like the former, it’s based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, whose love of horror and fantasy made him a unique writer in his field. “From Beyond” also represents the kind of horror movie Hollywood is not always quick to make: one with a vivid imagination and something other than your typical slasher fare. Were it made today, and assuming any studio would finance such a genre flick, it would probably go straight to Netflix or Shudder. Granted, this would not be a terrible fate, but movies like these are best experienced in a darkened movie theatre.
Jeffrey Combs stars as Crawford Tillinghast, a scientist who has created a ground-breaking machine called the Resonator. It is designed to stimulate the pineal gland which, for those who didn’t pay attention in science class (don’t worry, I didn’t either), allows subjects to see beyond normal, perceptible reality. Aside from getting, as one character says, an “orgasm of the mind,” they also see creatures unlike any others which inhabit the planet. Of course, when these same creatures proceed to attack Tillinghast and his sadomasochistic partner Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel), we know things will not end well for anybody.
Pretorius ends up getting killed and Tillinghast is arrested and wrongly charged with his murder. But after meeting Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), who is utterly shocked after viewing Tillinghast’s brain scan which shows his pineal gland as larger than ever, she goes against her superiors and takes him back to the house to start the Resonator up again and confirm his story. From there pain and pleasure take on visceral new meanings even Pinhead from “Hellraiser” would never have thought of (seriously, such things are possible).
Gordon effectively finds the shock and awe in this story which gets at our conflicting desire to play it safe and yet still test our limits. These characters have no business reactivating the Resonator but, like them, their fascination over what they could happen is far more enticing than we would openly admit. He also brings much of the black humor from “Re-Animator” to this film as well, allowing us to take the story only so seriously. With antennas sticking out of heads and characters wearing bizarre costumes, you could almost call this his version of a David Cronenberg film.
All the actors in “From Beyond” remain incredibly underrated long after this film was released back in 1986. Combs is superb as a doctor who is even more of a loose cannon than “Re-Animator’s” Herbert West ever was, and you come out of this wondering why he isn’t a movie star. Barbara Crampton matches him scene for scene as McMichaels, who goes from being a person in control to one completely losing it with great abandon. Then you have “Dawn of the Dead’s” Ken Foree, who plays Bubba Brownlee (yes, this is his character’s name), the one man who has not completely lost his sanity. This is one of the many roles on Foree’s resume which quickly reminds us of what a bad ass he is and can be.
But one performance worth singling out is the late Ted Sorel’s as he dives head-first into the perverse nature of his character, Dr. Pretorius. Seeing him excited about the next ultimate drug makes him such a repellant character, yet Sorel still makes him so charismatic at the same time. Even when covered in makeup to where he looks infinitely slimy and mutated, the effects never upstage his excellent performance.
Gordon, working with a bigger budget this time, revels in the love he has for Lovecraft’s work, and this love can be seen all throughout “From Beyond.” He was never a guy who wanted to just churn out forgettable junk, but one who brings us to a horrifying place we may are compelled to visit against our better judgment. Scary movies are always fun to watch, but many of them are as imaginative as they claim to. “From Beyond,” however, is one of those movies and definitely worth your time. If you loved “Re-Animator,” you will enjoy “From Beyond” every bit as much.
* * * ½ out of * * * *