The grindhouse doesn’t get any grindy-er than Stuart Gordon, a titan of 80s exploitation fare who found a potent hook in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Inspired by the horror master but happy to riff when and where he pleased, he launched a strange Renaissance of Lovecraftian works with 1985’s ghoulish Re-Animator. His follow-up effort, From Beyond, delved even further into gratuitous sex and violence than his earlier film, cementing a unique fusion of Lovecraft’s existential musings with good old fashioned drive-in depravity. Hit the jump for the full review.
Take that as a warning or an enticement: the effects are pretty much the same. The short story on which it is based concerned another dimension, surrounding and permeating our world but which we remain blissfully ignorant of thanks to our lack of the required perceptions. When a perverted mad scientist (and really, is their any other kind?) creates a machine designed to pierce the veil, he falls prey to the monstrosities on the other side. Reborn as a drooling slime beast, he threatens to transform all of humanity into writhing masses of claws and probes, unless his terrified former assistant Crawford (Jeffrey Combs) and Crawford’s repressed psychiatrist (Barbara Crampton) can stop him.
That all stands as par for the course in your average horror movie, even including the elaborate puppet and make-up effects putting the doctor’s shocking metamorphosis on full display. They hold up exceptionally well considering the shoestring budget that created them, and those with weak stomachs should avoid the film on those merits alone. But they don’t make From Beyond anything exceptional, at least on their own.
Luckily, Gordon doesn’t just stand on his basic premise. He throws a heaping batch of Cronenbergian sexual fetishism into the mix as well. The machine, you see, stimulates the pineal gland in the brain, which in turn controls arousal. It’s enough to transform Crampton’s straight-laced prude into a relentless sex addict – complete with kinky leather bondage gear and impassioned moaning – while Combs’ hapless scientist sprouts a penile appendage straight out of his forehead. It’s perverse, bizarre and even stomach-churning at times, but you’ve honestly never seen anything quite like it.
It works because Gordon refuses to take it seriously while forbidding his cast to so much as wink at the camera. The deadpan outrageousness thus kicks into overdrive without any of the hapless characters getting in on the joke. It’s the perfect tone for sleaze, at once achingly earnest and gleefully aware of its own excesses. Re-Animator played the same tune with far more confidence, but then again, its subject stuck closer to more traditional horror tropes. From Beyond, with its cosmic monstrosities and philosophical doodling, takes on bigger challenges with a little less assurance. Gordon lacks the intellectual predilections that make Cronenberg so great, and once he establishes his premise, he can’t do much more than up the ante until it pops. But that’s more than enough to achieve its stated purpose. Combs and Crampton know how to work this material perfectly, as does Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree, playing the third wheel to their mondo-weirdo couple. Armed with such a cast, Gordon hits a one-of-a-kind groove that no one has ever quite duplicated. From Beyond caters to a very specific taste, and those who don’t share it should stay away. But fans attuned to its depths will find the pleasures far guiltier than they could possibly dream.
The Blu-ray carries a decent collection of extras, along with sound and image quality that, while not quite top-notch, feel right at home for a glorious B-movie like this one. Extras include bits on the score, the editing, the producer and director, a longer piece on the make-up effects, the original trailer, audio commentaries from all of the principals, and the two high points: lengthy interviews with Combs and Crampton about their experiences on the shoot.