THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
In 1986, the creative team behind Re-Animator - director Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, and stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton – reunited for a second film based on an H. P. Lovecraft story, From Beyond. The movie had a tough road to the screen. Its mixture of extreme gore and sexuality rankled the MPAA, who refused for the longest time to give the picture an R rating. Multiple edits later, it got the R, but Gordon lamented having to trim. For a 2007 DVD release, the edited material was reinstated, and this uncut version also exists on the From Beyond Blu-Ray released by Scream Factory. If you are not familiar with this company, you need to be. It has been said, accurately, that they do for retro genre movies what Criterion does for arthouse fare: gorgeously remaster the films and include first-rate supplementary materials.
From Beyond is the story of Crawford Tillinghast (Combs), the assistant to the brilliant Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel). Pretorius has invented a device called “the Resonator,” which stimulates the pineal gland in the brain, allowing those who stand near it to see entities from another dimension. Unfortunately, those entities are evil. The doctor gets sucked into their world, while Tillinghast is institutionalized after describing these events to authorities. A psychiatrist, Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Crampton), is assigned to his case. She believes his story, and insists that he demonstrate the Resonator to her and a police detective, Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree). He reluctantly agrees, inadvertently opening up a Pandora's box in the process. The now mutated Pretorius is unleashed, and he's power-hungry. Also, because the pineal gland helps regulate sex drive, McMichaels becomes an erotically charged version of herself. Everything culminates in a dramatic confrontation inside Pretorius' attic laboratory.
I saw From Beyond on video when I was a teenager, about a year or so after its theatrical run. My recollection is of being both shocked and sickened. The gore is A+ level. Even today, the film's grossness is wonderfully effective. As a teen who'd been sheltered from violent entertainment by my parents, it was earthshaking. I saw sights that I never could have imagined at the time. (Side note: I believe that horror movies are a rite of passage for teenagers, so this is a compliment, not a criticism.) More than that, though, the way From Beyond weaves sexual material into the gore felt scandalous. At one point, the mutant Pretorius rips open McMichaels blouse, caresses her breasts with his slimy, deformed fingers, then inches his hand downward to...well, you know. Moments like this still have power. As an adult, I'm in complete admiration of the fearlessness with which the film ventures into such uncomfortable territory. Certainly, this is a crucial factor in its overall effectiveness as a genuinely horrific tale.
Gordon also makes very effective use of the color pink to signal terror. One could write a doctoral thesis on color usage. Normally, pink is considered a “soft,” even feminine color. In From Beyond, objects to be feared are usually pink, and during some of the most intense moments, the images are bathed in pink light. Again, this demonstrates that From Beyond was – and still is – a boldly ambitious work of cinematic terror, one that offers sights seldom seen in the genre.
Also on display are some of the most jaw-dropping creature effects ever committed to celluloid, plus a handful of solid performances. Combs and Crampton are especially good, doing work that has nuance and flair. For all its gruesome imagery, From Beyond is really a character-based story. Crampton makes McMichaels' libidinous descent gripping, while Combs travels the spectrum from concerned assistant to deranged “other.” A scene where he attacks a nurse, which the MPAA had a particular problem with, is one of the movie's shock highlights. The suggestion here is that monsters from another dimension are scary, but not being able to control one's own body and behavior is even scarier.
From Beyond is just as unnerving now as it was in 1986. If you haven't seen it in a while, this Blu-Ray is an excellent incentive to do so. If you haven't seen it at all, do yourself a favor and rectify the situation immediately.
The Scream Factory (the horror division of Shout! Factory) is really celebrating '80s horror with their lineup, which also includes Phantasm II, Lifeforce, The Fog, The Nest, The Howling, and more. Horror movies of that decade are often remembered as being cheesy. That's sometimes the case, but they were also willing to try all kinds of crazy ideas, unlike many of today's horror releases, which tend to play it safe. Also unlike most of today's offerings, '80s horror movies were fun. The bonus materials on this Blu-Ray are presented in that spirit.
One of my favorite things is the gorgeous new box artwork Scream Factory has commissioned for From Beyond, as well as several other titles. If you're a purist and prefer the original artwork, all you have to do is flip the insert around. A genius idea!
There are two separate audio commentaries on the disc, a new one from writer Dennis Paoli, and a second featuring Gordon and the cast, which is from the 2007 MGM DVD release.
Several other extras also come from that prior release. “The Director's Perspective” is an informative interview with Gordon, in which he talks about the film's origins, as well as his battle with the ratings board. “The Editing Room – Lost and Found” details how the excised bits were discovered and restored for the director's cut. An interview with composer Charles Band looks at the movie's score, while a series of storyboard-to-film comparisons give insight into the visual style. The original theatrical trailer is also included.
Plenty of brand new features are here, too. “Multiple Dimensions” is a 20-minute look at the extensive makeup and creature effects. If you've ever seen From Beyond, you know how elaborate they are. The effects team explains how these astoundingly hideous feats were pulled off. Crampton and Combs also get individual 15-minute interview segments in which they share memories of the production, while executive producer Charles Band gets a 5-minute segment to discuss filming in Italy.
From Beyond looks and sounds magnificent on this Blu-Ray, and the bonus features are universally outstanding. All in all, it's a first-class release.
For more information on Scream Factory titles, please visit the official website.
From Beyond is unrated but contains intense scenes of gore, sexuality/nudity, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!