1 Hr., 28 Mins.
From Beyond October 26, 2020
tuart Gordon’s directorial debut, Re-Animator (1985), was an exploitation-movie masterpiece — a gory sci-fi-horror amalgam that had just the right amount of dark humor to make it more playful and funny than gravely gross. Its comedy was horrific and the horror was frequently comic. It achieved an impressive tonal equilibrium, a little like the kind seen in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) or The Wicker Man
(1973). Gordon’s follow-up movie, From Beyond (1986), has the same leads as Re-Animator, Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton; is also based on an H.P. Lovecraft story; and also features a hearty helping of gore. (Only the effects of From Beyond are gooier and slimier than they were in its forebearer; I’d hate to hear all the wiggles and squishes an ASMR microphone would pick up.) Re-Animator, reminiscent of the mad scientist-driven horror movies of the 1930s, had a throwbackish air — like this is what genre films released during the so-called Hollywood Golden Age might have looked like had the censors not been so strict. From Beyond does too.
And yet for having so many of the same elements as the minorly genius movie preceding it, From Beyond is comparatively stiff. It has similarly great effects, but it doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. There’s little joy to be culled from all its mania. It has a lovably pulpy conceit, but no one seems to be basking in the grim absurdity of it. The performances, aside from Ted Sorel as the antagonistic mad scientist driving the film’s chaos, don’t have much of a kick. Combs, so fun to hate in Re-Animator as the no-nonsense medical student with the punchable, forever-glib face, is mostly just one-notedly keyed up in From Beyond. Though Crampton, like in Re-Animator, is engaging and engaged — observably up for anything Gordon throws her way.
An experiment gone awry kicks off the action in From Beyond. Dr. Edward Pretorious (Sorel) has just finished developing a device he’s calling the Resonator. When turned on, the Resonator bathes the room in which it’s sitting a pinkish purple. Sooner or later, it starts to allow the room’s inhabitants to start seeing — actually finding themselves standing among — creatures that have apparently been transported here from a different reality. They’re wormy, reminding us, almost, of enlarged germs. When someone later in the movie compares Pretorious’ invention to the 1755 discovery of amoebae under a microscope by August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof, another acknowledges that, yes, the Resonator too is groundbreaking. But they then frantically remind their listening companion that Rosenhof wasn’t also waiting around those amoebae like a sitting duck.
The film opens with Pretorious’s apparent death — killed by one of those quasi-amoebae because he didn’t listen to his assistant, Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Combs), when he feverishly implored him to switch the thing off. Tillinghast is not only accused of murdering Pretorious — he’s also locked up in a mental hospital in the aftermath. Terrible as his plight is, it’s not all that surprising that his incessant ramblings about the Resonator and creatures “from beyond” cast more than a little doubt on his stability.
The movie really gets going when Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Crampton) is brought in to “treat” Tillinghast. It’s well known in her field that she doesn’t believe people with schizophrenia should be locked away. She immediately gives weight to Tillinghast’s story when he relays it to her. (With other doctors, he could barely get through it before they’d interrupt him and inject him with something to calm his nerves.) She has him CT-scanned, is shocked to find that his pineal gland has impossibly gotten bigger, and decides that the best way to get to the bottom of his woes is to venture with him back to the house in which he and Pretorious tested out the Resonator.
Bad idea! Things go catastrophically enough that the movie ends in the classic Frankenstein-movie style: with the home housing all the experiments blowing up as if it were a brick-and-mortar volcano. From Beyond starts off ingeniously, then gets tedious. There is eventually very little to the storyline besides a succession of set pieces tailored to make the viewer squirm — that is squirm while grinning. But even if From Beyond doesn’t really work, it’s hard to outrightly dislike. Gordon’s love for this stuff — lit-horror sensibilities married to exploitation-film chintziness — is too obvious, and never does the movie feel like it’s the product of a filmmaker going through the motions. Gordon’s not the type. His next movie, 1987’s Dolls, is much better. Akin to Re-Animator, it plays to his strengths. It's scary, but makes plenty of room for an infectious, ghoulish funniness. C+