Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “From Beyond”

From Beyond

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Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! Next up in the two week spotlight on the career of writer/director Stuart Gordon is 1986’s “From Beyond.”

“From Beyond” is the spiritual follow-up to Stuart Gordon’s smash debut, “Re-Animator.” It would be the second of Stuart Gordon’s eventual four H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, and reunited much of the same cast and crew that created the cult classic predecessor. Gordon went back to Lovecraft again for inspiration on his later films “Dagon” and “Dreams in the Witch House,” but neither of those films got the same kind of attention as “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond.”

As mentioned, multiple players from “Re-Animator” return for “From Beyond,” most notably Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. Apparently, producers on the film opposed Crampton’s casting due to her youth, but Stuart Gordon specifically fought to let her have the role. Also in the cast is Ken Foree, who later pops up in the Gordon-penned movie “The Dentist,” and Stuart Gordon’s wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon. Ted Sorel, a character actor who never saw much success,  rounds out the cast, playing the mad doctor who loses himself in the “beyond” world.

Stuart Gordon shares screenwriting credit on “From Beyond” with two of his most frequent career collaborators, Brian Yuzna and Dennis Paoli, who were both involved with other Stuart Gordon-associated films such as “Re-Animator,” “The Dentist,” and “Castle Freak.”

Charles Band, the primary producer on the flick, is best known for the “Puppet Master” series of films. He specifically arranged for “From Beyond” to be done back to back with “Dolls” on the same sets as a cost-saving maneuver, in true Roger Corman tradition.

The cinematographer on “From Beyond” is Marc Ahlberg, who was also a frequent collaborator with Stuart Gordon for many years. Apart from working on Gordon movies such as “Dolls,” “Re-Animator,” and “Space Truckers,” he also did such notable gems as “Good Burger,” “Evil Bong,” and Joe Dante’s “The Second Civil War.”

The music in “From Beyond,” as was the case with “Re-Animator,” “Dolls,” and later “Dreams In The Witch House,” was provided by Charles Band’s brother, Richard: a veteran B-movie music master who additionally worked on the “Puppet Master” and “Demonic Toys” films with his brother.

The special effects on “From Beyond” were provided by Mechanical and Makeup Imageries, who also worked on the Stuart Gordon films “Dolls” and “Robot Jox,” as well as other b-films such as  “Ghoulies,” “Troll,” and “Trancers.” As was the case with “Dolls,” it is clear that the special effects team had an absolute blast with this movie. Outside of a few cheesy effects to create the translucent “beyond” world, the creatures and mutants manifested via practical effects look like they were a dream to create, and look pretty fantastic for a lower-budget feature. The effects reminded me of some of David Cronenberg’s movies, such as “Videodrome” and “Scanners,” in the use of imaginative visceral entities and squibs.

frombeyond4“From Beyond” follows the story of a young physics graduate student, who is working with a cruel and obsessive professor on creating a device (the resonator) aimed at expanding human perception. When the initial test of the resonator is successful, a creature from a “beyond” dimension kills the professor, leaving the student apparently insane. A controversial psychiatrist decides to take the student on as a patient, intrigued by his experiments and their potential applications for the treatment of schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and other brain-related diseases. She convinces him to once again operate the resonator, resulting in further other-worldly shenanigans.

Outside of the effects work, the biggest strength of “From Beyond” are the performances. Particularly, I thought Barbara Crampton knocked her role out of the park, which is both a heavier and more dynamic character than the role she was given in “Re-Animator.” Jeffrey Combs is once again a blast, and gives the same 110% performance that anyone should expect from him. There is a particularly great moment where he is confronted by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon’s character while frantically eating a handful of brains. Boy, is that a sequence for the Jeffrey Combs career highlight reel.

frombeyond2 frombeyond1“From Beyond” was a financial failure on release, making back less than half of its $4.5 million budget. However, it was generally well received by audiences and critics, currently holding a 6.8 rating on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 69% (audience) and 71% (critic).

While I think “From Beyond” is pretty enjoyable, it certainly isn’t without flaws. With so many returning players from “Re-Animator” and all of the other obvious similarities between the two films, it feels like there was too much of an effort put towards trying to replicate “Re-Animator,” rather than trying to create a work to stand on its own. It feels like an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle, and result of that is a number of moments that feel artificial and forced, and steals away some of the charm that the movie might have otherwise retained.

Something else that I certainly found off-putting about “From Beyond,” and something that also feels imitative of “Re-Animator,” is the amount of uncomfortably forced sexuality. There is an attempt to explain it away in dialogue as being a side-effect of the resonator, but I am quite curious if that was actually part of the source material. One of the biggest popular complaints about Gordon’s adaptations of Lovecraft are his insertions of nudity and sexuality into the tales, and I can’t help but wonder if that was the case here. There is certainly a way to use eroticism as a way to enhance a horror movie, but Gordon has never been able to find that balance if you ask me, mostly because most of his notable sex scenes are massively uncomfortable and non-consensual. That might have been what he was going for, but I feel like the emotions conjured from the inclusion of that kind of scene somewhat clashes with the traditional, squibby horror that makes up most of “From Beyond” and “Re-Animator.” Personally, I find it at best clashing and distracting, and at worst a potential detriment to the entire genre by turning both creative people and audiences away from the films.

frombeyond5The only other minor gripe I have about “From Beyond” is that the pacing of the story feels oddly stilted, and a number of moments feel like they could function as endings. It still functions fine, but it starts to feel a bit repetitive towards the end of the film.

“From Beyond” is a movie I expected to like more than I actually did. It is still pretty enjoyable, particularly the performances of Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Ken Foree, but it really lives in the shadow of “Re-Animator,” which is unfortunately a comparison that the film constantly draws thanks to the casting and style. I would be interested to see how someone would feel about this film if they hadn’t seen “Re-Animator” first, as I get the feeling that this is a case where the film’s context almost certainly dooms it. In any case, this is a somewhat more serious Stuart Gordon movie that is still a good bit of fun, and is worth checking out if you enjoyed any of his other films.

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