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Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Re-Animator”

Re-Animator

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Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog’s two week spotlight on the works and career of Stuart Gordon! Today, I’m taking a look at the most acclaimed and beloved of Stuart Gordon’s movies, 1985’s cult classic “Re-Animator.”

“Re-Animator” marked the first film directing work for Stuart Gordon, and was additionally the first writing collaboration for Gordon and Dennis Paoli, which would prove to be a long-running partnership. A third writing partner was present in William Norris, who never worked on any other films.

Before “Re-Animator,” Stuart Gordon was working for the Organic Theater Company in Chicago. He noticed that many of his actors were doing movies, and decided he wanted to try his hand at one as well. He decided to go with the horror genre because of the low budget required, and the generally high profitability of genre movies.

The source material, “Herbert West: Re-Animator” by H. P. Lovecraft, was published in parts over multiple issues of “Weird Tales” magazine. It was long out of print when Stuart Gordon got the idea of doing a movie, meaning that in order to read it, he had to request access to an original copy in the Chicago Public Library. The movie essentially “re-animated” the story from obscurity, and renewed popular interest in Lovecraft’s works.

reanimator1The screenplay of the “Re-Animator” film differs greatly from the content of “Herbert West: Re-Animator.” Ultimately, the original story only provided the characters and some details for the screenplay, which significantly altered the plot to make it more cinematic.

Brian Yuzna and Bob Greenberg both acted as producers on the picture, and would go on to collaborate extensively with Stuart Gordon on future projects. Yuzna even helmed two sequels to “Re-Animator”: “Bride of Re-Animator” in 1989, and “Beyond Re-Animator” in 2003.

The cinematography on “Re-Animator” was provided by Mac Ahlberg, who would go on to frequently collaborate with Stuart Gordon on films like “Dolls,” “Robot Jox,” and “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.” A handful of shots were completed by Robert Ebinger, who was dismissed after only a week of shooting on the behest of Charles Band, whose Empire Pictures was backing the movie.

The music on “Re-Animator,” which drew significant influence from the score of “Psycho,” was composed by Richard Band, brother of Charles Band and ultimately a frequent member of Stuart Gordon’s movie team.

The effects on “Re-Animator” were all done as simply as possible to keep the budget low, meaning that no optical special effects were used. There are a number of shots that appear to be done with special effects, but were actually executed with the creative use of lighting, camera angles, and practical effects. It has been estimated that the production used 30 gallons of take blood in total, which was used creatively in tandem with raw meat to do most of the gore in the film. Stuart Gordon has a fantastic quote about the use of cheap effects, taken from the “Re-Animator” DVD commentary:

“The audience will accept very simple special effects if they like the story and are involved.”

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The cast of “Re-Animator” features a handful of actors who would return to work with Stuart Gordon again in the future. Of course, Jeffrey Combs leads the way as Herbert West, who would become one of the most consistent figures in Stuart Gordon’s later films. Barbara Crampton later popped up in “From Beyond” and “Castle Freak,” and Robert Sampson appeared in 1989’s “Robot Jox.” Bruce Abbott returned for the first sequel to the film, but never reunited with Stuart Gordon on any of his later movies. David Gale would unfortunately die only a few years after “Re-Animator,” though he also appeared in Yuzna’s sequel, “Bride of Re-Animator.”

A number of notable actors appear in the background of “Re-Animator,” such as Stuart Gordon’s wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, as an ER doctor. The first reanimated corpse is played by Peter Kent, who is best known as a frequent stunt double and stand in for Arnold Schwarzenegger in films like “The Terminator,” “Total Recall,” “The Running Man,” “Predator,” “Last Action Hero,” and “Jingle All The Way.” Also in the background is Ian Patrick Williams, a member of the Organic Theater in Chicago with Gordon at the time, who would later appear in the Stuart Gordon films “Dolls” and “Robot Jox.”

“Re-Animator” follows the story of a medical student who becomes embroiled in experimentation on the re-animation of corpses after a mysterious new student transfers into the school and leases a room in his home. This relationship winds up causing significant problems for the pair as they are forced to butt heads with the school administration and simultaneously have to deal with the violent, erratic behavior of their creations.

reanimator4Notably, the creative team behind “Re-Animator” decided to release the movie unrated after getting an NC-17 from Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating board. Amazingly, the movie still managed to get advertised widely and booked in theaters, a major accomplishment for a film without a stamp of approval from the MPAA, and something that is unlikely to happen nowadays.

The infamously radiant reanimation fluid used in the film was made up of a chemical mixture used for certain kinds of road flairs, and was apparently highly toxic. Given the short life span of its luminosity, it had to be frequently replaced in order to maintain a consistent glow from shot to shot.

reanimator2All of the dead bodies were meticulously made up based on professional input from forensic pathologists in the Chicago area. Specifically, the coloration of the makeup was done using direct comparisons to actual autopsy photos of corpses. The vivid coloration on the bodies is meant to imitate the actual coloration effects that occur after death.

The humor in “Re-Animator” was something that wasn’t initially planned, but has wound up being a defining aspect of the film. Stuart Gordon has said that it was added in party due to his experiences working with forensic pathologists while doing research for the film, noting that they had some of the darkest senses of humor of any people he had ever met. In many ways, this integration of humor into horror influenced what would eventually define Stuart Gordon’s style. Here is another relevant quote from the director about what he learned about humor and horror from making “Re-Animator”:

“Laughter is the antidote for fear…you can build tension and then relieve it with laughter…but if you do both at the same time they cancel each other out.”

“Re-Animator” interestingly used many of the same locations and crew as “The Terminator.” The movie was eventually screened for Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, on the recommendation of his body double, who plays the first revived corpse in “Re-Animator.” Arnold apparently loved it, enough so that he later recommended Stuart Gordon for the directing job on “Fortress.”

The inclusion of the “laser drill” in the movie was a bit of science fiction when “Re-Animator” was made, but today laser surgery is standard practice in medicine in general, and specifically in autopsies (as is depicted in the film).

The most infamous scene in the movie is undoubtedly the decapitated head attempted rape sequence, and is perhaps the most uncomfortable thing Stuart Gordon has ever filmed. The original actress cast for Barbara Crampton’s role apparently dropped out due to the inclusion of the scene, and it caused David Gale’s wife to walk out of an early screening of the movie in shock.

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“Re-Animator” was highly regarded by critics at the time, and still holds an impressive 94% Rotten Tomatoes critical aggregate rating. Audiences have been a little less receptive to the film, giving is a 7.3 on IMDb and a 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is regarded as both a horror classic and a cult classic regardless.

Personally, I think that one of the most fantastic aspects of “Re-Animator” is the ending, in which Bruce Abbot’s character revives Barbara Crampton over a black screen, with only the reanimating agent in a syringe visible. It then closes on an iconic scream from Crampton. I have mentioned this ending before, way back when I covered Uwe Boll’s “House of the Dead,” which manages to botch a very similar concept for the ending.

“Re-Animator” is now regarded as a classic of the horror genre, and has influenced many other films since its release. On top of the eventual sequels, “Re-Animator” also inspired a musical adaptation, which was apparently pretty highly acclaimed.

Overall, “The Re-Animator” is more than deserving of the reputation that it has garnered. The effects are fantastic, the performances are great, and it has set the tone for the careers of both Stuart Gordon and star Jeffrey Combs. It is a must watch for horror movie fans, b-movie aficionados, and arguably film buffs in general. For fans of the genre, this is a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

However, I think it is hit-or-miss for people not already ingratiated into the genre: particularly, the infamous “head” sequence is likely to turn a subset of people off who might otherwise enjoy the movie. As effective as the scene is at disturbing the audience and drawing a reaction, that has to be weighed against the potential for the effect to turn people away: you want an audience to cringe and turn their head, but you don’t want to go so far as to push them out the door.

So, as far as a recommendation goes, it is an emphatic ‘yes’ for horror fans, and an indecisive ‘maybe’ for general audiences, with a clear caveat of the content that pops up in the film. If you think you can handle it, give the film a shot.

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Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Dagon”

Dagon

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Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog’s two week spotlight on writer/director Stuart Gordon! Next up is 2001’s “Dagon,” which sees Gordon dive back in to the Cthulhu mythos of H. P. Lovecraft.

“Dagon” is a loose adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” the only one of his works to be published as an independent book (as opposed to a section of a magazine) in his lifetime, with a whopping printing of 200 units. The film adaptation changes some major details from the story, most notably the location (from New England to Spain), and the nature of the creatures (from frog-like to octopus-like).

“Dagon” once again reunited Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon on what would be one of their longest-running projects (taking over 15 years to ultimately see to the screen). Paoli took sole writing credit on “Dagon,” which was unusual given how often the two have acted as writing partners. “Dagon” was initially written to be made as a follow-up to “Re-Animator” in the 1980s, and was intended to have Jeffrey Combs in the lead. However, for a handful of reasons, “From Beyond” ultimately got precedence, putting “Dagon” on the back-burner for what wound up being well over a decade.

The cinematography on “Dagon” was provided by Carlos Suarez, an acclaimed Spanish cinematographer who has been working since the 1960s, but has never really branched outside of his home country.

The music on “Dagon,” which is only used sparingly in the film, was composed by Carles Cases, another Spanish member of the crew who has never particularly branched outside the world of Spanish-language cinema.

The special effects on “Dagon” were provided by DDT, an acclaimed Spanish special effects outfit that has worked on films such as “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” where their skill in creating creatures has been excellently showcased.

A number of members of the production design and art team from “Dagon” would later work with producer Brian Yuzna on “Beyond Re-Animator,” the second of two dubious sequels to Stuart Gordon’s initial 1985 adaptation.

The cast of “Dagon” is led by Ezra Godden, who would later reunite with Stuart Gordon years later for “Dreams in the Witch House.” The British actor modeled his character of Paul on a combination of Woody Allen and Harold Lloyd, creating a sort of oddly comic and out of place protagonist. The cast also features the acclaimed Spanish actor Francisco (Paco) Rabal in one of his last on-screen performances before his death, as well as the first film role for actress Macarena Gomez.

dagon3 dagon7The story of “Dagon” follows four Americans  on a boating vacation, where they suddenly and mysteriously become shipwrecked just off of the Atlantic coast of Spain. In their search for medical help on shore, it quickly becomes clear that they have stumbled upon a peculiar and hostile village with a number of hidden secrets.

In the DVD commentary for “Dagon,” both Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon mention the concept of the story being a “battle of the gods.” Dagon was not just an invention of Lovecraft, it was based on a fish-god of the same name mentioned in the Old Testament as being the deity over the Philistines. Appropriately, there are a number of sequences showing conflict between Christianity and the Dagon-worshippers: notably, an extensive flashback sequence that depicts the revolution of the town from being Catholic to following the sea-god Dagon.

Apparently, Stuart Gordon was worried that there would be issues with finding Spanish extras willing to desecrate Christian symbols for this sequence. Hilariously, the cast and crew were more than happy to oblige, and reportedly destroyed all of the spares  off-screen as well, claiming it was therapeutic.

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The intersecting crescents “eye” symbol for Dagon was developed specifically for this film

Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli include a number of small details throughout “Dagon” that become more noticeable upon re-watching the film. For instance, none of the native islanders are ever shown blinking, a detail pulled from the source material that is meant to point to their “fishy-ness.” There are also a number of repeated phrases and actions on the part of Paul: he frequently mentions “two possibilities,” and is often faced with dichotomies throughout the film. Paul is also shown experiencing stomach pain, which becomes more intense and pronounced as the film goes on. Ultimately, the source of the pain is revealed to be a set of gills that have developed around his ribs. Personally, I would think that the sensation of growing gills would differ a little bit from a stomach cramp, but I have also never experienced a transformation into a fish-person.

Those with a keen eye will notice that the Godden’s character of Paul wears a sweatshirt throughout the film bearing the name “Miskatonic University.” That fictitious school features prominently throughout Lovecraft’s works, and is directly featured in Stuart Gordon’s previous Lovecraft film adaptation, “Re-Animator.”

“Dagon” reportedly had a total budget of 4.2 million euros, a total that it didn’t even come close to meeting in a limited Spanish theatrical run. The movie currently holds a 6.3 rating on IMDb, and has Rotten Tomatoes scores of 56% from both audiences and critics, a rare case of consensus. No matter how you cut it, “Dagon” was not a successful feature.

Criticisms that I have seen of the movie have claimed that it was too specifically catered to fans of Lovecraft, while others have claimed that despite its attempts, it proves that Lovecraft’s style simply can’t be adapted to film in a way that is simultaneously successful and faithful.

Personally, I have a few issues with the film, but none of them specifically relate to the adaptation. I think that the changes made by Paoli were sensible, and that there is nothing inherently prohibitive about this story that would prevent it from making a good movie. Hell, I think Stuart Gordon came pretty close here to having one of his best films.

Unfortunately, there are definitely issues with “Dagon.” First off, Ezra Godden’s Woody Allen act is just distracting, and completely fails to extract any laughs. Worse yet, his development into a hero seems to happen inexplicably, and his final twist even moreso. I could see exactly how Jeffrey Combs might have managed this character, and if things had turned out different, I think he could have nailed it. Godden struggles to convey intensity, and never seems genuinely terrified. Combs has an ability to portray those things, while also pulling off a side of humor. Godden tried to do that, but he doesn’t have the same kind of balancing capabilities or the comedic chops to do so. While none of the performances were outstanding (Gomez was also distractingly awful at times), no one had the same amount of screentime or responsibility as Godden, and he just couldn’t keep it all together.

dagon1dagon4Apparently, there was some internal debate on the production over whether or not Dagon should be shown in the conclusion. There were a handful of poor decisions here that wound up just about sinking the movie for me. First, Gordon relented, and allowed Dagon to be shown on screen at all. Second, Dagon was depicted solely with low-budget, 2001 CGI. Third, CGI was used inexplicably and interchangeably with (really good) practical effects throughout the film. Computer generated special effects, with rare exception, age horribly, and that is absolutely the case with “Dagon.” Worse yet, there was no reason to have a full shot of a giant monster at all in this movie: Lovecraftian horror is atmospheric, and relies a lot on what you don’t see, and I believe Stuart Gordon knows that. This movie could have been pulled off with only a glancing shot of Dagon (“Cabin in the Woods”,  “Cloverfield”) or just by showing the results of his actions. However, I think I understand why that decision was ultimately made.

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dagon6 Seriously, the practical effects look ok

“Dagon” was a low-budget production, and in 2001, I imagine the computer effects featured were expensive. For whatever reason, it was decided at some point in the production that certain aspects of the film needed CGI. My guess is that the effects shop pushed it, and showed off the capabilities of their CGI department, and maybe even cut the production a good deal. At that point, I imagine the “in for a penny, in for a pound” logic took over, and decisions were made to get everything possible out of the money that was sunk into the effects. Thus, we get a number of CGI shots that look awful now, but were probably impressive then, including Dagon himself. Regardless of what the logic was, it still looks awful, and cheapens the look of the movie as a whole. Those kind of missteps are like a pin in a balloon for me, and can sink my opinion of a pretty good movie pretty quickly.

Overall, “Dagon” is not one of my favorites in Stuart Gordon’s filmography by a long-shot. There are a lot of things I like about it: the location, the monster designs, and the practical effects, for instance. However, the moments of poor CG just about spoil the whole thing for me, and most of the acting is really disappointing (or at worst, grating). There is a general lack of genuine intensity, and the whole movie feels hollow for it. If this movie had happened in the late 1980s with Jeffrey Combs (and probably Barbara Crampton, I would assume), I’m sure that the result would have been stronger on all fronts. Not only would the cast have been more capable, but the option and temptation of adding the extensive computer generated effects wouldn’t have been there due to technological and financial constraints. Worst case scenario, they would have attempted a practical solution to include Dagon at the end of the movie anyway, and I would be willing to bet that it would still look better (and certainly age better) than what made it onto the screen in 2001.

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I’m saying they sacrificed the film’s quality

All of that said, “Dagon” is still a pretty fun horror movie, and doesn’t deserve the generally scathing reviews that it garnered. The upsides are very strong, and there is certainly some entertainment value to the movie. “Dagon” is worth giving a shot, but I wouldn’t put it on the top of my Stuart Gordon list by any means.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Dreams in the Witch House”

Dreams In The Witch House

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Welcome back to the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! Next up in the spotlight series on horror writer/director Stuart Gordon is “Dreams In The Witch House,” a short H.P. Lovecraft adaptation that Gordon created for the television program “Masters of Horror.”

“Masters of Horror” was a television series on Showtime that ran for two seasons from 2005-2007, specifically featuring short films (under 1 hour) developed by notable horror directors and writers. Apart from Stuart Gordon, the series spotlighted such notables as Tobe Hooper, Larry Cohen, John Landis, John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Clive Barker, and many others. “Dreams In The Witch House” aired in the first season of the show, and Stuart Gordon later returned to the second season of the program with an episode adapting the Edgar Allan Poe story “The Black Cat.”

“Dreams In The Witch House” is based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story published in 1933, and is Stuart Gordon’s fourth film adaptation of his works. Dennis Paoli once again returns as Stuart Gordon’s writing partner on “Dreams In The Witch House” and “The Black Cat”, but to date these two “Masters of Horror” episodes are the last works they have collaborated on.

The effects on “Dreams In The Witch House” were provided by the KNB EFX group, an Emmy and Academy Award winning outfit that has worked on productions such as “Django: Unchained,” “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “Army Of Darkness” “Drag Me To Hell,” “Kill Bill,” “Casino,” “Reservoir Dogs,” and “Grindhouse.” They undoubtedly provide one of the strongest aspects of the film, particularly with the incredibly creepy human-faced rat effect and the concluding “chest-burster” sequence.

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The cinematography on the film was provided by Jon Joffin, who has done extensive work on television movies, and worked on a number of early episodes of “The X-Files.” The production design for the movie was provided by one David Fischer, who is best known for his work on “Friday the 13th Part VIII” and “Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical.” Last but certainly not least, the music for “Dreams In The Witch House” is provided by Richard Band, brother of Charles Band, who also scored a number of Stuart Gordon’s earlier films, including “Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” and “Castle Freak.”

The cast of “Dreams In The Witch House” is led by Ezra Godden, who re-teamed with Gordon after working together on another of his Lovecraft adaptations, “Dagon.” The human-faced rat, Brown Jenkin, is played by a Ukrainian magician named Yevgen Voronin, who was cast based on his facial structure, and has done no acting work before or since. Chelah Horsdal was given her role because she exuded an atmosphere in her audition that was both “maternal and vulnerable,” making her more than believable for her part of a struggling single mother. She has since appeared in television shows such as “Hell on Wheels” and “Arrow,” and has been getting consistent work over the past few years. The old man character, Masurewicz, was initially going to be played by long-time Stuart Gordon collaborator Jeffrey Combs, but he unfortunately had to back out at the last minute. His replacement was Campbell Lane, who proves to be capable (though unremarkable) in the role.

“Dreams In The Witch House” follows a young physics doctoral student who is working on completing his graduate work. The story starts when he decides to rent a room in a secluded house so that he can focus on his work, but his accommodations quickly prove to be much creepier than he initially suspected. He befriends a young mother who is also a tenet in the home, but slowly starts to lose his grip on reality as he repeatedly sees a small creature that appears to be a rat with a human face. The apparent hallucinations become more vivid and disturbing as time goes on, and the promising young mind begins to consider that his research may have other-worldly applications.

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“Dreams In The Witch House” is not as over the top or fun as many Stuart Gordon movies, but it is pretty solid for what it is. It is certainly better than your average TV horror film for sure, at the very least. It does have your typical Lovecraft downer ending, which probably didn’t sit well with many, especially given the fact that it involves a particularly bloody child sacrifice. A bloody baby death is something you do not get very often in any genre, and many people found that to be a particularly upsetting aspect of the movie, (including Stuart Gordon’s wife, interestingly enough).

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Among the complaints I have seen about this film are that it doesn’t have enough true scares or horrifying moments. I think there is at least a case to be made there, but I feel like Lovecraft stories shouldn’t rely on shocks or jump-scares, but are more crucially reliant on atmospheric horror: something I think “Dreams In The Witch House” nails down pretty well.

The DVD commentary track for “Dreams In The Witch House” offered some fantastic insights from Stuart Gordon, including the following quotes:

“A good actor can make you believe anything, a good effect sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t”

“In horror…you always have to find a different way to get under people’s skin”

“[the actors I use] are not afraid to make themselves look ridiculous…if the character isn’t scared, why should the audience be scared? If you have an actor who won’t be afraid, you need to get another actor”

According to Stuart Gordon, “Dreams In The Witch House” was regarded as his ‘truest’ Lovecraft adaptation by many in attendance when he screened it at the Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, OR. Lovecraft fans are definitely split on Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations, particularly over his often apocryphal inclusion of nudity in the features, and sometimes dramatic alterations from the source material.

Overall, this is a pretty well crafted short film, especially considering the limited time and budget devoted to it. Gordon clearly enjoys Lovecraft and this story in particular, and has said that he wanted to do this adaptation since the 1980s. For those that might complain that Gordon’s works are too often tongue-in-cheek, this is the perfect work to show that he can take on horror without any side humor.

“Dreams In The Witch House” is a pretty strong recommendation from me. It is definitely a slight departure from the usual Stuart Gordon fare in that there is little to no comedic element to be found, but it is a pretty fantastically creepy and unsettling Lovecraft adaptation that is easy for any horror fan to enjoy.

Interestingly enough, the source material for “Dreams In The Witch House” inspired another adaptation: a Lovecraftian rock opera of the same name, which can be checked out in part on YouTube. I’ll recommend checking that out as well, if only for the novelty of the thing.

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.