Drive-In Dust Offs: FROM BEYOND (1986)

Stuart Gordon was a true master, and a visionary of those cold places where darkness reigns and the indescribable refuses to be ignored. But Gordon had a secret weapon that set him apart from others trying to unearth Lovecraft for the big screen: humor. Predominant in its spectacular beginnings, Resuscitator (1985), it is deployed with subtle shadows – by Gordon’s Grand Guignol designs, that is – in its sequel From beyond (1986); a film no less entertaining, just as gore, much more sticky, and very salacious. (It’s French. It means “super excited”. I run a fancy joint here.)

Released in late October by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, From beyond received acclaim but relatively little box office return, securing much-deserved cult status; that he still resonates (pun foreshadowing!) with horror audiences today is a lasting testament to that – and to Gordon’s appeal.

Science pays off, especially if you’re Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel – Network). Chains, whips, fries and knee-deep dips, he entertains a lascivious woman in his lavish mansion while his assistant Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs – Resuscitator) conducts another experiment on the Resonator, the kind of large, grandiose, switch-activated lab equipment needed to sell the story. This time, the experiment works; When Crawford flips the switch, crackles of electricity scream through the air as carnivorous, translucent eels tear through the cacophony and hunt flesh…into our dimension.

Crawford pulls a coitus interruptus on Edward, which suits him well; he rushes into the lab and kisses these new friends from afar, who in turn, eat his head. Not one for cleaning, Crawford leaves as the windows smash and the pink light shoots out of the house, only to be caught by the police and taken away.

Once in the hospital, he is entrusted to the care of psychiatrist Dr Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton – Resuscitator), who thinks the best cure for Crawford is to take him back to the mansion and face his fear, and try to figure out what happened. Detective Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree – dawn of the dead) follows him, while he was investigating the case when it occurred.

So the three leave to get rid of our world of creatures crashing from another; the only problem is that they’ll have to turn the resonator back on, and when they do, an interdimensional Eddie tries to make sure it stays on…forever. Will the world be invaded by these beings… From beyond?

I understood this when it first came out on video (sorry, the theater in the Bahamas never showed it), and even at 16 the only awkward moments watching movies with my parents still involved the sex. The violence was good, often glorious; nudity inspired nothing but hemming, hawing, and refusing to make eye contact with anyone else in the room. Marvellous? Yes. Horribly uncomfortable? Yes too.

So, From beyond became subversive upon release; Edward’s propensity for leather clothing and bondage upped the film’s “dangerous” factor, at least for Mom & Pop in Middleville. You see, the Resonator causes the pineal gland to grow, which increases sexual arousal. Look, I’m sure they weren’t looking anyway; unless they are great boosters of Resuscitatorin that case, go Mom & Pop.

That is to say, From beyond is quite exciting; not in terms of what is shown, but rather implicit – a great thing to do, I think. It’s more of a total mood; a warm blanket of sin that wraps around you from the opening frame to the screaming lady at the end. An immeasurable help is the return of cinematographer Mac Ahlberg, who fills Resonator scenes with purple (pink?) tones when removed from Harlequin bodices. Without the flesh-eating maggot swarms, of course. Fabio would like never.

But that’s just another part of Gordon’s genius: the scenes with the Resonator (the name Orgasmatron is already taken) house all the glamor of Hollywood – okay, in this case, Rome – while the scenes of hospital are suitably bright and harsh. Always gorgeous of course; Ahlberg had a beautiful eye.

Speaking of eyes, From beyond has lots of them, but not always where you would normally find them; once this pineal gland is activated by the resonator, it grows and pushes its way out of your brain with its own stalked eye. Well no you, but Crawford certainly sees a lot of deadly things that others can’t see, even without the help of the Resonator. He has a bit of an appetite though; Crawford obliges by sucking out the eyeball of a mischievous doctor, delightfully played by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Dolls). Note for eye trauma enemies in horror: you may need to look away once or twice. OK, maybe three times.

But the way I see it, penny or pound is the only method to Gordon’s madness, at least here; not only does it make unknown creatures exist, but it suffocates you in their ectoplasmic orgy and does not let go of you. (I wonder if producer Brian Yuzna got a slime discount when he later made Society? The shunt doesn’t come cheap, you know.) All credit goes to a great international effects team, including legends Mark Shostrom, Greg Nicotero, Alfredo Tiberi, John Carl Buechler and many more for giving unseen life – their work is so effective, you couldn’t ignore even if you tried.

With his theater background, ensembles seemed a natural fit for Gordon and served him very well. It was exciting – and a little comforting – to see a troop of actors in ’80s horror. Reminiscent of British stalwarts like Hammer and Amicus, the cast of Gordon has Combs returning not as the arrogant scientist (here tested with braying creaminess by Sorel), but rather the conventional hero — until he unwittingly had all of his hair removed by a creature and pulled out his pineal, that is. And eat eyeballs. But before that, I assure you, he makes for a pretty dashing and charming protagonist. It’s after that the occasional personality flaws show up. Crampton and Gordon also made the perfect pair; while his role in Resuscitator was primarily as a victim, his Katherine is center stage and the true protagonist of the film. Intelligent and in control, the Resonator brings his deepest desires to the surface; as long as she resists, she is unable to escape. A terrific performance. Foree is the wild card here, and he fits in so well. Bubba is the voice of reason; Bubba is us. Bubba’s underwear is really tight.

Humor is not the story of From beyond; no, it examines impulses and fear, and how the two are often linked. And he takes his horror very seriously. Humor is simply inherent in Gordon’s storytelling, certainly in Resuscitator, and with a more measured touch here. But if your most serious scenes involve a tall man dressed in a child-sized striped gitch telling a psychiatrist in leather to look at himself, you know you’re not doing Shakespeare In The Park. But you are doing something even more rewarding; my parents and i would never have bonded othello.

From Beyond is available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.

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