Wednesday, 19 June 2013

From Beyond [1986]

FROM BEYOND is an American horror film that was directed by Stuart RE-ANIMATOR Gordon and originally released by Empire Pictures in October 1986.  It stars Jeffrey RE-ANIMATOR Combs, Barbara RE-ANIMATOR Crampton, Ken Foree and Ted Sorel.  Very loosely adapted from the short story by H. P. RE-ANIMATOR Lovecraft it tells the story of Crawford Tillinghast, a scientist conducting experimental research into the pineal gland with predictably disastrous and gruesome consequences.


Now super sleuths among you may have spotted certain clues pointing towards RE-ANIMATOR, a similarly-themed film also by Empire Pictures that came out the year before and was a huge success.  With an opportunistic zeal that would have shamed many Italian film-makers, producer Brian Yuzna sought to capitalise on that film's success by forging ahead with a quick follow up feature.  So just about a year later we got FROM BEYOND which, as you can see, kept many of the same elements in place.

Ted Sorel as the now hideously deformed Dr Pretorious
Shot in Italy and with a largely Italian crew, FROM BEYOND is basically RE-ANIMATOR on steroids: the special effects are of a magnitude greater than those in the earlier movie and approach the scale of Rob Bottin's magnificent work on John Carpenter's THE THING [1982].  And whereas Herbert West was attempting the (relatively) straightforward task of bringing the dead back to life, what Crawford Tillinghast manages to accomplish is no less than bridging the gap into an entire alternate plane of existence.

Jeffrey Combs as Crawford Tillinghast adjusts the Resonator
Inexplicably, FROM BEYOND gets a pretty good write up from that stuffiest of film reference books, Halliwell's Film Guide.  In the internet era such books have all but died off, publishers seeing little value in printing vast tomes which are out of date the moment they hit the shelves.  But in the days before imdb they were invaluable, being pretty much your only consistent source of information about films other than those currently in cinemas.  Halliwell's was the first and probably the best but as the years went by it became somewhat notorious for Leslie Halliwell's curmudgeonly attitude towards more or less anything made after 1960.  So when I dug out my old Halliwell's to see what the old goat made of FROM BEYOND it came as a huge surprise to me that he awarded it one precious star (out of four, although most films get none at all).

This is the kind of FX work that reminded me of John Carpenter's THE THING
It seems that what Halliwell liked about the film was its successful transfer of Lovecraft's trademark themes and singular atmosphere from page to screen.  I know exactly what he means because, despite being updated and veering perilously close to horror-comedy at times, the film is remarkably faithful to the spirit if not the letter of the stories.  The person who embodies this more than any other is Jeffrey Combs, who was born to play the outwardly normal but deeply, deeply strange characters about whom Lovecraft wrote.  He's on top form here, playing a (slightly) more sympathetic character than Herbert West but still one who ends up sucking a nurse's brain out through her eye socket.

A being from another plane of existence goes for Tillinghast
Like Bruce Campbell from the EVIL DEAD films and Robert Englund, Combs is probably the closest we have to modern horror icon in the Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing sense although, in Combs' case, his nearest equivalent is probably Vincent Price.  Like those greats, the output of the three actors I mention is almost entirely horror-oriented although they do play straight occasionally as if to demonstrate what fine actors they really are.

Barbara Crampton
There are also a couple of minor horror icons in the cast: scream queen and inveterate clothes-shedder Barbara Crampton, playing the world's least likely psychiatrist, and Ken Foree from George A. Romero's all-time classic DAWN OF THE DEAD [1979].  Foree, who played an extremely taciturn bloke in Romero's film, gets to have a little more fun this time as the very chummy Bubba Brownlee and heroically stabs an inter-planar beastie while clad only in his underpants.

Ken Foree
Stuart Gordon is one of my favourite genre directors.  You can tell he really cares about what he's doing - not just as a film-maker but also as keeper of the flame - unlike a lot of directors who have a sneering disregard for genre pictures.  His films are always short, to the point, exciting and colourful and in that sense he is continuing the work of predecessors such as Don Siegel and Sam Fuller who, although they didn't make horror films per se, were B-picture directors of the highest quality.

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