Wednesday, October 31, 2007

'07 Spooky Review #11: From Beyond (1986)

"Edward! It's...running itself!"

Only Jeffrey Combs could pull off melodramatic lines like that with such conviction, such horror. The second in a series of H.P Lovecraft "adaptations" to be done by the team of Stuart Gordon and Denis Paoli, FROM BEYOND came after the runaway hit that was RE-ANIMATOR. Toning down the splatter and gore and opting for a more cerebral, albeit still campy vibe, the movie is very loosely on the 7-page short story by the horror master. In fact, the prologue of the movie is pretty much all that remains of the short story - the rest of FROM BEYOND is a twisted modern take on the repercussions of the initial tale.

In short: Crawford Tillinghast is assisting his mentor Dr. Edward Pretorious (in a not-so-subtle nod to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN'S gleefully mad scientist) with the Resonator, a machine that sends out vibrations at a certain frequency to stimulate the pineal gland, which Pretorious believes is the key to the sixth sense. Unfortunately, doing so opens up a new dimension where strange and hideous creatures roam. Pretorious is devoured by one such beast, and Crawford, charged with his murder, is locked in an insane asylum. A sexy psychiatrist (played by RE-ANIMATOR'S Barbara Crampton) believes his story of pineal glands and extra-dimensional monsters and brings him back to the scene of the horror to reactivate the machine. Bad idea, as it turns out Pretorious isn't quite dead, and isn't quite human either...

Spooky spooky! The story and acting are typically over-the-top and about what you'd expect from an 80's horror flick. Jeffrey Combs is again the high point, as he is in pretty much everything he does. The other night the Missus turned on THE FRIGHTENERS right when Combs goes into wacky overdrive. Here he plays everything with a sense of torture, as Crawford struggles to overcome the changes that are happening to his brain and his insatiable appetite for brains:

The effects are nice and practical - when Gordon is on his game "splatter" becomes the operative word and some truly twisted sequences are the result. In one scene Pretorious, now merged with the beast that devoured him, "kisses" Barbara Crampton. His head falls apart and turns into a sickening, gloppy mess of a thing...

...while in the basement Crawford battles a strange lamprey eel thing that winds up taking all the hair off his body.

I can't make this stuff up, folks.

Is it faithful to Lovecraft? Well, not really. Lovecraft is that last hurdle for horror - no one has been able to crack his stuff and make it work on the screen. Gordon came closer years later with his adaptation of DAGON. Others have tried to imbue some sense of the Lovecraftian only to fall short (e.g. LORD OF ILLUSION) My favorite "Lovecraft movie" is the old made-for-HBO CAST A DEADLY SPELL, featuring Fred Ward as Howard Lovecraft, a tough-as-nails detective trying to stop the summoning of Cthulu. FROM BEYOND succeeds more than RE-ANIMATOR in terms of tone and all-out wackiness, but we'll have to wait for Guillermo del Toro's AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS to really see our first glimpse of the horror Lovecraft is famous for.

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