Jarv’s Schlock Vault: From Beyond
It ate him… bit off his head… like a gingerbread man!
Jarv’s Rating: 3 Changs out of 4. Considering that this is based on H.P. Lovecraft, it really is a fantastic monster movie with a splendid beast, boob, gore and general giggles. And I thought that it couldn’t be done.
I feel a bit silly now. In the Re-Animator review the other day, I said that it wasn’t possible to adapt Lovecraft to the big screen, and that Re-Animator was the closest anyone could get and only managed it by taking enormous liberties with the source material. In my defence, I hadn’t seen From Beyond at the time, and I wasn’t even aware that it was a Lovecraft Adaptation. Still, ignorance is no excuse, and I would like to say that I’ve learnt a valuable lesson from this, but that would be a flagrant lie. I clearly haven’t.
From Beyond saw the Re-Animator team reunited. This time round, we’ve got Brian Yuzna on writing duties, Stuart Gordon directing, and Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton taking up the lead roles again. This time round, we’re not dealing with the undead, rather the material is what I consider to be “more” typical Lovecraft: that there are dimensions of evil bubbling away a hair’s breadth from our reality, and when someone is dim-witted enough to lift the veil, then madness and bloody mess lie in wait for such a foolhardy individual. In that sense From Beyond is probably the closest to “actual” Lovecraftian nightmare that we’re ever likely to see. We’re certainly never going to see Del Toro’s version of Cthulu (and for that I’m rather glad, actually).
Jeffrey Combs is playing another mad doctor. This time round though, he’s rather a different type of nutty scientist. He plays Crawford Tillinghast, assistant to “genius” Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel), who in between bouts of loathsome S & M is building a machine called a “Resonator” which will stimulate the pineal gland (bear with me) and allow us to see that which we shouldn’t. One night, they crack it, and it all goes completely tits up for them. Pretorius vanishes and Crawford gets banged up in the less than tender care of nutty shrink Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Crampton). She’s got form for tinkering with nutters, and her first exposure to Crawford has her convinced that they need to recreate the experiment. Taking only Ken Foree’s Bubba along with them, they retrace their steps and reactivate the machine. From here, things go completely tits up Pretorius returns as a demented pervert monster from beyond the veil, Katherine dons bondage gear and becomes completely addicted to the experiment, while poor old Crawford’s pineal gland has become so overstimulated that he turns into a brain hungry monster with a third eye.
On a stalk.
Anyhoo, cue shenanigans and big showdown at the finale (which I won’t spoil).
This really is a top-notch monster movie. Gordon was riding the crest of a wave after Re-Animator (which has some splendid monster work) and here he turns it up to 11. There are a huge variety of monsters on show, and some of the creative work that goes into them is fantastic. Pretorius himself is a disgusting beast, and his various stages of evolution are icky, unpleasant, perverted and downright superb.
There’s so many touches to this film that are great- the use of colour, for example: purple and strong primary colours feature prominently when the resonator is turned on. By using such unusual shades, Gordon manages to effectively draw a line between our reality and that the characters are messing with, and by the climax of the film, every time the colour purple appears, you tense, because you know Pretorius is coming fast behind it.
Then there’s the acting. Combs is fantastic here. It’s a different performance from his signature turn as Herb West, being less self-assured and more terrified, but it is significant that the for the most part, Crawford is the hero of the film. Crampton is OK as Katherine, but, to be honest, doesn’t really come into her own until the second encounter with Pretorius. Before then, she doesn’t convince because of the script- we’re asked to believe that just because she’s got glasses on she’s a brilliant psychiatrist/ neurosurgeon or some such. She’s clearly not comfortable with the dialogue in these early sections, being much more at home in the latter stages of the film which is more her usual scream queen comfort zone. Foree is OK as Bubba, but the part is a bit lacking, and it could probably do without him altogether. Nevertheless, they’re all playing second fiddle to Sorel’s Pretorius. He gets all the great lines, and is completely divorced from sanity. The man gets to peel his own face off, mutter sordid sexual threats at Crampton, spout the otherworldly stuff the script requires with glee and generally seems to be having a blast. Top Draw.
Finally, the score reminds me a lot of the score for Re-Animator. This is a good thing.
These are the pluses to this film, and to be fair at this point, it sounds an awful lot like a 4 Chang monster. It isn’t, and this is why: the script doesn’t know where to go. Once Crawford mutates and goes on the rampage, the film is stuck- our hero is sucking eyeballs out and generally behaving like a demented beast. This is actually symptomatic of the problems with the last third- it’s a confused mess. Yuzna has gone too far with the script and painted himself into a hideous corner here and in as good form as Gordon is in, he doesn’t have the nous to get out of it. Still, when there’s so much to enjoy here, I feel like a bit of a dick for making this criticism- because it’s still hugely entertaining.
Overall, I really, really recommend this one, particularly if you have a yen to see the otherwise unfilmable Lovecraft successfully done on the big screen. While From Beyond isn’t perfect, it’s never less than monstrously entertaining, and although the last third is a confused mess, it’s still a hilarious confused mess. I’ve been on a bit of a Stuart Gordon kick recently, and I reckon 100% completion isn’t that far away from me. If the ones I’m missing are as much fun as the ones I’ve seen (notable exception to Stuck, which is shit) then it strikes me as virulently unfair that he’s not better known. He should be up there with Carpenter, Craven and the rest of the iconic horror directors.
Until next time,