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).

It's a well-known fact that high-flying shrinks have to wear glasses else people may mistake them for fetish queens.

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.

Yuck.

Anyhoo, cue shenanigans and big showdown at the finale (which I won’t spoil).

See the difference when the glasses come off? It's like a sexy, jugg loaded version of Clark Kent and Superman.

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.

It quickly becomes apparent that melty-faced perverts live "From Beyond", and that perhaps, just perhaps, contacting them isn't the best idea that anyone ever had.

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.

I'm stumped as to why Pretorius thinks it's desirable to end up like this. He looks like the end result of an inferno in a welly factory.

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.

Crawford loses the audience's sympathy by chomping on ping-pong balls painted red.

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,

Jarv

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

18 responses to “Jarv’s Schlock Vault: From Beyond”

  1. DocPazuzu says :

    Great write-up, Jarv. Glad you finally got to see it. I’d like to recommend another Lovecraft adap, one which I think is pretty damn close to the “hidden realm beyond the veil” motif employed in ol’ H.P.’s writing. I am, of course, referring to The Resurrected, starring John “Hawk the Slayer” Terry and Chris Sarandon. It’s moody, mean, disgusting and creepy as hell. In short: all in a good evening’s worth of entertainment.

  2. Droid says :

    I’ve looked into my crystal ball and seen a hungover viewing in my future.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s a cracking little film this: Juggs, gore, mad scientists, strange beasts, more juggs, cool effects, humour, bondage, and more juggs.

  3. just pillow talk says :

    Sold!

    Stupid netflix should have this on instant viewing.
    It’s screaming for it!

  4. Spud McSpud says :

    This movie is a demented joy to behold, and as a major fan of the written H.P. Lovecraft stuff, this is easily the best version of his stuff onscreen. I’m glad you enjoyed it, because discovering this in the late 80s was one of the things that got me into the written stuff HPL did, and into everything else Gordon/Yuzna did – and Yuzna spectacularly peaked with the batshit insane SOCIETY. Believe me, if you haven’t seen SOCIETY, it’s a fantastic satire on the rich literally being inhuman, and the poor being their sport. One word: “shunting”.

    Stuart Gordno definitely deserves much more respect and recognition, and thanks to your sterling review, Jarv, finally he has some. Great to see you redressing that balance, and appreciating the fine *ahem* “acting” of Barbara Crampton in this movie. FROM BEYOND is some classy schlock 😀

    • Jarv says :

      I keep meaning to see Society. I’ve always had it down in the Henenlotter Basket Case style shenanigans.

      Gordon’s best is Re-Animator. I’ve seen Stuck, and it’s utter gash. So bad, actually that when I do manage 100% Gordon that I’m going to Orangutan of Doom it and be extremely rude.

      The sole good bit is when Mekon-head Suvari (with Cornrows) hits a naked Latina chick in the head with a frying pan.

    • Spud McSpud says :

      See, now I watched STUCK the day after you mentioned how much you hated it, and thought it was an effective enough little thriller with a frankly mean sense of pitch-black humour running through it. Set-up was okay – the guy and the girl were both likeable enough – and the complications that ensued felt real enough. The only thing that didn’t feel real was when Mena left the dying guy wedged in the window to go fuck her boyfriend – who the hell would do THAT in that situation?? That aside, it was funny enough, had a nasty little poetic justice ending to it – it’s not a patch on Gordon’s 80s and 90s stuff, but it wasn’t the all-out shitfest I expected.

      What about that film made you hate it so much?? It’s no classic, but I’ve seen much worse recently…

      • Jarv says :

        For a start, it’s based on a true story. Suvari (Mekonhead) is meant to be black, hence the cornrows. For a second, I thought she was a right cunt and completely unlikable. For a third, I thought she was truly dreadful, and even taking into account how miscast she was, it was painful to watch her.

        The ending was totally predictable and I just felt relief that it was over.

        Crap film. Didn’t laugh once- and actually, I consider it to be borderline Torture Porn.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        I thought we were meant to think Mena’s character was a likeable girl, based on her doing a caring job and actually giving a shit about doing it well, and then the movie shows us how anybody – even someone half-decent with good intentions – can be pushed by unforeseen circumstances into doing some truly fucked-up stuff to protect themselves from negative consequences.

        Granted, then it gets very, very mean-spirited, but then this is from a guy who made a movie with a zombie offering to give a tied-up female victim head… with his own severed head!

        Agreed though, she’s not gonna win an Academy Award any time soon. And the ending was predictable.

        I’m familiar with the true story. Damn, now THAT was some cold shit…

      • Jarv says :

        I didn’t think she was likable at all- even when she was meant to be being a nurse, she was getting high and behaving like a twat.

    • Spud McSpud says :

      SOCIETY, on the other hand, is some spot-on satire with some unbelievably awesome gore at the end. I once read a review of SOCIETY that said, referring to the final scene “The SFX are done by a guy named Screaming Mad George, and never was a chap more aptly named”. They’re right – that ending is fucking EXCEPTIONAL.

      It’s not incisive satire, and subtlety is NOT SOCIETY’s strong point, but it’s a film I absolutely love. Hopefully, you will too.

  5. ThereWolf says :

    Nice one, Jarv, glad you got a kick out of ‘From Beyond’.

    Not sure about the last third criticism – it’s ALL mental! This is another DVD I had to import to get a fuller version. I think the difference is more S&M references – not entirely necessary to the story though. Also glad you mentioned the colour design which is mostly dismissed as comic book but does in fact signify the various states of Beyond.

    My favourite bit…

    “I’m going to kiss you!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: