I discovered H.P. Lovecraft in high school and he became the first author who’s work I actively pursued until I’d read his entire library. So needless to say, I’m a fan. Regrettably, the subjects which Lovecraft wrote about are almost entirely unfilmable, resulting in most movies based on his material to be exceedingly poor (to put it politely). Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna seem to be the best at adapting his tales (though the single best Lovecraft-inspired film, in my opinion, was John Carpentor’s “In the Mouth of Madness”), with Gordon’s “Re-Animator” actually exceeding the quality of the original story. Granted, “Herbert West: Re-Animator” was one of Lovecraft’s more cut-and-dry and less celebrated stories, but it earned him enough credit in my eyes to check out his second Lovecraft adaptation: “From Beyond”.
Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), under the eye of his mentor, the sadistic Dr. Pretorious (Ted Sorel), has created a device that advances the pineal gland of the human brain, allowing one to see the extra dimensions around them. Unfortunately, the spectral creatures inhabiting those dimension are capable of looking back, and after a terrifying encounter which claimed the life of Dr. Pretorious, Tillinghast goes completely nuts. Psychiatrist Dr. Katherine Michaels (Barbara Crampton) wants Tillinghast to recreate the experiment, with a clean bill of mental health being his reward, and along with a police spervisor named Bubba (Ken Foree), the trio returns to the house on Benevolent Street to reactivate the machine. This, of course, leads to disaster, as they encounter the renewed Dr. Pretorious, who has become one with a hideus creature from beyond.
The original seven page short story which this movie was based upon is your standard Lovecraft fiction; basically, it features concepts that absolutely cannot be brought to life by visuals as we understand them. In the original story, the world seen through the extra-dimensional sixth sense was very different and more “mind-blowing” than how it was presented in the film. It was described that all empty space was filled with luminous creatures and even they were filled with universes of other creatures. Obviously, the stop motion flying jellyfish and eels that we got were a far cry from Lovecraft’s intentions. Still, Gordon did his best and actually adapted what he could from the source material fairly well.
The effects in this movie are exceptionally good. The Dr. Pretorious monster is really quite gruesome and it’s constantly fluctuating and mutating form is a real visual treat. I also dug the giant leech in the basement as it reminded me of something from “At the Mountains of Madness”. The movie has finally, at very long last, been released on DVD and with an uncensored Director’s Cut, no less. The movie is very gory, which is just the way I like it. One particular sequence I enjoyed featured the insane Tillinghast sucking the brain out of a woman’s skull via her eye socket. Hardcore.
The cast is wonderful, and even though they recycle a few actors from “Re-Animator”, their roles are different enough so as not to retread the characters they already played. Jeffrey Combs is one of my favorite character actors and manages to play a mad scientist just different enough from the one he played in “Re-Animator”. I did feel that Herbert West and Crawford Tillinghast were a bit too similar, but not so much as to hurt the movie. Barbara Crampton plays a character almost entirely different from the one we saw in “Re-Animator” and does a fine job of it, proving to be both a villain and a heroine at the same time. Then there’s Ken Foree as Bubba Brownlee, who adds an element of comic relief to the film but not in any sort of distracting slapstick sort of way. He just seems to be the only one self-aware of how crazy everything is. Also, if the name doesn’t ring any bells, you might recognize Mr. Foree from another horror classic, namely the original “Dawn of the Dead”. Finally, Ted Sorel plays the lead villain, whom I at first thought was going to be a stale retread of Dr. Hill from “Re-Animator”. While similarities were noticeable, Dr. Pretorious definitely had different goals and motivation.
“From Beyond” is a bit of an underrated gem which has taken its sweet time in getting to DVD. Although it’s not a perfect recreation of the H. P. Lovecrat story, it’s one of the best ones out there and certainly worth your time.