How does director Stuart Gordon decide to quickly but effectively follow up his rollicking 1985 debut Re-Animator? He follows it up with another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation using most (It not all) of that previous film’s cast and crew. Instead of trying to exceed his expectations though, Gordon has wisely chosen to limit (or lower) them considerably by focusing more on making the most of his capabilities as a filmmaker. Luckily enough for Gordon, From Beyond has turned out to be another delightfully gruesome rollercoaster ride of a horror movie.
Mad scientist Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) and his lab assistant Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) create a radical invention called The Resonator, a machine that stimulate’s the pineal gland of anybody who comes into close contact with it. While testing out The Resonator, Pretorius becomes dangerously obsessed with it leading to his mysterious decapitation. When his body is discovered by the police, Tillinghast is arrested for murder and (soon enough) is committed to a psychiatric ward.
Unlike the rest of the staff at the hospital, female psychiatrist Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) sincerely believes that Tillinghast is innocent especially after he undergoes a brain scan revealing a grown pineal gland. The doctors release Tillinghast (albeit reluctantly) into McMichaels custody so he can show her and accompanying detective Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree) how the machine works.
Not long after coming back to the house, a hesitant Tillinghast reactivates The Resonator so McMichaels and Brownlee can see what it is all about. During the process however, a now grotesque looking Prestorius physically appears and reveals that his stimulated pineal gland allowed him to experience a parallel universe (one involving monsters in this case) beyond the normal one the three of them are currently living in. Before he can viciously prey upon them, Tillinghast angrily shuts off the power and advises McMichaels and Brownlee to keep it that way. Sooner or later though, things get so out of control that the option of destroying the rapidly mutating Pretorius and his machine becomes inevitable.
Since most (If not all) of the action is confined to that of Dr. Pretorius creepy house/laboratory, it is only fitting that director Stuart Gordon would cleverly treat From Beyond as If it were the cinematic equivalent of a funhouse. As he did with Re-Animator, Gordon puts on a wonderfully gory show full of all sorts of tricks and treats. The highlights here include a man getting completely devoured by flying insect-like things, the eating of a human brain, a pineal gland bursting from a man’s forehead and the rapidly mutating body of an already deformed Dr. Pretorius. In addition to all of that, we get some pretty awesome special effects in the form of a giant worm monster and the previously mentioned nasty flying creatures that feast upon human flesh. To top it all off, Gordon throws in a considerable amount of S&M (i.e. sadomasochism) as a much-needed bonus.
Last, but not least, part of what makes From Beyond such a satisfying experience comes from its two lead actors, who complement each other here. In this case, we have Jeffrey Combs eccentric Dr. Crawford Tillinghast serving as the perfect anti-hero to Dr. Katherine McMichaels damsel in distress/anti-heroine, who is played with relish here by the great Barbara Crampton. Her McMichaels character is not only beautiful and intelligent, but likable as well. At the same time though, she comes off as ambitious and tragic. Unlike Tillinghast, she feels that The Resonator has the potential to do a lot of good like curing schizophrenia. Speaking of which, she reveals in one heartbreaking scene that her father was committed to a psychiatric ward due to suffering from that and lived there until he died. This background story of hers not only makes us sympathize with her as a human being and a doctor, but it also makes us root for her every step of the way as well. Similar to Tillinghast, McMichaels becomes emotionally damaged and occasionally turned on by the machine and one of the examples of the latter involves a brief flirtation with S&M. In the case of the former, I can only say that by the last scene before the end credits roll, it becomes abundantly clear just how traumatized she has become after all of these events. Aside from looking sexy in a leather and bondage outfit, Crampton also looks cute in a lab coat, a hospital gown, a long-sleeved nightgown and all in all, anything in general. As much as I adored her acting work in Re-Animator, Castle Freak and We Are Still Here, her characterization here of Dr. Katherine McMichaels still ranks as my personal favorite of her performances within the horror genre. As I said in my review of Re-Animator (read here), this gorgeous blonde ranks as my number one favorite scream queen of all-time. Ken Foree lends welcome support as Detective Bubba Brownlee and unlike Tillinghast and McMichaels, he is quite possibly the only one who does not break the rules. Ted Sorell is convincing as the villainous Dr. Edward Pretorius and yes, he is every bit as perverted as David Gale’s Dr. Carl Hill from Re-Animator. Interesting bit of trivia, the film’s tagline of “humans are such easy prey” is also said by him in the film.
When all is said and done, From Beyond ultimately works as a worthy companion piece to Re-Animator thanks in large part to director Stuart Gordon’s avoidance of trying to surpass it and as a result, ends up equaling it instead. At its heart though, From Beyond is really just a deeply satisfying horror film that’s also a lot of fun.
* * * * (Out of * * * *)