In 1986 Stuart Gordon followed up Re-Animator with another loose adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story, From Beyond, again starring Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. While quite not as impressive as Re-Animator, From Beyond is pretty close and it certainly stands as one of Gordon's best films. The humor works and never overshadows the story, and while the scientific elements of the film are totally hokey, they still manage to fit into the world that Gordon has created out of Lovecraft's original story.
The film tells the story of two scientists, Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel) and his henchman Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), who create a machine called the Resonator, which creates a sort of sixth sense in people when it stimulates their pineal gland. Unfortunately, the initial test experiment goes horribly wrong and Pretorius get his head bitten off by a creature from another dimension and Tillinghast ends up in an institution.
Enter a sexy psychiatrist named Dr. Katherine McMicheals (Barbara Crampton), a sympathetic party interested in uncovering the details of Crawford's case. After getting to know one another, the two of them team up with a cop named Leroy (Ken Foree) and head back to the lab to figure out what is really going on with the machine, and what it is really capable of. Telling you anymore would be spoiling it for those who haven't seen the movie, but let it suffice to say that the Resonator has an interesting effect on McMichaels and before you know it, people are able to see into another dimension and monsters are popping up like daisies in the springtime.
Great performances and creature effects combine with an enjoyably quirky story and solid direction to make From Beyond stand above the crowd of 80s b-movie efforts. Equal parts hilarious and disgusting, the movie keeps you interested right from the start and has no problem whatsoever holding you attention throughout thanks to its roster of recognizable horror movie regulars and its penchant to go for the gross out. The film contains a few memorable set pieces (Barbara Crampton in a BDSM outfit, anyone?) and a genuinely thick atmosphere, touching on the connection between sex and death and the fragile human condition that keeps both factions in check.
Gordon has assembled a great cast of horror movie regulars (Crampton and Combs had worked together in Re-Animator and Foree is best known from Dawn of the Dead) and its lots of fun to see them interact together here, spouting off great one-liners back and forth. Never short on weirdness, From Beyond is a must see for horror movie fans and remains to this day, a horribly underrated gem of a movie and thankfully this North American DVD debut (the film was released on DVD in Germany and Hong Kong but those versions were cut and in the wrong aspect ratio) presents the film in its full strength version. When the film was submitted to the MPAA in hopes of obtaining an R-rating, a few scenes were excised. When the film was restored for the Monsters HD channel a few years back, the trimmed bits were found and restored alongside the rest of the film, resulting in the seamless integration of a few extra bits of gooey, gory goodness. While the restored bits don't add much to the running time, attentive fans will notice a bit more spray when the gland is chewed, a wee bit more booby grabbing in one scene involving Pretorious and McMichaels, longer and nastier takes on the eyeball and brain eating scenes and a little bit more added when the head hits the curb. All of this is detailed in the supplements.
Taken from the high definition restored master used for the Monsters HD broadcast, the 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD looks fantastic. While there's a little bit of grain in some scenes there isn't much in the way of print damage to complain about and this transfer is miles above both the Ocean Shores disc from Hong Kong which was fullframe with burnt in Chinese subtitles and the German disc from Dragon (an improvement over the Ocean Shores disc but still fullframe and not nearly as clean or colorful as this disc from MGM). There's way more detail here than ever before and the color reproduction is simply fantastic. A few scenes are a little bit soft but the film has always looked this way and there aren't any issues with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement to complain about and only some very mild aliasing.
From Beyond is presented in a nice English language Dolby Digital 4.0 Stereo Surround mix or in dubbed French mono track with optional subtitles available in English and Spanish and closed captioning provided in English only. Audio quality is solid across the board with the channel separation making some of the more active scenes a bit more fun. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Charles Band's score comes through rather distinctly and with a fair bit of power behind it but it never overshadows the performers or the sound effects.
The biggest and best of the extra features on this release is a feature length audio commentary track by director Stuart Gordon who is joined by producer Brian Yuzna and performers Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. Just like the group commentary that's on the Re-Animator DVD, this is a great mix of anecdotes, trivia, stories and good-natured joking around. Gordon and Yuzna cover the origins of the product and discuss certain scenes that were tossed and then lost to the ravages of time, while Combs and Crampton talk about working under the make up and with the various effects pieces that were created for the film. This obvious camaraderie results in a commentary track that is not only a lot of fun, but also one that is quite interesting and quite informative.
Gordon returns, this time in front of the camera, for a featurette entitled Reflections With Stuart Gordon: A Director's Perspective (8:52) which does a fine job of detailing the film's censorship issues and which also makes some interesting comparisons between trends in horror movie cinema to current political trends in the real world. Gordon talks about how the success of Re-Animator lead to From Beyond being made after his initial plans to do Dagon fell through. From there Gordon talks about the difficulty of turning a seven page story into a feature length film.
The interesting The Editing Room: Lost And Found (4:45) featurette explores how the film was restored when a box labeled 'trims' containing a can labeled 'for video' was found to contain the trimmed footage that was thought to be lost. From there we learn how it was reinserted into the film and restored to give us the version of the movie that we have on this DVD.
Richard Band shows up for an Interview with the Composer (4:33) featurette where he covers the intricacies of his compositions for this film. He discusses how one of the fun parts about doing horror movies is that it's the sort of genre where anything can go. He then talks about how he wanted his score for the film to take the viewer to the different realm that the film was going to explore.
Rounding out the supplements are a Photo Gallery that contains a few effects and behinds the scenes shots, and a Storyboard to Film Comparison bit where Stuart Gordon introduces four scenes (The Appearance Of Dr. Pretorius, Death Of Bubba, Hospital Escape and Katherine Frees Herself) and then contrasts them to the storyboards which he personally illustrated. Sadly, there's no trailer here but the static menus are nicely designed.
Horror fans have been waiting an awfully long time for From Beyond to get a proper DVD release and thankfully Fox/MGM have actually delivered. The audio and video quality is excellent and the extras are plentiful, fun, interesting and wholly appropriate. The movie itself holds up extremely well even twenty-years after the fact, particularly in this stronger cut and there's no way that this release can come any less than highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.