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From Beyond (Unrated)

Shout Factory // Unrated // March 26, 2013
List Price: $29.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 12, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Pineal gland
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The pineal gland (also called the pineal body, epiphysis cerebri, epiphysis, conarium or the "third eye") is a small endocrine gland in the vertebrate brain. It produces
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the serotonin derivative melatonin, a hormone that affects the modulation of wake/sleep patterns and seasonal functions. [1][2] Research conducted by Dr. Edward Pretorius suggests that carefully modulated electrosonic stimulation of the pineal gland can awaken a sixth sense in some subjects, piercing the veil that separates this dimension from the one beyond. Side effects of such stimulation include heightened sexuality, the pineal gland manifesting itself as a stalk from the subject's forehead, a compulsion to feast on human brains, and occasionally getting devoured by insatiably ravenous extradimensional monstrosities.

No, really; I have citations and everything! Too bad Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) can't say the same. Only bloody, fist-size chunks of Pretorius remain, and since the cops stumbled onto Tillinghast ranting and raving and lugging around a crimson-spattered axe at the time...well, into the psych ward he goes. Whiz-kid psychiatrist Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) is enthralled with Tillinghast's fantastic, impossible tales of enlarged pineal glands and dimension-bending. With the watchful eyes of Detective Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree) close behind, the two of 'em set out to recreate Pretorius' experiments with the Resonator. It's just that before, Pretorius barely cracked open the gateway to this other plane of existence; McMichaels busts the door wide open, an open invitation to the...the something that's invading our world from beyond.

Don't ask me how, but I somehow managed to deftly avoid watching From Beyond till now even though it reteams just about everyone on both sides of the camera behind Re-Animator, one of my absolute favorite genre flicks of all time. It took me more than a little while to settle into it too. The initial manifestation of these extradimensional creatures -- pretty much just a floating lamprey eel -- is pretty underwhelming, the first out-and-out kill takes place mostly off-screen, and the rest of the first half hour is bogged down by reams of
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exposition, endless character introductions, and standard issue Asylum from Hell clichés. With a resigned sigh and a frown to match, I figured I was going to have to pan a movie I had endlessly high hopes for, but it was right around that time that From Beyond really got underway.

Just as the movie lurches past the half-hour mark, From Beyond stomps on the clutch and shift gears into unhinged, unapologetic batshit insanity. I obviously mean that in the best possible way too. The creature designs are staggeringly huge in scale and scope. Crafted with unparalleled skill and a demented imagination, most of these practical effects hold up startlingly well more than a quarter-century later. It's hard to convey in a plain-text review just how many of these extradimensional beasties there are, exactly. There's at least one enormous creature in damn near every last scene throughout the second and third acts, and they're every bit as inventive and disturbing as you'd hope to see out of a Lovecraft adaptation. In those rare moments where the frame isn't sopping with UltraSlime and stage blood, From Beyond showcases Barbara Crampton stripping down to studded leather dominatrix straps and not a whole hell of a lot else.

The dark satire of Re-Animator makes way for an even more pervasive and intensely disturbing sexual edge. I'm intrigued that From Beyond swaps out the dynamic between Crampton and Combs. In Re-Animator, he was the hopelessly obsessed scientist who sacrifices himself and everything he holds dear in the name of discovery; here, Tillinghast is the skittish, reluctant voice of reason while McMichaels is seduced by science. The final fifty-someodd minutes scream ahead at an unrelentingly manic pace, the story twists and transforms itself in entirely unexpected directions, From Beyond couldn't be more perfectly cast if it clenched its fists and tried really really hard, I remain completely in awe of the creature effects, and the sharply written dialogue is the right kind of quotable. For crying out loud, I spotted legendary comic artist Neal Adams' name in the credits as providing concept art, somehow managing to make me love From Beyond more profoundly than I already had. It's such a thrill to have a movie that's been on my wish list for ages now finally find its way onto Blu-ray, especially as part of such a slick special edition release. It's also very much worth noting that the trims the MPAA insisted upon have all been restored in this unrated director's cut, all the way down to the leering closeup on that spat-out eyeball. As if you couldn't pick up on my hands overenthusiastically trembling as I clack away at my keyboard, you know what I'm going with this: Highly Recommended.

I'm guessing this high definition presentation of From Beyond is sourced from the same master as the MonstersHD airings all the way back in 2006. If that's the case, then...well, they did it right the first time. There were several
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points throughout the movie where I'd stop and think "...geez, this looks really good!" Its colors -- especially when the Resonator's whirring and the screen's drenched in magenta -- look terrific. Definition and fine detail are especially impressive whenever the camera's closed in somewhat tightly. Something about the texture struck me as looking a little video-like, but there's still a reasonable amount of grain and all on display. I was honestly surprised when I learned in the extras that the unrated footage was culled from a workprint rather than some sort of negative materials. When you see the condition of the original trims, it's that much more startling that their insertion is pretty much seamless. There's a little degradation, sure, but it's very, very slight; nothing jarring that takes you out of the movie like the reinserts in the original My Bloody Valentine. Yeah, I'm happy.

The AVC encode for From Beyond gets pretty much an entire layer to itself, and all the extras lounge around the better part of layer numero two-oh. The mattes are opened up a few scanlines to reveal an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

From Beyond boasts two 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks: one in the film's original stereo and the other remixed to 5.1. At first, I was kind of floored by this remix. The clarity of the score...the way it glistened and twinkled in the surrounds...the low-frequency snarl and crystalline highs as the Resonator whirred to life: I'm not sure what my expectations were walking in, but From Beyond immediately eclipsed them. Once the movie really gets underway, though, it sounds a lot more normal. Dialogue sounds somewhat dated. As inspired as the sound design is, the effects don't deliver that sense of distinctness and clarity that I'm usually spoiled with when it comes to lossless audio. That initial awe I had of the rendering of Richard Band's score remained elusive afterwards. On the upside, the surrounds in the remix are used to very strong effect -- the buzzing of that swarm of insects; Pretorius' otherworldly voice lurching from every direction -- and it consistently feels comfortable too, never coming across as forced or gimmicky the way some remixes can. Totally listenable but nothing impressive.

Subtitles are offered in English (SDH) only.

Thanks, Scream Factory and Red Shirt Pictures!
  • Audio Commentary: From Beyond features what looks to be a newly-recorded commentary with screenwriter Dennis Paoli. It's on the quiet, subdued side, so it would've been nice to have someone else with a live mic in front of 'em so it'd play like more of a conversation. Paoli reads directly from the original Lovecraft short story, explores the process of expanding a 7 page work into a feature-length film, and touches on why Lovecraft's stories lends themselves so wonderfully to adaptations such as this. Not at all a poor commentary, but it's low-key enough that it's better left playing in the background.

  • Multiple Dimensions (24 min.; HD): Out of the nearly four and a half hours of extras on From Beyond, the first of the disc's featurettes gets the nod as my favorite. This effects-oriented retrospective features John Carl Buechler, Anthony Doublin, John Naulin, and Mark Shostrom, part of the three FX teams that toiled away on the film. The four of them discuss the appeal of visualizing Lovecraft's horrors, just how fiercely ambitious From Beyond was with the size and scale of its effects work, and the revelation that actor Ted Sorel happened to be the nephew of effects legend Jack Pierce! What other featurette sneaks in the effects artists' research to prove to the MPAA that they're not looking at a penis on Jeffrey Combs' forehead, heating KY jelly in oversized pasta pots, and a special appearance by the Pope's surgical team? If you only have time to watch one of the extras on this Blu-ray disc...well, that's kind of tragic, but make sure you don't miss out on this one.

  • Paging Dr. McMichaels (14 min.; HD): Barbara Crampton -- who, geez, still looks incredible well into her fifties -- talks about why From Beyond features her very favorite role as an actress and how well (or not so well, as the case may be) she got along with Ken Foree and her Re-Animator co-star Jeffrey Combs.

  • A Tortured Soul (18 min.; HD): ...and speak of the devil...! Jeffrey Combs talks about everything from munching on Fixodent, terrifying a gaggle of 5-year-old Italian girls, working with wildly imaginative but punishing practical effects, and why he doesn't think he's really all that good a fit for the movie. There are way too many highlights to list, so don't get the wrong idea just because this writeup's on the short side.

  • An Empire Production (5 min.; HD): Producer Charles Band delves into the landscape of video-oriented genre filmmaking in the mid-'80s, including the rise of Empire Studios in Italy and the trick to lining up a world-class crew with very little money.

Holdovers from MGM's 2007 Special Edition DVD
  • Audio Commentary: From Beyond's other audio commentary features filmmakers Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna as well as actors Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs. The four of 'em have a blast catching up with this then-recently-recreated director's cut, occasionally riffing on it MST3K-style and pointing out nonsensical plot points that I never really stopped to think about. I mean, where did
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    Dr. McMichaels get a fancy bomb with a timer an' everything on zero notice? Among the topics of conversation are some of the initial ideas that had to be discarded, toiling away in the punishingly cold trenches alongside a crew that spoke little-to-no English, and everything you wanted to know about the pineal gland but were afraid to ask. Well-worth a listen.

  • The Editing Room: Lost and Found (5 min.; SD): The unexpected discovery and startlingly effective restoration of the MPAA-mandated trims to From Beyond are discussed at length here.

  • The Director's Perspective (9 min.; SD): On its own, this conversation with Stuart Gordon would be terrific, but most of the topics on the bill had already been tackled by the time I found my way here, such as the role reversal between Combs and Crampton compared to Re-Animator, shaping a 7 page story into an 86 minute film, the MPAA slicing From Beyond to ribbons, and the unlikely rediscovery of that missing footage a couple decades later. Its inclusion is definitely appreciated, but if you're scouring through all of the extras on this disc, consider watching this first so it won't seem like such an also-ran. If you're looking for a quick overview instead, this might be your best bet.

  • Interview with the Composer (5 min.; SD): Well, that's not an imaginative title. Anyway, Richard Band briefly touches on conveying the horror and sexuality pervasive throughout From Beyond through his score, the uncharacteristic lack of a driving theme, and shoving the less-than-perfect opening title music to the end credits instead.

  • Storyboard to Film Comparison (9 min.; mostly HD): The minute and a half introduction by Stuart Gordon is in standard-def, but the four storyboard-to-screen comparisons that follow are in shiny HD.

  • Photo Gallery (4 min.; SD): This montage of production stills and behind the scenes shots sprinkles in some poster art while it's at it.

  • Trailer (1 min.; SD): Last up is a short standard definition trailer.
From Beyond is a combo pack with an anamorphic widescreen DVD along for the ride. The set comes in a slipcover with some wonderfully sleazy new artwork, but if that's not your thing so much, you can revert to the original poster art by flipping the insert inside-out.

The Final Word
It took From Beyond a little while to worm its way into my cold, embittered heart, but once it did, I wound up loving it almost as much as Re-Animator. Highly Recommended if you're game for a splattery, perverted, wildly unpredictable good time.
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