H.P. Lovecraft is rightfully considered one of the most exceptional masters of horror. His stories are a brilliant combination of atmosphere and mystery, sheer terror mixed with existential dread. While at the time, Lovecraft was considered a pulp author, time has been kind to him and his works have been re-evaluated, championed, and mimicked by authors as acclaimed as Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, and many others. Despite this, films based on his work have generally been shoddy, gaudy, and cheap. The one major exception is director Stuart Gordon, who's managed to make a career out of bringing Lovecraft to the big screen.
Gordon's most famous and acclaimed Lovecraft adaptation is of course the 1985 dark comedy 'Re-Animator'. Gordon took many of the same cast and crewmembers to Italy to shoot the film's follow-up, 'From Beyond'. Also based on a Lovecraft short, 'From Beyond' is darker and more serious than 'Re-Animator'. At the time of its release, it was not nearly as lauded as its predecessor. It was also viciously cut down by the MPAA, neutering many of the movie's strongest moments. In 2007, MGM released the director's cut on DVD, which finally allowed audiences to see the picture in all of its uncut glory. And now Shout! Factory has released the film on Blu-ray under its Scream Factory imprint.
'From Beyond' follows Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), a young man assisting Dr. Edward Pretorious (Ted Sorel) on groundbreaking work on a machine called "The Resonator". The Resonator stimulates the pineal gland, often referred to as the mystical third eye. As the film opens, Tillinghast has finally gotten the Resonator to work. However, turning it on has dire consequences, as a hideous monster devours Dr. Pretorious. Locked away in an asylum, Tillinghast is transferred into the custody of Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), who wants to pick up where Pretorious left off. Unfortunately for the duo, along with hired help Bubba ('Dawn of the Dead's Ken Foree), Dr. Pretorious isn't entirely gone, and what's left of him is just a little too friendly.
'From Beyond' is a very different film from 'Re-Animator'. Where the latter is bitingly dark satire, the former is simply dark. Without humor to lighten the proceedings, 'From Beyond' stands as a far more bleak and ultimately disturbing experience. Working from a minor Lovecraft short story, numbering roughly seven pages, Gordon, Brian Yuzna, and screenwriter Dennis Paoli crafted a lurid tale of sexual repression and the dangers of pushing humanity past its limits.
In its restored director's cut, 'From Beyond' stands as one of the better horror films of the 1980s, a decade noted for its spectacular horror releases. A great part of the movie's impact comes from its grotesque and vivid special effects. The various creatures that the characters see when under the influence of the Resonator are memorable monsters, from the small eel-like things that float through the air to the giant worm in the basement and finally Pretorious himself. The anatomy-bending of Pretorious and later Tillinghast is a sight that the audience won't soon forget.
Gordon builds the flick around two returning cast members. Jeffrey Combs plays Tillinghast, a meek and tortured soul who finds himself the victim of both Pretorious' and McMichaels' obsessions. This is an interesting role for Combs, who normally plays crazier, more flamboyant characters (almost certainly because of the success of 'Re-Animator'). Combs himself has said he doesn't consider 'From Beyond' to be among his best work, but I think he's selling himself short. Combs is endearing and sympathetic here, traits that he often fails to exhibit in his other performances.
Barbara Crampton is the other piece of the puzzle. Barely more than a vehicle for nudity and screaming in 'Re-Animator', as McMichaels, Crampton really gets a chance to shine. She begins as an ambitious but prudish scientist, driven to see the results of Pretorious' work. Once the Resonator starts working on her, she sheds her inhibitions. In what is surely the film's most memorable sequence, Crampton slips into an S&M suit and has her way with Tillinghast before being confronted by Bubba. Crampton still brings the sexiness and the screams, but also is far more of an active participant than Megan Halsey was in 'Re-Animator'. Crampton also completely sells the final shot, where she's left in a state of madness as befits all good Lovecraft protagonists.
In this sense, 'From Beyond' is a far better Lovecraft adaptation than 'Re-Animator'. "Herbert West: Re-Animator" is actually quite an atypical story for Lovecraft, dealing with human-derived horrors. 'From Beyond', while greatly expanded from the original short story, better illustrates the themes that Lovecraft normally worked with, the fear of things unknown, beyond human control. There are things that aren't for human minds, and they come horribly to life in 'From Beyond'. On the other hand, the lack of humor does give the movie a leaden tone at times. I'm not saying that the picture should have been a laugh a minute, but a little levity wouldn't hurt. However, on the whole, 'From Beyond' stands as one of the better horror entries of the 80s.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Scream Factory (an imprint of Shout! Factory) presents 'From Beyond' in a two-disc set, with the DVD and Blu-ray housed inside a single case with a slipcover. As with all of the Scream Factory releases, the slipcover features new artwork made just for these editions, while the inside has reversible artwork that lets you choose between the new cover and the original theatrical poster. I personally switched it to the theatrical side myself.
Working off the high-def master made in 2007, 'From Beyond' is eye-opening in this AVC-encoded, 1080p 1.78:1 transfer, opened up from the original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. 80s films often suffer from soft cinematography, but this transfer manages to recreate the original look of the film while still maintaining a high level of detail. You can see small lines on the actor's faces, every inch of Barbara Crampton's leather-covered curves, and most importantly, all the work that went into the creature effects. Color reproduction is excellent, especially in the Resonator sequences, where everything is bathed in deep pinks and purples.
Skin tones look very accurate, from Crampton's creamy white skin to the pallor of Pretorious. Contrast is good, with whites that never overpower, and plenty of strong blacks, along with decent shadow detail. There's a little edge enhancement that creeps in here and there, but never too much to spoil the show. While the print is very clean, it's also not wholly perfect, but the dirt is more of the "blink and you'll miss it" variety and not the "covering up the image" variety. In all, this is the best 'From Beyond' has ever looked, possibly even better than the original theatrical prints. Kudos to Shout! Factory for this one.
Shout! Factory provides two lossless English tracks, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, and an accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. For a low budget horror flick from the 80s, the 5.1 mix here is pleasingly full. Dynamic range is strong, from the low hum of the Resonator through to Crampton's high-pitched, piercing shrieks. Richard Band's creepy score is well represented, the plucking of strings permeating the soundstage. Dialogue is very clear and always audible, even in the midst of the film's most frenetic sequences.
Directionality and imaging are both highly satisfying, with the surrounds providing strong support to the front three channels. At times there can be a harshness to the dialogue, undeniably a result of the original low-budget recordings, but other than that there's hardly a complaint I can levy against the mix. The 2.0 mix also sounds good, but is understandably more limited than the 5.1. Also included are English subtitles.
MGM's 2007 DVD had a strong helping of supplements on its own. Shout! Factory includes almost all of those pre-existing features, while also including some brand new ones. All of these are reproduced on the new DVD edition as well, although it appears that the DVD itself may be exclusive to the Blu-ray set, as the previous release is still in print and there's no individual listing for the Shout! version on DVD. The major missing segment from the 2007 release is a storyboard to film comparison.
'From Beyond' usually languishes in the shadow of its more famous sibling, 'Re-Animator,' but this lovingly crafted Blu-ray from Shout! Factory should give the picture new life. A dark, disturbing movie, 'From Beyond' writhes with bleak imagery and repressed sexuality. Wonderfully strong picture and sound quality make this the best the film has ever looked, while a new set of HD exclusive special features complement existing featurettes to make a compelling package. If you're already a fan, you'll want to pick this up immediately. If you've never seen 'From Beyond' before, then this is the best possible way to experience it. Highly recommended.