Blu-ray Review: Stuart Gordon’s FROM BEYOND

BC reviews the new Stu Blu from Scream Factory!

For a while on Horror Movie A Day I was doing a recurring feature called "Second Chances," where I'd revisit a film that readers felt I was way off on originally (either disliking something that was good, or praising junk). I only did it a couple times because no one was suggesting anything and thus I assumed no one was interested, but if it went on longer I'm sure I would have gotten around to re-appraising Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator followup* From Beyond, which I didn't love by any means on my first viewing back in 2008. And thanks to Scream Factory's new Blu-ray release, I can do just that with a high def transfer that shows off every bit of detail on the insane creatures in the film, as well as intensifies its rich color palette.

And yes, I was wrong - this one's a lot better a second time around, and I think I know why I wasn't into it the first time. It starts off in a very jarring way, with Jeffrey Combs' character Crawford having a breakthrough on an experiment and rushing off to tell his superior about it. This guy, Dr. Pretorius (the late Ted Sorel) is the film's villain, but he lacks a real introduction, and is only seen in this one scene out of the complicated makeup Sorel would have to endure for all of his subsequent scenes. It's like the movie is missing its first reel, and then it gets jarring again when we meet Dr. McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), who is our real lead character, not Combs. So on a first view, it's a bit hard to really pin down as we don't get a proper introduction to the world, and no main character to identify with as McMichaels is sort of the Herbert West of this Re-Animator reunion, finding more interest in the science than in the human lives that might end in the discovery process.

But if you can take it all in, it's actually a pretty fascinating entry in the "body horror" sub-genre. The main focus is the pineal gland, always a good source for a horror movie as science still hasn't completely figured the damn thing out, giving creative screenwriters license to say it does whatever they want it to (it was used differently in the 1960 sci-fi non-classic The Leech Woman, for example). Here, the gland acts as a sort of sixth sense and can be seen poking out of the foreheads of those who have had their mind "opened" to the effects of the Resonator, a device that can act as a gateway to other dimensions. It's a pretty phallic looking thing, and god bless Combs for spending a good chunk of the movie with this goofy thing on his face as he continues to deliver a typically great (though subdued compared to his other memorable roles) performance. He also goes through more torture here than Ash does across all three Evil Dead movies - the monster bites his face in the first sequence, and later he gets his hair sucked off his scalp!

That's nothing compared to Ken Foree, who has to play major scenes in a red speedo. Not that he's not in good shape, but this is a GROSS goddamn movie. There's barely any blood in it at all (the bloodiest bit was cut from theatrical release anyway; it was restored for the 2007 DVD release and carried over here, though the quality jump is more noticeable in high def), and the body count is pretty low, but there's more slime and goo than in the two Ghostbusters movies combined, and Foree has to slide around in that crap without any clothes to protect him. If you're one of those folks who's afraid to touch a door handle because you think you might get something on your hands, this will be the most terrifying movie ever made - everyone is covered in slime and muck by the end.

The pacing can be a bit wonky though; not counting the impenetrable opening, the second act is just a loop of sequences where the machine is turned on, bad things happen, the machine is turned off, everyone regroups and then the machine is turned on again. And the finale involves just destroying the thing instead of turning it off, so you might get a bit tired of seeing people make their way into the same attic set. But the creature designs continue to evolve, and while there isn't as much humor as in Re-Animator, Foree is a delight as this movie's version of comic relief, and Combs gets in a few great moments as well (his dismissal of hospital food is pretty priceless). And it's great to see Ms. Crampton in such an expanded and intelligent role after more or less playing "the girlfriend" in the team's previous film. It's a bummer that Bruce Abbott wasn't around as well, even in a cameo, to finish the reunion, but considering how many people did come back (and that both films are based on Lovecraft stories), they actually aren't that much alike, ultimately - and that's a good thing.

The previous DVD was no slouch in the bonus features department, and Shout! has ported all of them over. The commentary with Gordon, Combs, Crampton and Brian Yuzna is pretty wonderful; they react to the movie (it seems like it's been a while) and offer plenty of set anecdotes and nuts and bolts type stuff, all while clearly enjoying each others' company. Then Gordon offers his thoughts on the film in an interview, as well as takes us through the process of restoring the film's deleted footage (thought to be lost for quite some time) and also the storyboarding, with a few side by side examples for good measure. Then there's an interview with composer Richard Band and a few trailers - the standard package.

But Shout! wisely assumed most fans already had it and would need something more than just a new transfer to double dip, so they went all out - new interviews with Combs, Crampton and Charles Band, plus an in-depth look at the various makeup/effects work on the film, complete with new interviews with its principle creators: John Carl Buechler, Mark Shostrom, John Naulin, etc. Just in case you weren't already aware, the creatures in the film are all practical, and this was not a big budget movie, so hearing their stories and seeing their creations get put together is pure bliss for those who appreciate the hard work that goes into this stuff, and the price its creators can pay - one of them lost a couple fingers after a mishap! The interviews with Combs and Crampton are also quite good; Combs offers plenty of funny stories and praise of his co-stars (as well as admitting he thinks Abbott would have been a better choice for his role), while Crampton talks about working in Rome, how much she loved the role (she considers it her favorite), and yes, finding the leather costume she wears for a bit after getting seduced by the Resonator's power.

There's also a new commentary with screenwriter Dennis Paoli, but unless you're a very patient Lovecraft junkie there's not much reason to listen to it - he seems to think he's interrupting the movie and thus only really comes to life during the two title sequences, otherwise just offering quick bits of info every now and then, usually pointing out a Lovecraft reference or how they melded one of his ideas with their own (the original story From Beyond is based on is only a few pages long and serves as the movie's prologue - the rest is an original creation partially assembled from his other stories). He probably talks for a total of 15-20 minutes during the 85 minute film, so if you've already watched it and listened to the Gordon & cast track, it might be too much of a chore for you. Curiously, Shout makes almost no mention of the new features on their packaging; they mention Crampton's but the other new interviews and Paoli commentary are not mentioned - they just focus on the ones that were on the previous DVD from MGM. Kind of odd, so hopefully folks read this review! It's worth the double dip!

*He actually shot Dolls in between these two films, but From Beyond ended up being released first.