I discovered H.P. Lovecraft in high school and he became the first author whose work I actively pursued until I’d read their entire library. So needless to say, I’m a fan. Regrettably, the subjects that Lovecraft wrote about are almost entirely unfilmable, resulting in most movies based on his material to be exceedingly poor (to put it politely).
Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna seem to have the best track record for adapting his tales (though the single best Lovecraft-inspired film, in my opinion, was John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness), with Gordon’s Re-Animator actually exceeding the quality of the original story. Sure, some of his later efforts weren’t so hot, such as Dagon and the especially wretched Necronomicon, but his adaptation of From Beyond actually came out earlier in his career when he still had “it”.
Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), under the eye of his mentor, the sadistic Dr. Pretorious (Ted Sorel), has created a device that advances the pineal gland of the human brain, allowing one to see the extra dimensions around them. Unfortunately, the spectral creatures inhabiting those dimension are capable of looking back, and after a terrifying encounter which claimed the life of Dr. Pretorious, Tillinghast goes completely nuts. Psychiatrist Dr. Katherine Michaels (Barbara Crampton) wants Tillinghast to recreate the experiment, with a clean bill of mental health being his reward. So, along with a police supervisor named Bubba (Ken Foree), the trio returns to the house on Benevolent Street to reactivate the machine. This, of course, leads to disaster, as they encounter the renewed Dr. Pretorious, who has become one with a hideous creature from beyond.
The original seven page short story which this movie was based upon is your standard Lovecraft fiction. Essentially, it features concepts that absolutely cannot be brought to life by visuals as we understand them. In the original story, the world seen through the extra-dimensional sixth sense was very different and more “mind-blowing” than how it was presented in the film. It was described as all empty space being filled with luminous creatures and even they were filled with universes of other creatures. Obviously, the stop-motion flying jellyfish and eels that we got were a far cry from Lovecraft’s intentions. Still, Gordon did his best and actually adapted what he could from the source material fairly well.
The effects in this movie are exceptionally good. The Dr. Pretorious monster is really quite gruesome and it’s constantly fluctuating and mutating form is a real visual treat. I also dug the giant leech in the basement as it reminded me of something from At the Mountains of Madness. From Beyond is very gory, and I’m sure that’s just the way we all like it. One particular sequence I enjoyed featured the insane Tillinghast sucking the brain out of a woman’s skull via her eye socket. Nice.
The cast is partly recycled from Re-Animator, though their roles are different enough so as not to retread the characters they already played. Jeffrey Combs manages to play a mad scientist just different enough from the one he played in Re-Animator. I did feel that Herbert West and Crawford Tillinghast were a bit too similar, but not so much as to hurt the movie. Barbara Crampton plays a character almost entirely different from the one we saw in Re-Animator and does a fine job of it, proving to be both a villain and a heroine at the same time.
Then there’s Ken Foree as Bubba Brownlee, who adds an element of comic relief to the film, but not in any sort of distracting slapstick kind of way. He just seems to be the only one self-aware of how crazy everything is. Also, if the name doesn’t ring any bells, you might recognize Mr. Foree from another horror classic: The original Dawn of the Dead. Finally, Ted Sorel plays the lead villain, whom I at first thought was going to be a stale retread of Dr. Hill from Re-Animator. While similarities were noticeable, Dr. Pretorious definitely had different goals and motivations.
From Beyond is a bit of an underrated gem and although it’s not a perfect recreation of the H. P. Lovecrat story, it’s one of the best ones out there. Certainly worth your time and now available as Collector’s Edition on BluRay and DVD combo pack from Amazon.