Looking back at From Beyond
Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon returned a year later with another HP Lovecraft adaptation, From Beyond. Rob looks back at a great, goo-filled 80s horror…
There's been some discussion that some of weird fiction writer HP Lovecraft’s more grand ideas would not translate that well onto film or television. That the bizarre horrors that lurk in the dark corners of his universe are better implied or hinted at rather than slapped onto the screen with CGI.
While I, along with other fans, still wonder what Guillermo del Toro’s take on At The Mountains Of Madness might have been like, these ideas need a budget of millions – the grandeur of Cthulhu rising from the ancient city of R'lyeh, which fans have held in their imaginations since the 1930s, would be expensive to replicate. But there are still many Lovecraft myths that would be much cheaper to adapt.
And this is where Stuart Gordon comes in. A self-confessed Lovecraft fan, Gordon has, during his directorial career, attempted to bring Lovecraft to the screen on numerous occasions. He wisely chose smaller-scale stories, weaving in elements such as the Miskatonic University, the Necronomicon and sinister labs of Herbert West in film adaptations such as Dagon, Re-Animator and Dreams In The Witch House.
However, one of his most successful adaptations comes from quite a bland and, in comparison to Lovecraft’s more sinister and awe-inspiring stories, ponderous short tale, From Beyond. ST Joshi once said of the story, with tell-tale half-heartedness, “[From Beyond] …will ever be regarded as one of Lovecraft's better tales.”
The story tells the tale of Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) and his “experiments in the physical and metaphysical”, and his use of something called a resonator to tap into another dimension to commune with the alien creatures there. And after rereading it recently, it’s frankly written like a science report rather than a tale of horror and suspense. Gordons screenplay essentially sexes things up a bit (to use a political term), adds a more action-focused pace, and fortunately, buckets and buckets of 80s gore effects.
Gordon’s adaptation is dipping with the primordial, oozing horror that Lovecraft should be crammed with: slimy creatures, huge, body-sized prosthetics, distorting make-up effects and cult regular Combs hamming it up. Then there’s an insane Dr Pretorius (Ted Sorel) who uses a neon pink resonator that looks like the leftovers from a Flux Capacitor to stimulate the pineal gland of the brain (the so-called third eye) and unleash gooey creatures from another dimension.
Changing, expanding and updating the original story, Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna have Crawford as an assistant for the Pretorius Foundation, the home of the resonator, which is designed to assist him in further fulfilling his carnal desires, and for him to quite literally loose his head in the exploration of this new dimension.
This, of course, leads the film into focusing more on adult themes rather than the quite dry mathematical and scientific theories put across in the original short story. It also means that we get Barbara Crampton dressing up in fetish gear.
So with sex and slime being the focus, From Beyond is a sort of mix of Japanese tentacle porn and a low budget David Cronenberg body horror movie, except with more prosthetics, goo and transformations that makes The Thing look pretty mild by comparison. And while the movie is never going to win any awards for its acting, it’s still a benchmark in prosthetic effects, with some of the creatures still holding up well today. The continually shifting nightmare creature that comes from beyond also makes for a formidable, shape changing bad guy.
Added to all this splatter, we also get the added bonus of Ken Foree as Bubba, a policemen in charge of a murder case at the Pretorius Foundation, a bald Jeffery Combs with a wiggly pineal gland sticking out of the front of his head eating stored brains in an asylum, giant inflatable worm creatures in the basement, and a death scene involving getting eaten by flies. The overall result is a jumbled bag of shlock horror fun that adds up to 90 minutes of pure 80s, over-the-top, slime-packed action.
As mentioned earlier, many of Lovecraft’s works are best left to the best director in the world: your own imagination. But this fantastic example of exploitation over the top and goo sums up the horror genre of the mid-80s perfectly, and while filmmakers, such as the Lovecraft Society, are producing more relevant, spooky and direct adaptations of the author’s original work, From Beyond is still a great excursion into the weird and wonderful world of strange dimensions, monsters, and tonnes (and tonnes) of latex.