Color, 1986, 85 mins. 38 secs.
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD) / WS (1.85:1), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Second Sight (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), OFDb Filmworks (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9),
Ocean Shores (HK R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)
Proving that his spectacular Re-Animator was no fluke, director Stuart Gordon returned to H.P. Lovecraft waters again with From Beyond, a lesser known but worthy successor offering a more subdued (in relative terms) fusion of slimy beasties and perverse black humor. Featuring much of the same cast and crew, the film was jinxed at the time by a mishandled theatrical release and significant editing to make it safe for an R rating, but its eventual restoration to Gordon's director's cut and respectable a/v presentations have elevated its reputation considerably in the pantheon of '80s horror.
The prologue, essentially a remix of Re-Animator, features an innocent neighbor and her pet dog stumbling in on the middle of an experiment by the feverish Dr. Pretorius (Sorel). During a bizarre display of techno wizardry and colorful flashing lights, the good doctor loses his head and his assistant, Crawford Tillinghast (Combs), runs amok into the arms of the police. Tinnghast winds up at a medical institution where he catches the attention of Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Crampton), a specialist in mental illness. She comes to believe Tinnghast's claims that he and Pretorius had developed the "sonic resonator," a machine capable of stimulating the pineal gland, a largely dormant sensory organ in the brain. Ignoring pretty much every rule in the medical books, Katherine escorts Tinnghast back to the Pretorius house along with a comical security guard, Bubba (Dawn of the Dead's Foree). The trio crank up the resonator and witness a completely new dimension existing all around us, filled with swimming monsters who can only see humans when the machine is turned on. Pretorius himself shows up, looking far less human, and makes slimy advances towards Katherine, averted only when the machine is shut off just in time. Katerine decides to repeat the experiment, resulting in a feast of monstrous goo, S&M experimentation, and organ munching.
Mining territory similar to the following year's Brain Damage, Gordon's squishy study of addiction and perception largely benefits from the enthusiastic performances of its cast. Crampton and Combs always make a terrific team (as evidenced later by their strong dramatic work in Castle Freak), while Foree provides some welcome comic relief and drops out of the film far too early. The impressive creature effects are gloriously self-indulgent when they kick in, a reminder of the good old days before CGI effects took over the monster genre, and in a marked departure from the more realistic look of Re-Animator, this one is drenched in stylized lighting with pinks and lavenders indicating the lifting of the veil between dimensions.
Long unavailable in the U.S. in any format after its really awful looking VHS from Vestron, From Beyond first surfaced on DVD from Hong Kong in a mildly letterboxed, flat transfer with a mono mix that didn't do justice to the original Ultra-Stereo mix; it also featured burned-in Chinese subtitles, so most U.S. fans tossed that disc away long ago. Miracle of miracles, the considerable excised footage eventually turned up and was restored for a 2006 run on the now long-defunct Monsters HD channel, with a DVD from MGM following in 2007. That unrated release featured an excellent audio commentary with Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, Crampton, and Combs, who have a great rapport together (not surprising given how often they worked together) and have lots of tales from the set. Also on that DVD were three featurettes: “A Director’s Perspective” (8m51s), with Gordon ruminating about the horror boom under Reagan, the state of flux within the horror genre, his personal take on Lovecraft, and the need films like this satisfy; "The Editing Room: Lost and Found" (4m45s) with Gordon and Sony's James Ousley explaining how a fortuitous discover led to discovering the trims (Sony was MGM's distributor at the time); and a 4m33s interview with composer Richard Band (4 min) about the process of creating a feeling of another dimension through his musical approach. Also included was a batch of storyboard to film comparisons (1m23s, 1m22s, 2m16s, 2m59s, 1m9s) with a Gordon intro and two photo galleries.
All of that was ported over for the film's U.S. Blu-ray debut in 2013 from Scream Factory, which looked great and featured DTS-HD MA English 5.1 and 2.0 audio options with English subtitles. Newly added for that release were a second commentary with Dennis Paoli (who worked on multiple Lovecraft adaptations with Gordon and explains here the tricks of adapting one of fantastic literature's most influential authors) and several featurettes: "Multiple Dimensions: The Creatures & Effects of From Beyond" (23m42s), a look at the effects with John Buechler, John Naulin, Anthony Doublin, Mark Shoshtrom; "Paging Dr. McMichaels" (19m51s) with Crampton who cites this as her best role to that time and a personal favorite among her collaborations with Gordon; "A Tortured Soul" (17m36s) with Combs talking about the arduous makeup process, an accidental moment of trauma involving some little Italian kids, and his approach to a character who spends most of the film in a state of psychotic hysteria; and "An Empire Production" (5m2s) with executive producer Charles Band covering the decision to make the film quickly after Re-Animator exploded on home video. That release was slightly preceded onto the market by a U.K. release from Second Sight, with featuring the original director/cast commentary, storyboard comparison, "A Director's Perspective," and "The Editing Room," plus several different extras commissioned via Severin Films starting with "Stuart Gordon on From Beyond" (20m37s), a hybrid of a 2012 Q&A following a theatrical screening of the film with Gordon (who's also captured separately on camera) and his wife, regular actress and monster victim Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, chatting about the creation of this film and its distinctive look and tone among Lovecraft adaptations. "The Doctor Is In" (13m45s) brings back Crampton to discuss more about her fondness for the role, her gradual affection for horror, her early career, and what she brought to her approach as a very unusual doctor driven by curiosity and inner demons that manifest over the course of the story. "Monsters & Slime: The FX of From Beyond" (20m47s) has more stories from Naulin, Doublin, and Bartalos about the creation of various masks and practical applications to pull off the creatures (Pretentius and otherwise), while "Gothic Adaptation" (16m5s) has Paoli going over the "powerfully weird" allure of Lovecraft stories and his long-running associations with Gordon over the decades even going back before college.
The Scream Factory edition went out of circulation in 2020, and then Vinegar Syndrome stepped in with the most lavish edition to date: a three-disc set (available in standard packaging or a limited slipcover) featuring a movie-only UHD and two Blu-rays. The new 4K scan from the original camera negative looks phenomenal here, outclassing the already excellent prior U.S. releases with super-saturated colors and finer detail. A disclaimer at the beginning notes that noise reduction was used on the earlier DVD and Blu-ray to camouflage the disparity between the reinstated footage and the original theatrical negative, and its absence here results in more visual information on display. Despite that caveat, the differences during the additional unrated bits are very minimal as well. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1 mixes both sound great with a very enveloping soundscape, though to these ears there's a more robust low end on the 2.0 that makes it the more impactful option. English SDH subtitles are included as usual. The first Blu-ray contains both of the prior commentaries as well as one huge new extra: “Re-Resonator: Looking Back at From Beyond” (94m43s), an expansive documentary featuring Combs, Crampton, Foree, Paoli, Yuzna, Richard Band, film editor Lee Percy, foley artist Vanessa Ament, effects supervisors Michael Deak and Anthony Doublin and effects artists William Butler, Gabriel Bartalos, John Naulin, and Robert Kurtzman. Sort of an updated impressionistic take on the film's inception and production, it drops in some fun new stories you've never heard before and covers everything from the usual Empire shooting outside of Rome through the back-to-back creation with Dolls (which was supposed to come out first). Of course, there's a lot of focus on the creation of the monsters, the choice of Lovecraft material this time (with the short story essentially comprising the prologue), the stunt work, the decision to avoid humor for the most part, and visualization of otherworldly monsters that were never described on the page. The second Blu-ray ports over almost all of the preexisting U.S. extras, featurette-wise: "A Director's Perspective" with Gordon, "A Tortured Soul" with Combs, "Paging Dr. McMichaels" with Crampton, "An Empire Production," "Multiple Dimensions," the Richard Band interview, and the storyboard comparison (here compiled into one 9m1s reel), plus the theatrical trailer. The "Editing Room" featurette is dropped here (probably because of all the Sony prominence), but you do get all four of the U.K. featurettes here for the first time on an American release. A 1m13s still gallery is also included.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray)
SCREAM FACTORY (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on March 5, 2023.