As I’ve written in this space before, Stuart Gordon’s splatter-classic Re-Animator is a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, it’s an adaptation in name only of the original short story by H.P. Lovecraft, using the source material’s premise and basic plot beats as a launching pad for gross-out gags, snappy banter, and a general un-Lovecraftian sense of levity. On the other hand, it is perhaps the best film based on one of Lovecraft’s works, for perhaps the same reason. Of course, the original tale was itself a bit of a departure for the author, a down-and-dirty Frankenstein tale with nary an Elder God in sight. What would happen, then, if Gordon applied his perspective to some of Lovecraft’s more representative work?
As it would happen, that’s precisely what the filmmaker did for his follow-up. From Beyond reunites Gordon with much of the same team he worked with on Re-Animator, including producer Brian Yuzna, screenwriter Dennis Paoli, and stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton (along with Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree). This time, however, the material is far more phantasmagorical: the always-unhinged Combs plays Crawford Tillinghast, a physician who is driven to madness and arrested following the death of his colleague, Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel). Of course, Lovecraft being Lovecraft, Pretorius is not dead, but has been sucked into a realm of shapeless worm monsters following experiments on his own pineal gland. Tillinghast is brought back to the scene of the crime by his psychiatrist (Crampton) and a local detective (Foree) and . . . well, things go downhill from there.
From Beyond has never gotten the recognition of Re-Animator, but for my money it’s every bit as entertaining, and far more ambitious as a film. What’s great about it is that it works as both a Stuart Gordon film and an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation: it’s got all the sticky visual puns, kinky sex, and loopy dialog of the former (“It ate him . . . Bit his head off . . . Like a gingerbread man!”), while still providing the creeping dread and what-am-I-looking-at madness of the latter. On top of that, the effects are top notch (if gloriously 1980s) and the cast of genre favorites are all in top form (particularly Combs, whose twitchy mannerisms were made for Lovecraftian terror). It’s doubtful Lovecraft would have appreciate the excesses of From Beyond, but for anyone with an interest in batshit crazy horror comedy, it is essential.
dir. Stuart Gordon
Part of the ongoing series: Eldritch Cinema: H.P. Lovecraft’s 125th Birthday Celebration