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Wednesday 22 March 2023

Burl reviews From Beyond! (1986)

Well slap my bucket, it’s Burl! Ha ha, remember how good Re-Animator was? Well, on the basis of that, I recall in the mid-80s becoming very excited at each new Stuart Gordon picture that got mentioned on Fangoria’s Terror Teletype: movies like Dolls and Robo Jox, and the sadly never-to-be made Gris-Gris, and of course the picture under consideration today: another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, and therefore the most direct follow-up to the great Re-Animator, and therefore the most exciting of them all, From Beyond! Ha ha, I had a one-sheet for this one up on the wall of my teenage bedroom, and it was a prized possession indeed!

The picture begins with a long pre-credit sequence that dramatizes the entirety of the Lovecraft story the movie is based on! Ha ha, we meet young and earnest science assistant Crawford Tillinghast, played by the committed Jeffrey Combs from The Man With Two Brains and Cellar Dweller, and his boss, the voluptuary and radical sybarite Dr. Edward Pretorius, impersonated here very well by Ted Sorel of Basket Case 2 fame, and who, a trivia, was the nephew of famed Universal monster makeup man Jack Pierce! Pretorius has invented a machine, the Resonator, which opens up mutually accessible pathways to normally extra-perceptible dimensions that are populated by monsters!

When a flying eel puts a biting on Tillinghast he knows it’s all gone too far, but before he can destroy the machine Pretorius has his head chomped off, and after a neighbour lady’s dog finds the body and licks the head stump, Tillinghast is thought mad and accused of the murder! (The neighbour lady, it should be noted, is essayed by Bunny Summers from The Kid With the 200 I.Q.!) Cue the arrival of a comely psychiatrist, Dr. Katherine McMichaels, played by Barbara Crampton from Fraternity Vacation and Chopping Mall!

The next step, of course, is to have the putative axe-murderer Tillinghast released into the custody of good Dr. McMichaels so they can return to the Pretorious house and figure out what happened! This may seem an unlikely happenstance, but the authorities aren’t fools: for security they send along an ex-football player-turned-cop called Bubba Brownlee, played by Ken Foree, whom we remember so fondly from shopping centre-based pictures like Dawn of the Dead and Phantom of the Mall! The trio set up camp in the house, and as soon as dials are fiddled with and giant tuning forks start glowing purple, the extradimensional creatures show up, accompanied by a now-bestial Pretorius!

Things don’t go well from there – there are locust attacks, an encounter with bondage gear, and a giant lamprey eats off Tillinghast’s hair! Moreover, pineal glands start acting up and an officious doctor played by Stuart Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon has her brains sucked out through her eye socket! Yuck! This is a scene which was depicted in the pages of Fangoria, but was cut out of all prints of the movie until fairly recently! I was glad to finally see it, but I have to admit the scene is gross!

And what of the movie itself? I like the creatures a lot, Combs is a nervous pleasure as ever, and it’s always terrific to see Foree on screen! Plus I like the pink-and-purple colour scheme (popular hues for Lovecraft apparently – remember The Color Out of Space?), and the craft across the board is very strong for a low-budget horror picture! And yet it doesn’t measure up to its predecessor! The story is fairly limp, the characters not terribly well-developed, and there are a few ropey trick effects! I don’t accuse the picture of being overly ambitious – ha ha, I admire ambition in low-budget pictures! – but they might have bit off a little more than they could chew with some of the dimensional effects!

Still, that’s not a big problem; the trouble really is the “That’s it?” feeling we’re left with at the end of the picture! It gets darker than I remembered – the conclusion has something of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre feeling, or maybe more of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 feeling, ha ha! But despite any shortcomings, the pleasures here are many; and if it’s not a revelatory experience like Re-Animator was, it’s nevertheless a fine chunk of 80s horror with some terrific monsters! I give From Beyond two and a half ill-fitting bald caps!

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