DIRECTOR Stuart Gordon WRITER Dennis Paoli; Brian Yuzna; Stuart Gordon; H.P. Lovecraft (short story) STARS Jeffrey Combs; Barbara Crampton; Ted Sorel DVD & BLU-RAY 25 February
Director Stuart Gordon has had a long love affair with classic horror icon H.P. Lovecraft, exploring the writer’s odd worlds and nightmarish creatures throughout his career. In 1985 he hit both critical and commercial gold with Re-Animator, and From Beyond the following year contains many of the same elements: it’s (loosely) based on a Lovecraft short story; stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton; and is stuffed with wild ideas and practical-style latex and gore effects. Exploring themes of stimulation and the pleasures of the flesh, which appeared to be a common subgenre of 80s horror (see Society and Brain Damage for other such examples), the film could almost be seen as a more garish example of the work epitomised by David Cronenberg. Gordon struggled with censorship upon release, and this is the first time a fully uncut version has been presented to UK audiences.
While From Beyond doesn’t quite hit the same lofty heights as Re-Animator there’s plenty to enjoy, and at a lean 85 minutes it’s a fast and gratuitously entertaining trip. It came from the sadly missed Empire Pictures, one of the last true independent film companies to come from Hollywood and a fine distribution house for the weird and macabre. Gordon shot the film in Italy for budget reasons and claims the production ran out of money before the spectacle of the finale could be properly realised. While that may be true, it’s hard to imagine how the sight of a naked Combs screaming and tearing his way out of a cancerous monster before he dissolves in a puddle of intestines could be any more over-the-top or gratuitous.
The high-definition picture does occasionally expose some of the cheaper rubber effects and the film itself looks dated but in balance the cinematography is superb, with colours popping off the screen, particularly in the hallucinogenic sequences. While some of the extras on their recent releases have been lacking (Piranha was particularly disappointing), Second Sight have excelled here, with in-depth interviews with Gordon, writer Dennis Paoli and Crampton, features on the slimy effects and the excellent music score, and a presentation of lost footage found in the editing room. Best of all though, is a superb commentary track with Gordon, Combs and producer Brian Yuzna. Obviously good friends, they have a fine time reminiscing on the production and the 80s horror scene in general, and all three are candid about the mistakes they’ve made in their respective careers. It’s a fine insight into low-budget filmmaking, almost as entertaining as the feature itself. This is a definitive release of a classic splatter flick and comes highly recommended.