Screening Log #42: From Beyond (1986)

Written by Brian Yuzna, Dennis Paoli, and Stuart Gordon, based on the short story by H.P. Lovecraft
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, and Ken Foree

 

 

 

Some people believe that there are worlds beyond our world, surrounding it, unobservable and outside of time. They believe that there can be multiple, even infinite, realities and dimensions that our faculties cannot perceive, different frequencies of matter vibrating outside our spectrum, unavailable to our minds on a perceptive or ideological level. Implicit in this consideration of possible worlds is the horror of the other, infinitely removed and alien; little can be more terrifying than that which is eternally incomprehensible. This mode of thinking fuels much of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythological universe, populated by old Gods outside of time that predate time as we know it, monstrous entities composed of old chaos, desires, evils.

Stuart Gordon reunites with Brian Yuzna, Jeffrey Combs, and Barbara Crampton – all essential parties from Re-Animator, a Lovecraft adaptation from a year earlier – to adapt another Lovecraft work, the short story From Beyond. Physicist Crawford Tillinghast, Combs, assists Dr. Edward Pretorious, Ted Sorel, in his creation of a machine that resonates at a frequency which stimulates growth in the brain’s pineal gland. Pretorious is convinced that the pineal gland is the key to the mythological sixth sense, that further developing the gland would lead a human subject toward perceiving a dimension contiguous with our own, but ordinarily imperceptible. The resonator works, perhaps too well, resulting in an encounter with extra-dimensional beings, Tillinghast escaping into the arms of the police, and Pretorious dead, his head twisted off and conspicuously absent from the “crime scene”.

Tillinghast is remanded to the custody of a mental health clinic, his story about seeing creatures materialize and attacking Pretorious and himself naturally painting him as someone who is mentally disturbed. He is diagnosed as being a classic paranoid schizophrenic. The unorthodox and acclaimed Dr. Katherine McMichaels, Barbara Crampton, is given custody of Tillinghast so that she may reconstruct the experiment in the hopes of determining what exactly happened, to Pretorious’ head in particular. The pair are accompanied by “Bubba” Brownlee, Ken Foree, a police agent who is assigned to make sure nothing goes pear-shaped. Naturally, or, perhaps unnaturally, once the resonator is reassembled and the experiment is resumed by Tillinghast and McMichaels, pretty much everything goes pear-shaped. The creature is on the other side, waiting, (in)formed by Pretorious’ mind, to subsume Tillinghast and company into itselves.

The film goes to great lengths to align the otherness of the extra dimension with repressed sexual desire. The pineal gland takes a distinctly phallic form when it appears from the head of the creature and Pretorious, himself, was involved heavily in bondage and sadomasochism; his erotic paraphernalia – shackles, leather gear, whips, comes into play as the resonator’s effects take hold on the trio’s pineal glands. The creature’s assimilation of McMichaels is threatened in terms of “enjoyment” that work as a veiled reference to Pretorious’ S&M impulses and their tenuous connection to consent. From Beyond resembles Re-Animator insofar as each film draws a parallel between the indoctrination into a new and unnatural order and the sexual violation of a female – Crampton, in both cases, incidentally. The effects of the film recall those of John Carpenter’s Thing remake: the being from beyond changes shape, its flesh wetly malleable, all slithering tentacles and extending fingers, emphasizing the creature’s simultaneously physically predicated and entirely unnatural condition.

As with Re-Animator, the performances in From Beyond are admirably committed, over-the-top but without condescending winks to the viewer. Combined with the surprisingly revolting effects, and a subtly, and suitably, dark streak of humour, the film earns its shocks. There is a singular sort of horror in the contemplation of an other that resists all illumination, that is so foreign that it is entirely unrecognizable. This horror is heightened when the other manifests internally, both physiologically and mentally, in a subject; when the other infects and corrupts familiar elements, it can be overwhelming. All this is dwarfed, however, by the realization that perhaps this perverting, alien, other has been incipient in the subject all along, when the beyond becomes the within.

 

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