Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond – (The Test Of Time)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must-see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

DIRECTED BY STUART GORDON

STARRING JEFFREY COMBS, BARBARA CRAMPTON, KEN FOREE, TED SOREL

The world of horror cinema suffered a massive blow with the passing of Stuart Gordon on March 24, 2020, the beloved director of such cult classics as Re-Animator, Dolls, The Pit and The Pendulum, Fortress, Castle Freak, Body Snatchers, Dagon, Edmond, Stuck, and perhaps my personal favorite of the pack…From Beyond (WATCH IT HERE / OWN IT HERE). As the preeminent purveyor of cinematic H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, Gordon had a preternatural knack for fusing dazzling and genuinely unsettling, FX-driven spectacles with a playfully campy sense of humor. He often collaborated with the same artists both in front of and behind the camera, allowing for a very distinct body of work that can’t be confused with another.

Released on October 24, 1986, From Beyond is hurling toward its 35th anniversary. Despite losing roughly $3.2 million at the box office at the time of its release, the film has gone on to be one of the most adored cult-horror flicks of the 80s, marking Gordon as a formidable directorial force after just his second theatrical feature. Of course, in wondering how it fares today, it’s with a celebratory nod to the late great Stuart Gordon that we assess how well From Beyond does against The Test of Time!

THE STORY: Based on the 1934 short story of the same name by famed horror scribe H.P. Lovecraft, From Beyond was co-written with Gordon by Brian Yuzna and Denis Paoli. The story concerns Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), a scientist who has built a device called The Resonator with his elder partner, Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel). The Resonator allows those who use it to access their third eye through an enlarged pineal gland and see ghastly creatures from beyond a hellish dimension. These creatures are always present, but cannot be seen without the device. When Dr, Pretorius disappears From Beyond and suffers an ostensibly grisly demise, Crawford is painted as a schizophrenic and placed in a mental ward.

Cue the arrival of Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton, who producers did not want to cast originally), a sexy psychiatrist who requests to take Crawford into her custody for therapeutic purposes. However, soon the Resonator is reactivated and both are sent, along with their pal Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree), back into the ghostly dimension where they encounter a series of grotesque, sweatily deformed creatures and ghoulish monsters harboring an insatiable bloodlust. Worse yet, Dr. Pretorius has transfigured into a nasty, hyper-horny phantasmagoric demon out to bust a baleful nut and ensure that McMichaels, Tillinghast, and Bubba never return to the Earthly realm alive.

WHAT HOLDS-UP: While the overall entertainment value of the film still stands strong, the most impressive aspects of From Beyond when seen in 2021 are threefold: the excellent practical and visual effects, the creature designs themselves, and the colorful, neon-dipped atmospherics fostered by DP Mac Ahlberg (Re-Animator, Dolls, Innocent Blood, etc.). Speaking of Dolls, Gordon actually filmed that film simultaneously with From Beyond. Both films were shot at Empire Studios in Italy, where Gordon claims to have saved more than $10 million on production costs by hiring a foreign film crew.

Always a stellar standout staple in a Gordon film, the FX work in From Beyond remains second to none. According to reports, four different FX companies worked on the film, but none more so than primary contributor John Carl Beuchler, who designed the special effects creatures and transformations as well as supervised the Mechanical and Makeup Imageries. Of course, Beuchler would create a name for himself as a director the same year with the release of his feature debut, Troll, before going on to helm Cellar Dweller and Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood. Other big names working on the FX of From Beyond include Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Mark Shostrom.

The brilliant monster designs and concomitant practical FX to bring them to life call to mind John Carpenter's The Thing in just how unique and freakishly repulsive they increasingly become as the movie unspools. The hideously viscid, nasty, bubbling wet body deformations are as revolting as they come, particularly when the lecherous Pretorius tries to rape McMichaels despite resembling the pink, membranous human-hybrid of f*cking Krang!  In this regard, the scene that holds up most occurs when Crawford and Bubba escape into the basement, only to be attacked by a giant aquatic worm-like serpent with a hissing octagonal mouth that opens to reveal rows of sharp teeth. Moments later when Katherine is threatened to be “kissed” by Pretorious, a bilious and puss-covered skeletal ghoul erupts from the demented doctor’s pineal gland and continues to grow in size right before our very eyes. Shite remains a genuine jaw-dropper to this day!

While Crampton’s ultra-sexy dominatrix strip tease will never get old, another visual marvel in the movie to hold up well in 2021 is Bubba’s mega-maggot assault. After sustaining the attack, the shot of Bubba’s gorily skinned appendages, a cracked open sternum, and eviscerated innards as he lies on the ground truly remains startling. Of course, the image is topped with the show-stopping final form of Pretorius, who appears in the end to resemble an unidentifiable reptilian mutation that defies description. The f*cker looks like a phallic-headed deformed dinosaur took a T-1000 shotgun blast to the chest. As it drips sweat and pines to be kissed by McMichaels, the disgusting ghoul lashes out with visceral tentacular terror before McMichaels scrambles to turn off the Resonator. Even so, Pretorius ultimately returns to attack Crawford after he escapes from the hospital. The scene where the ghoul grows into a large insectoid monster that slurps Crawford’s head into his fly-like maw (and the reverse shot of the beast’s giant spine) remains the stuff of legitimate nightmares.

In a visual tableau that calls the mind the best of Bava and Argento, another aspect of From Beyond that still excels is the beautiful neon gel-filtered lighting. The movie remains bathed in a neon pink hue that is punctuated by blasts of blue, green, and purple. The gorgeous colorful palate of the picture ensures that there’s never a dull visual moment while watching, and really helps the already short 85-minute running time fly by without an ounce of boredom. A suspenseful strobe-lighting effect is also employed as the action increases and the film progresses, which helps fortify the eerie atmosphere. It’s a beautiful place where horrid shit happens, the juxtaposition of which creates a sturdy balance.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: A few things in From Beyond tend to show their age in 2021. First off, anything that physically flies in the film does not hold up. While the practical effects are beyond reproach, the nascent digital effects of the floating eel-like creatures or when Pretorius flies toward Crawford at the end look really old and outdated. The technology simply wasn’t advanced enough, nor did Gordon have enough money to achieve the intended result. In fact, one of the reasons the finale feels secondary to the aforementioned Pretorius attack is that, according to Brian Yuzna, the production ran out of money before the effects on the finale could be completed. Another flimsy aspect of the film is the pineal POV imagery, which looks like a cheaper version of the Predator’s heat-signature vision. By no means a make or break deal, but the POV shots pale in comparison to the top-tier practical FX work and brilliant monster designs.

THE VERDICT: 35 years later, Stuart Gordon’s delightfully trashy sci-fi horror B-movie From Beyond still has far more pros than cons. The premise and underlying mystery of the pineal gland are still as engaging as ever, the grisly monster designs and corresponding FX work to bring them to life remain as stunning and startling as anything made today, and the gorgeously macabre atmosphere is still absorbing as can be. Despite a few instances of digital senescence and a dubious performance or two (we’re looking at you, Combs), From Beyond not only holds up, but it also remains one of Gordon’s finest cinematic hours. RIP Stuart, we hope you and H.P. Lovecraft are having a hellish good time in Heaven!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.