Feb 25, 2013

Blu Ray Review: From Beyond [18]

Dir: Stuart Gordon
Released to follow his previous Lovecraft adaptation, the classic Re-Animator, but actually made after the later release Dolls, Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond really feels like someone putting a band back together after a little time off. In front of the camera he has Re-Animator stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton (both playing mad scientists this time out, but also swapping roles to a certain degree, as it’s she who wants to explore the limits of science and he who ends up a victim) and behind the scenes much of the same effects crew, producer Brian Yuzna, co-writer Dennis Paoli and composer Richard Band.

The film apparently departs quite some way from Lovecraft’s story, which is essentially contained within the pre-credits sequence. Combs plays Dr Crawford Tillingast who, along with Dr Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel), has been working on a machine called a resonator, which stimulates the Pineal gland deep in the brain, allowing humans to see an otherwise invisible parallel dimension. This being a Stuart Gordon film, the things in that parallel dimension want to kill us in extremely gooey ways. Tillingast goes mad when the machine goes wrong, sucking Pretorius into the other dimension, but brilliant psychiatrist Dr Katherine McMichaels (Crampton) thinks that by taking him back to where it happened and exposing him to the resonator she can cure him. She’s not right.

Gordon and his actors apparently did quite a lot of research on the pineal gland and its real function before making the film – apparently it has functions including processing light and also seems to have a connection to the sex drive, which is something we see in both Sorel and Crampton’s characters – but while this is all laudable research and the film is definitely not dumb, it’s also not one that I feel a great need to analyse for deeper meanings about the nature of people or reality. This is no bad thing, it’s simply that there are some movies that I really want to dig into and explore the themes and ideas of, and others that I want to kick back and enjoy, and From Beyond is the latter, and on that level it’s a fantastic 85 minutes.

Jeffrey Combs is an actor with a highly developed sense of the ridiculous, but he’s also very talented, and he walks an intriguing tightrope here; often just tenths of a centimetre from going too over the top, but also giving us a sense of a good scientist losing his mind. When he, along with everyone else in the film, is let off the chain towards the end it’s tremendous fun. Barbara Crampton is too young for her part, and – while I love her and she’s good here – she’s not the world’s most convincing wunderkind psychiatrist – where she does excel is in putting across Dr McMichaels’ transformation, as the resonator breaks down her barriers (first the glasses go, then the hair comes down, then the clothes come off). She’s quite obviously having tremendous fun, which perfectly suits the character as the machine takes control of her. Ted Sorel almost drowns in his make up, but still manages an impressively bastardly performance as a character who is, if such a thing is possible, even more perverse than Re-Animator‘s Dr Hill. The main cast is rounded out by genre legend Ken Foree, who is his usual imposing but charming self and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon as a doctor who may have mixed motives.

Perhaps the true stars of the film, however, are the make up technicians, led by Mark Shostrom, who created all manner of amazing looking latex creatures from another dimension. The work done on the various stages of Ted Sorel’s mutation can stand proudly alongside work from Society, the Nightmare on Elm Street series or Legend as some of the outright coolest practical effects of the 80′s, and they really do aid the film’s verisimilitude, both because they have a distinct physical presence and because they really do seem to be from another dimension. Stuart Gordon and DP Mac Ahlberg’s visuals also contribute to this otherworldly feel, with some visual ideas that clearly grow out of Re-Animator, but this is perhaps a more distinctive looking film – though also one that is absolutely of its time. The look grows ever more extreme as the film goes on, and you’ll be hard pressed to find another film that looks like this one.

Overall, From Beyond is a wonderful, if rather disgusting, entertainment. At the moments it is silly it embraces its silliness, but it never confuses silliness for stupidity. The blu ray not only restores some of the more extreme gore moments (over four minutes worth), but it also shows you, really for the first time, just how well crafted the film is as a whole.

The Disc
For a 27 year old low budget horror movie, From Beyond looks downright spectacular, and the work that has gone into preparing this print made me feel as if I had just seen it again for the first time. The eccentric colour palete – full of glowing pinks and purples – is extremely well represented and, even if it sometimes means you can see a join between make up and an actor’s skin, the detail that this Blu Ray brings out in the print does spectacular justice to the work of the practical effects artists who worked on the film.

As I always note in Blu Ray reviews, I haven’t got a surround system yet, but from what I can discern this is a clean and well balanced soundtrack which serves the film perfectly well.

The Extras
Second Sight have really pushed the boat out for this first digital UK release of From Beyond, and provided a large and wide ranging selection of extras.

Leading the collection is a commentary, the menu gives no details of the participants, but happily director Stuart Gordon is joined by producer Brian Yuzna and stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. It’s a fun track, as we heard on their Re-Animator commentary these people like hanging out with each other and they tell affectionate stories and jokes about From Beyond throughout the track.

Further context, and some repetition, is offered in newly shot interviews with Gordon (Incorporating footage from a post-screening Q and A and running 20 mins), Crampton (14 mins) and co-writer Dennis Paoli (16 mins). All of the interviews provide interesting background on their subjects, as well as tackling From Beyond from their individual perspectives, despite the repetition they will be valuable for fans.

Monsters and Slime: The FX of From Beyond (20 mins) is a ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ type of featurette which starts off with some discussion of Re-Animator before moving on to deal with From Beyond in detail. This is the stuff that most horror fans, myself included, love: old school special effects and make up, and to hear the people who made these ingeniously disgusting gags talk about them with affection and insight. The behind the scenes pictures of the make up in progress are a real treat for fans.

Director’s Perspective is an older feature, which runs 8 minutes, and has Gordon speaking about the project. This seems like overkill, and as if it may have been prepared for the US DVD release, all of the information in this feature is repeated and elaborated on elsewhere on the disc.

The Editing Room: Lost and Found (4 mins) is another older feature, highlighting the differences between the R Rated and Uncut versions of From Beyond. Again, much of this is discussed elsewhere, but it’s a good way to get all of the information on the reinsertion and restoration of the previously cut material in a quick single shot.

Also salvaged from the previous DVD release is a 4 minute interview with composer Richard Band, whose odd score is a central part of the film. It’s fascinating hearing Band talk about how he used the music and even the instrumentation to echo the film’s story, and his choice to go with motifs, rather than themes, in the music.

The last two features are certainly the least interesting: a photo montage does what it says on the tin, but the storyboard to film comparison does even less than that, it’s just 82 seconds worth of very prosaic comparisons from one scene.

Ultimately though, this remains a strong and incredibly comprehensive extras package for a film you wouldn’t have expected to get such consideration.

Summary
While it’s not quite the deathless classic that Re-Animator is, From Beyond is a tremendously entertaining, if sometimes quite silly, nasty little horror flick. It’s great to finally see it in its full version, and given the sort of love it deserves in terms of its transfer and extras. A highly recommended release for horror lovers.



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