Dr. Edward Pretorius and his assistant Dr. Crawford Tillingast have been working tirelessly to perfect the Pretorius Resonator which is supposed to stimulate a sixth sense through the pineal gland. Crawford accidentally makes the machine work one night and sees a creature floating above him in the room which attacks him forcing him to turn off the resonator. Crawford quickly runs to tell Dr. Pretorius of his discovery and Pretorius greedily turns it on with no precautions taken or warnings heeded from Crawford. Something comes through and Crawford is arrested for the murder of Pretorius who lays headless on the floor of the house. Crawford is put into an Asylum for his outlandish stories and famed young psychologist, Katherine McMichaels is called in to evaluate him. After a CAT scan, it is discovered that Crawford's Pineal gland has enlarged and is growing making Dr. McMichael's think that something to Crawford's story is indeed true and wants to use the information to find a cure for schizophrenia. She takes Crawford back to the house in which the experiments occurred and convinces him to recreate the experiments with her and police escort Bubba Brownlee present to see if his claims are true. The resonator is reactivated and something monstrous bringing other creatures with it appears before the trio all now with growing Pineal glands that could be a danger to themselves and each other.
This is a very scientifically based film and like all of Gordon's other science based works he did all the research he could into the Pineal gland and other studies viewed within the film. The entirety of the From Beyond story as stated before is only seven pages, which is told within the first opening credits of the story giving liberties to what Gordon and company could tell. In essence it is it's own sequel to the original Lovecraft story. The science behind the Pineal gland itself has been barely scratched even to this day, which is remarkable how Lovecraft could so easily write a story based on it but also gave certain liberties to how they could tell the story. One fact is that the Pineal gland regulates the sex drive which directly ties into the reason Dr. Pretorius wants to experiment with it. Within the film Pretorius is discovered to be pretty sadistic and a sexual fiend, having a pleasure chamber in his house filled with sexual torture devices and video tapes of his deviant acts. Jeffrey Combs character Crawford speaks about having to live in a house with this man whom never seemed satisfied with the bevy of beauties he brought home and his appetite could only be sated through torture and screams. There is even a line of dialogue where he calls Pretorius impotent which might explain why he was so desperate to unlock this sixth sense as a way new way to experience pleasure. Juxtaposing this is Dr. Katherine McMichael's whom is very reserved, wearing many layers of clothes and hopes to use the resonator in a less greedy fashion as she believes the Pineal gland has a correlation with schizophrenia and wishes to rid the world of it. With Pretorius gone and her in charge of the resonator she becomes obsessed with it but to use it for good, however the more she uses it the more her Pineal gland grows as well which jump starts her repressed sex drive making her a bit crazy throughout the film, giving into carnal pleasures and becoming someone she isn't. This switch in character traits plays into the climax of the film when she must fight the beasts from beyond and show she can morally overcome humanity's deep carnal deviancies.
Barbara Crampton is herself a truly stellar actress in this film and has stated it is her favorite she has ever done. In Re-Animator she more or less plays the damsel in distress but in this film Gordon had such a good time working with her that he brought her in as a more heroic role. The producers main concern on this casting was Crampton was indeed very young at the time and they had a problem believing that someone her age would be such a renowned psychiatrist, but Gordon simply wrote her age into the script calling her famous for being such a young psychiatrist. My favorite moment though which in a day and age when people complain about giving a leading role to a woman that would normally be a man's role, Gordon had everybody beat. When Ken Foree's Bubba greets Crawford and shakes his hand smiling calling him Dr. McMichael's, Barbara Crampton speaks up and states she is the Dr. in charge. This was such a cool moment to see as traditionally H.P. Lovecraft didn't really have any leading roles for women in his works and here Gordon, specifically made Crampton one of the best leading ladies in a Lovecraft adaptation and even called it out in a scene! Crampton's ability to evolve the character throughout the film as her Pineal gland grows is pretty stellar going from mousy genius to sexually charged mad woman all the way to the end where the two sort of combine to make this badass heroine that we hadn't seen before.
Expanding upon the seven page story Gordon and Yuzna also took a creature from Lovecraft's other work At the Mountain's of Madness called the Shoggoth. The Shoggoth is a creature which is said to absorb the properties and appearance of other beings through eating them. The Shoggoth inspired creature in From Beyond bites the head off of Dr. Pretorius and absorbs him, changing into different crazy looking monsters throughout the film. This is where the separate Special FX teams come into play as we have puppetry, latex appliances and at times VFX renditions of the creature shown evolving throughout the film. For example the second time the resonator is turned on, Pretorius appears as the body which has a huge cancerous looking shoulder that extends down the body and fuses the arm to it's side. This creature designed by one FX head goes to eat Dr. McMichaels and in doing so transforms into another creature sculpted by John Carl Buechler. This idea of different types of FX teams transforming one monster into different forms all practically sculpted is just so insane and cool to see in the film. I highly recommend you watch the unrated director's cut of the film as several gore scenes were heavily edited or cut out of the theatrical release of the film. Funnily enough for being so attacked for the amount of gore in Re-Animator, Gordon thought the use of the slime instead of blood would soften the MPAA's restrictions on the film but unfortunately as Gordon joked, they didn't care and were very harsh on the film probably due to the fact that he released Re-Animator unrated. My favorite scene in the whole film is a scene cut from the theatrical release. I love it because it showcases the mastery of Practical FX work in a light I would consider to be on par with Rob Bottin's FX in Carpenter's The Thing. It's a scene where Crawford is knocked out cold and brought back to the psychiatric hospital as his Pineal gland has swollen his entire head and made him look completely unnatural as a hole can be seen in his forehead with his Pineal gland slightly protruding from it. A doctor is trying to use tongs to grab the pineal gland and take it out of his head not knowing what it is. It's an amazing close up shot of his head as she tries to grab the pineal and it pulsates his whole cranium and moves back and forth, it's the most realistic looking effect for something that could not physically exist in the real world you'll ever see.
Superb acting and amazing creations by top notch FX artists bring the characters and creatures to life, but what brings the chilling air of fear and showcases these things is Gordon's amazing ability to capture these moments on film especially with the way he lights things. The green color palate played a huge role in Re-Animator and the Purple lighting gives an otherworldy feel to many of the scenes with the resonator as well as amazing reveals of the FX team's creatures. The feeling of dread brought by the lighting of the first reveal of the Pretorius creature as it is half hidden in the dark shadows and purple light is chilling and only amplified by the palpable fear in the performances given. Easily my second favorite horror film by Stuart Gordon that I could watch again and again as they just don't make them like this anymore and the universal aligning of the talent behind the picture may also never occur again.
18 Days till Halloween! Halloween!
18 Days till Halloween! Silver Shamrock!