Stuart Gordon Retrospective: From Beyond

I first watched Stuart Gordon’s 1986 film From Beyond freshman year in college, at some party, barely paying attention. I’m honestly not sure how I managed that, because whatever else this film is, it is certainly something that DEMANDS YOUR ATTENTION.

from beyond poster original by you.

This movie is SO WEIRD. Keep in mind, please—I’m saying this as a woman who has reviewed an entire retrospective’s worth of Stuart Gordon films.  I know from weird, alright, you guys? From Beyond is something…else.

gland grab by you.

crazytoons by you.

eyesuck by you.

Okay, so I am almost entirely sure I know what this movie is about! Based on…you guessed it! the Lovecraft novel of the same name, From Beyond stars…you guessed it! Jeffrey Combs as Crawford Tillinghast, a physicist working with Ted Sorel’s Dr. Edward Pretorius. Pretorius has some Major Sex Issues, and he deduces that by doing, you know, something to the pineal gland—something scientific!—astonishing, magical and totally revolutionary sexual pleasures will be his. Basically. So the films opens in your local Spencer’s Gifts store a laboratory, and Pretorius invents this resonator thingy and a portal is opened and shit goes utterly crazytoons. Essentially.

science! by you.

Pretorious gets his head all sploded and we cut to some time later when Tillinghast is in a mental institution because no one believes him about the portal and the whatnot. 

patient jc by you.

bc cpg by you.

Gordon darling Barbara Crampton (you guessed it!) plays Dr. Katherine McMichaels, a psychiatrist assigned to Tillinghast’s case who discovers, despite a typically disapproving turn by Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon as McMichaels’ superior, that Tillinghast’s pineal gland is grooooowing. So she’s allowed to take Tillinghast into custody to try to recreate the resonator experiment to see what the hell is up, and ubiquitous genre actor Ken Foree plays officer Bubba Browlee, along for the ride to ensure Tillinghast doesn’t escape.

bubba intro by you.

Once back in the house, things go completely freaking nuts and everyone’s constantly losing their minds and alternating between tripping balls and seducing one another due to the pineal vibrations of the resonator, I guess, and Pretorius is so totally not out of the picture, and he’s still got some massive sex issues but from beyond the grave they look a whole hell of a lot scarier, and it turns out that adorable little glasses-and-shoulder-pads-bedecked McMichaels is a serious freaky-deaky.  

So that’s the plot.

-ish.

On to the good stuff! Which I can assure you is NOT the plot, dialogue or character motivation!

pretorious by you.

Okay, we’ve got all the usual suspects here with Bryan Yuzna producing, Dennis Paoli writing, and this remarkable team of effects makeup dudes creating some spectacular grue. Seriously, I’m curious how much of the $4.5 mil budget went towards liquid latex.

dr face by you.

breaking through by you.

gland head by you.

As you can see, the film’s got some wack lighting, all very TRON-meets-Argento. It looks sweet as can be, no? But to be honest, From Beyond has some problems. Everything that’s usually a little less than stellar in a Stuart Gordon film (acting, character development, questionable racial stereotypes, linear narrative, etc) is a little less so here. I wasn’t quite as engrossed as I generally am when enjoying the old SG brand of crazy.

And then something happens. Barbara Crampton gets totally pineal gland’ed, finds her way into Dr. Pretorius’s bondage-heavy Lair of Sex Issues and the following ensues:

smelling leather by you.

bc sm 2 by you.

bc sm by you.

That’s the moment that my friend Jerry murmured during our Sunday afternoon viewing: “This movie is starting to transcend all of my complaints about it.”

Seriously! I can’t say enough for the STAGGERING levels of commitment Barbara Crampton offers to her sleazy b-movie roles in Gordon films. That lady is DEDICATED. She’s played wildly different roles (a wide-eyed coed, grieving mother, and dowdy psychiatrist turned…this), and she just tackles all of them with utterly naked abandon. Also with utterly naked nudity, because girlfriend is not afraid to show some skin. And MAN can she scream! I love her! Stu is so lucky to have found such a willing participant in his twisted hijinks. And BC’s of course really lucky to have found a director who’s willing to give her such meaty roles. I love their dynamic! Throw Jeffrey Combs in there and that is one unbeatable b-movie combo!

crazy laugh by you.

So yeah, From Beyond is kind of imperfect and it’s not my favorite Gordon flick by far, but Barbara Crampton’s astonishing dedication to her art and Jeffrey Combs’ bald head bump the film up to a solid B. Definitely worth the rental.

bald jc by you.

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5 Responses to “Stuart Gordon Retrospective: From Beyond”

  1. “seducing one another due to the pineal vibrations of the resonator, I guess” LOL awesome!

  2. This movie really is…. something else. I think Marla summed up the good and bad pretty thoroughly, so I’ll just quickly second her account. Then, I’ll talk about all the parallels between From Beyond and Hellraiser!

    It’s pretty weird, actually. The movies were made within a few years of each other, by filmmaker/storytellers who I’ve never thought of as having much in common – Stuart Gordon/Lovecraft, and Clive Barker. But as it turns out,they’re identical! Who knew?

    Both movies are centered around a charismatic male character with an obsession towards extreme sexual practices. In both cases, the man in question discovers a portal to another dimension – one where sexual ecstasy and pain/mutilation are intertwined, and apparently irresistible. In both movies, a smart, strong-willed female (who should really know better) finds herself overwhelmingly attracted to the crossed-over fellow, and begins, herself, to change, even without actually crossing over. She becomes sexually fixated, and takes steps to be with the guy, and to feel some semblance of what he now knows as pleasure, even though these steps inevitably involve highly dangerous behavior, both for her, and for anyone else who may be around. In each movie, the guy undergoes dramatic physical transformations, which the audience considers grotesque, but the Lady seems not to mind (to put it mildly).

    They movies start to diverge in their particulars as they head towards their respective denouments (OR DO THEY?). Still, it’s awfully coincidental that they both deal so specifically with the idea of an alternate, invisible (though always present) dimension full of sex and suffering, as well as featuring characters who virtually mirror each others motivations and obsessions, even down to the relationships between the characters and the people around them.

    Of course, From Beyond has no leather-wearing, pierced-up fetish gods, and Hellraiser has no nubian man-kinis or giant man-eating basement-dwelling larvae, so there’s that, too.

    Anyway, Marla? Anyone else? I’d love to come up with more parallels between the two, as well as some explanation for why and how this could have happened. WHAT DOES IT MEAN???

  3. LORDY i wish my mouse could scroll down faster cos OMG SOME OF THOSE PICTURES ARE G TO THE ROSS. GAHHHH.

    you did warn me, marla, so thanks for that.

    please add this to the list of movies i will never see even though you have reviewed them in a highly entertaining and articulate fashion.

  4. xymarla Says:

    Jerry, that’s a very interesting theory. If you take out the Christy and her dad aspect of Hellraiser, the plots are creepily similar, definitely not something I’d noticed. Bondage plays a huge part in both films, which is hilariously 80s “risque.” I guess Hellraiser and From Beyond are just the Wyatt Earp/Tombstone Deep Impact/Armageddon Antz/A Bug’s Life of the 80s. With the tacit agreement of everyone, I’m certain, that Hellraiser is a far finer film. You know it hurts me to say it, Stu!

    resonator=the puzzle box

  5. This movie was such a pleasant surprise to me. I ‘d never seen it before and it enjoyed it more than expected. I agree, it’s a typical Stuart Gordon movie (cast, framework, etc) but it’s still a great watch. You have to respect the fact that SG keeps his movies tight and short. There are almost no unnecessary scenes in this movie. Almost.

    And they really do a great job with the effects too. I like the little sentient pineal gland that looks like that worm in the Richard Scarry books. That and of course Pretorius’s ever changing make-up and body latex. Awce.

    Excellent theory/comparison, Jerry. I never thought of that. Now I want to watch both movies again so I can compare too. With the fact that Clive Barker wrote Hellraiser removed, I’m really curious how both movies would end up if you switched directors.

    I agree, Marla, Hellraiser is totes better but I also recommend this movie. I LOVE YOU BARBARA CRAMPTON!

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