From Beyond

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos

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From Beyond  (1986, dir: Stuart Gordon; cast: Ted Sorel, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree)

 

 

 

This mad scientist film is a kind of spiritual sequel to 1985's Re-Animator. Same team, behind and before the camera, with another screenplay loosely based on a Lovecraft story. (Certainly a much better film than the actual sequel, 1989's dreary and plodding Bride of Re-Animator.)

Once again, Jeffrey Combs plays a repressed young scientist intensely devoted to his work, here assisting Ted Sorel (as the mad Dr. Pretorious -- an homage to Bride of Frankenstein). Sorel has invented the Resonator: a device that opens a portal into another dimension, simultaneously admitting grotesquely sensuous shape-shifting monsters, while physically (often sexually) stimulating nearby people. Such as the impotent Sorel, who, once excited, wants ever more stimulation.

From Beyond shares some of Re-Animator's dark comedy, though not as much (Combs should have gotten better quips). Early on, a nosy neighbor reports "strange noises and colored lights" emanating from Sorel's house. When the police arrive, Combs is escaping the house, screaming that Sorel was eaten by one of the inter-dimensional monsters.

Charged with murdering Sorel, Combs is committed to an asylum and placed under the care of a repressed young psychiatrist intensely devoted to her work (Barbara Crampton). Although referred to as a "girl wonder," Crampton is obviously too young to be a psychiatrist, much less one with an impressive record of past achievement. But that's okay -- we know she's smart because she wears glasses.

Crampton is fascinated by Combs's "delusions." The authorities wonder if Combs is insane, or just trying to cop an insanity defense. Either way, Combs must recreate Sorel's experiment if he ever hopes to be released. Accompanied by a police officer (Ken Foree; Dawn of the Dead), Crampton escorts Combs to Sorel's house to do just that.

 

 

Freudians like to link sex and death, and sex and cannibalism, and fear of being eaten and fear of sex and fear of death... I'm no Freudian, but From Beyond brims with sex and death and cannibalism.

Combs repairs the Resonator, admitting a monster, but shuts the machine before the monster can kill. But the Resonator is addictive, and Crampton, excited by the rush, wants more. Discovering Sorel's S&M torture chamber, Crampton dons a dominitrix outfit. The Resonator having tapped into her "dark primal side," the coolly clinical psychiatrist loses her inhibitions and swings to the opposite extreme.

As with all addicts, she and Combs are soon swinging back and forth, trying to re-repress their growing dark urges even as they indulge them. Combs develops a hunger for human brains. The violence is graphic, but at times also silly (why doesn't Foree just step out of the light when he realizes that it's attracting the voracious ... locusts?).

Foree's stout cop is likable but one-dimensional, the bane of horror good guys. Film and TV cops are often given a quirk, usually some favorite food, in a lazy, shorthand attempt to "flesh them out." Kojak had his lollipop. Many cops eat donuts or pizza. Foree's cop likes to cook.

Sorel, returning as a monster, is charismatic and repulsive. Combs is nicer and wimpier than in Re-Animator, and also less interesting. Crampton, beautiful but bland in Re-Animator, is here intriguing in a meatier role, and even more beautiful (whether in her classy professional suit, prep outfit, or leather gear). In effect, Combs and Crampton have switched their personas between the two films; from daring and bland, to bland and daring.

 

 

 

Foree is the closest thing to a pure hero in From Beyond, but who remembers the heroes in The Black Cat and The Raven? Only Lugosi and Karloff are memorable. And just as Re-Animator belongs to Combs (a superb mad scientist), From Beyond belongs to Crampton. It's a delight to watch her switch from repressed to wild, from coolly confident to broken and hysterical, finally ending on an extreme high note as she escapes the house, laughing maniacally...

From Beyond is a fast-moving gorefest, sexy and gruesome, and at times funny. A worthy followup to Re-Animator.

Review copyright by Thomas M. Sipos

 

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