I knew something was up when I read Roger Ebert's review of 1986's From Beyond. The second collaboration between director Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, screenwriter Dennis Paoli, actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton -- the one that followed quickly on the heels of the widely adored Re-Animator (1985) -- had received a pretty positive review from the notoriously "hard on horror" Roger Ebert. I was intrigued, I was excited... I finally saw From Beyond and I was confused. I didn't get it, which is not to say I didn't like it. The monster effects were awesome and the actors were once again delivering great work as Mr. Gordon and his team combined 70% Lovecraft, 20% Hammer, and 10% pure 1980s horror coolness.
Looking back I think I was perhaps a bit too young (not to mention inexperienced in the ways of H.P. Lovecraft) to fully appreciate how energetic, colorful, and audacious a horror film From Beyond is -- but as a relative grown-up I now see this film as a miniature masterpiece that ranks among the finest of the horror flicks of the 1980s, right up there with Hellraiser, The Evil Dead, and (aha!) Re-Animator.
Several years back MGM treated horror fans to something pretty special. A fully restored director's cut of From Beyond, one that had over four minutes of (mostly super splattery) material restored from what the MPAA allowed the distributors to release theatrically back in 1986. The MGM DVD had a lovingly restored version of the film and several cool supplements for the fans to enjoy. The only problem with this release? It wasn't a blu-ray.
Flash forward about five years: the fine folks at Scream Factory (aka Shout Factory) have rectified that problem in exceedingly fine fashion. Before we get into what's "new" here (aside from the blu-ray transfer, I mean) let's focus on the film itself through the magic of recycled paragraphs. (Yes, I reviewed the From Beyond DVD back in 2007.) Ahem.
"Based on the Lovecraft story of the same name, From Beyond begins with material found in the source material, and then just sort of branches out in its own directions. Seems that a skittish scientist called Tillinghast is the only suspect in a brutal murder, but when he tells the authorities that his mentor was devoured by monsters from another dimension ... well, they toss him into the nut-house right quick. Enter the hot young psychiatrist known as Katherine McMichaels, who promptly frees Tillinghast and demands a tour of the "Pretorious Resonator." A tough-but-likable cop called Bubba also comes along for the ride, what with Tillinghast still being a suspected lunatic / murder and such.
"But what's a "Pretorious Resonator" and why should one stay away from such a thing? Turns out that it's a revolutionary new mega-tuning fork that does a number on the human pineal gland -- thereby allowing (er, forcing) people to see ultra-dimensional (and mega-slime-covered) freak-beasts. Needless to say, these monsters from alternate dimensions are not exactly the friendly kind.
"From there it's a grim and icky trip through the collective mind of Stuart Gordon and H.P. Lovecraft. As our three sorta-heroes continue to monkey with the resonator, they start noticing little ... personality alterations, which only adds a lot of confusion to the mayhem. And just when you thought From Beyond was intent on staying a claustrophobic, three-character affair, the flick opens up to deliver some high-end and very creative carnage inside of an ill-fated hospital.
"After numerous visits with both movies, I'm starting to think From Beyond is actually superior to Re-Animator. The flick is awash in lurid colors, unsettling concepts, and an unapologetically gooey river of viscera. It's faithful to Lovecraft while marking a little new ground, it moves like a flash, and it ends right when it ought to. With the arrival of this director's cut, we can now enjoy this fine genre flick the way it was originally intended: freaky, gory, and completely unpredictable -- even if you know your Lovecraft."
As far as the extra go, here's what Scream Factory retained from the MGM DVD: Fans will devour the feature-length audio commentary (participants: Gordon, Yuzna, Combs & Crampton!), plus we get three brief-but-excellent featurettes: one on the film as a whole, another on the recent restoration process, and a third on the very fine Charles Band musical score. Also included is an extensive collection of photos and storyboard comparisons.
And the new stuff? A solo audio commentary from the plainly erudite screenwriter Dennis Paoli. Of course the fans will probably enjoy the cast/crew track a bit more, but there's always room for a screenwriter commentary on my DVDs. Also included are several new interviews, most notably with the still lovely Ms. Crampton. Also, the slip-case reverses between some cool new cover art and the original From Beyond theatrical poster.
Hats off to Scream Factory for treating '80s horror films like classic cinema. To a lot of us, they are. Well, maybe not "classic," but you get my point. (Other titles in the Scream Factory blu-ray line include The Funhouse, Terror Train, Halloween 2, Deadly Blessing, and Prison, with lots more on the way.) If their next releases are half as impressive as the From Beyond package, I'll be one happy horror geek.