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Forgotten Films, The Strange and the Sleazy

“It ate him… bit off his head… like a gingerbread man!” – Revisiting From Beyond (1986)

(Warning! there will be spoilers)

So it’s the New Year finally and I thought it was high time I cracked on with my first piece of writing for 2014. As you can tell from the title I’ve decided to do a new Revisiting piece, mainly as I enjoy writing them so much.  Now get yourself comfortable, sit back, turn on the Resonator and prepare for something From Beyond!

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Anyone who reads this blog will know how much I like my cheesy 80s horror flicks. While the 1970s produced some of the best horrors – in terms of genuine scares coupled with bleak themes – the 1980s churned out some of the best pieces of trash for horror cinema. The thing is, I love these films, in fact the trashier they are the better. One such horror I hold close to my heart is Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond.

In my opinion one of the absolute trashy horror gems from that decade is From Beyond. I just adore everything about it; a tight running time, eye watering colour palette, fantastic creature effects and a sexy Barbara Crampton, this film has it all. Much like Re-Animator (of which it is a follow-up) it feels almost like a stage play (possibly due to Gordon’s background in the theatre), the performances are theatrical and it finds the right tone between sleaze and black comedy.

Considering it’s based on one of Lovecraft’s shortest stories (at a mere 7 pages long) Gordon and Dennis Paoli do a tremendous job of expanding on the themes found within the source material.  Their evolution of the Resonator’s affects on the characters Pineal Gland and their subsequently heightened sexual desires crosses the fine line between camp and science.

The inclusion of S&M scenes and Crampton’s Dr Katherine McMichael’s transformation from dowdy psychology wiz-kid into sexualised dominatrix produces bouts of chuckles than arousal. Yet that’s no bad thing as this only adds to its camp appeal. Admittedly I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little more interested in From Beyond once Crampton dons the leather garb (I am a warm bloodied male after all).

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What is most interesting is the change in characters personality between two of the lead cast. Whereas Crampton was the victim in Re-Animator, here she isn’t and visa versa for Jeffrey Combs. Again From Beyond shows just why I love Combs and his acting style, as you genuinely feel sorry for Tillinghast, wanting him to fight back (which he finally does).

And how could I forget the legendary Ken Foree as Bubba, is there anything this man acts in that I won’t enjoy? He brings a sense of humour and a human element to the two conflicting scientists. Essentially he is our most relatable character and voice of reason in this madhouse (or is that funhouse?) as he tries to figure out what is going on. When Bubba does meet his demise, its hard not to let out a laugh (there’s those moments of camp horror again) as we see his slightly dated make-up effects. But again it all adds to the films fun.

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I mentioned earlier the intriguing use of colour and I must say, especially on Blu-Ray, the scenes with the Resonator and various dimensional creatures are truly beautiful to look at. While most of the normal scenes are shown as standard colour tones, the more extreme moments are filled with a diverse neon palette that makes it all the more unique. Both this film and Re-Animator are bathed in some form of neon luminescence, which clearly make them a product of a certain decade (the 80s was the time of neon after all) and uniquely different from most other horrors of that time period.

The creature effects are even better than what was produced for Re-Animator. Each time Dr Pretorious appeared in his various forms they invoke a sense of the organic, it feels like a living breathing creature and that is more terrifying then anything CGI can achieve.  Mark Shostrom did most of the fantastic make-up and he’ll be familiar to those who have seen his work in Evil Dead 2 and Phantasm 2. His effects team also comprised of the founding members of KNB, which to me brings a comforting knowledge that these guys worked on some of my favourite horror creature effects.

Even for a film I’m so enamoured with, I find it hard to put into words just how great this follow-up still is. In many respects it surpasses what was laid down with Re-Animator and takes it to that next level of weirdness – the number 11 of weirdness if the previous film was a 10 (if you’ll excuse the Spinal Tap reference). Having rediscovered this on Blu-Ray last year, I can honestly say this film is still firmly in my top horrors. Its playful, bizarre, uniquely different from other creature horrors and very self aware – what’s not to love?

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