Sunday, February 3, 2013

DVD Review: FROM BEYOND (1986)


Label: Second Sight Films 
Release Date: February 25th 2013
Rating: Cert: 18
Duration: 82 Minutes
Region Code: 2 PAL 

Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1) 1080p
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, 4.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Ted Sorel, Kenneth Foree, Barbara Crampton

Synopsis: An obsessive scientist Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel) and his assistant (Jeffrey Combs) have invented ‘The Resonator’, a device designed to stimulate the brain’s pineal gland and expand the powers of the mind. The machine gives them more than they bargained for however when a parallel universe inhabited by slimy creatures ready to prey on humans reveals itself. Pretorious meets a sticky end, returns as a grotesque, deformed being and all manner of depravity ensues.

This is a title I saw at the local VHS rental shop as a kid of about 14 and I just couldn't watch it fast enough, it lured me in with pretty much everything a horny gore-hound could want -  gore, boobs and slime a plenty. Pretty sure this is the flick that introduced me tothe films of Stuart Gordon and actor Jeffrey Combs, plus the teen masturbation fantasy that was Barbara Crampton. The only familiar face was Ken Foree from George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) which was a favorite rental of mine,  at the time watching it at least on a monthly basis.

Renowned physicist Dr. Pretorious (Ted Sorel) and his assistant Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) are hard at work on an invention called The Resonator, a machine that stimulates the pineal gland located in the human brain through resonant vibrations. A unforeseen side of effect of this pineal stimulation is that those affected are able to perceive another dimension separate from our own reality. It's Tillinghast who first makes this discovery while making adjustments to the Resonator, turning it on he sees creatures resembling moray eels floating in the air, after being bitten by one them he turns it off, panicked he notifies Pretorious who turns on the machine and is overwhelmed with a powerful sensation and the need to see beyond normal human perception, it's almost orgasmic the way he delights in it. Tillinghast implores the scientist to turn off the machine but he refuses, the scene ends with the assistant feeling the house as Pretoprious's corpse lies on the ground next to the resonator, his now missing head having been twisted-off in a grotesque fashion. Arrested for murder the seemingly mad Tillinghast ends up in the loony bin under the care of a Nurse Ratched type character named Dr. Bloch (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Dolls).

Arriving at the psychiatric hospital to study the case is Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton, Re-Animator), after some tests reveal that Tillinghast's pineal gland is larger than normal she becomes convinced that Pretorious's experiments were successful and that his discovery could benefit the science of schizophrenia, and isn't that where the trouble always begins - the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and this road is slimy, too. 

McMichaels checks Tillinghast out from the psychiatric ward under her care against Bloch's wishes and is accompanied back to the scene of the experiments under the watchful eye of Detective Bubba Brownie (Ken Foree, Dawn of the Dead) with the intention of rebuilding and re-creating Pretorous's resonator experiments. That's pretty much it in a nutshell, the story is pretty simplistic but with a great cast and some inventive special effects director Stuart Gordon created of my favorite mid-80's science fiction horrors.

Soon enough, against, the better judgement of Tillinghast, the Resonator is turned-on yet again and it's not long before all three not only bare witness to the strange other dimensional creature from beyond, but also to the transformed Pretorious, now a grotesque, slime covered version of his former self, the lustful doc attacks McMichaels and she only just barely escapes with her brain intact when Tillinghast and Bubba manage to get past a toothy sandworm-esque creature in the basement to uncouple the power from the machine. The encounter leaves Tillinghast completely bald, the continued exposure to the Resonator prompts his pineal gland to emerge from his skull as a fleshy stalk and he's cursed with a new-found hunger for human brain-matter.

There's some great atmosphere in the film, the fantastic otherworldly score combined with the neon pink and blue hues combine to great effect onscreen. Crampton's character as the Dr. driven by ambition and overcome by lustful desires thrilled me as a teen and still does today. The role is a sweet reversal of what we saw in Re-Animator where she played victim to Comb's maniacal Herbert West, it's a delicious twist. The entire film is wonderfully twisted, perversely sexual and grotesquely slimy, there's a lot to love. The effects team does great work here, not all of it holds-up equally but overall the film was ahead of it's time, ambitious stuff. It's not on the level of John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) but the two are kindred in spirit in ooze and creativity. The Pretorious transformations are particularly fantastic, unsettling stuff which gave me night-sweats as a kid and still manages to sends shivers down my spine today. 

DVD: Second Sight's DVD presents the film in it's original widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio. I gather it's sourced  from the same master as the MGM's 2007 Unrated Director's Cut and it looks fantastic. There's some nice film grain left intact and there's precious few instances of dirt or grime, it's been treated right. The film's neon pink and blue hues really pop, it still packs a visual wallop recalling the use of color in films from Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava in the 70's and 80's. The print has been restored, painstakingly so, there's a great featurette on the disc explaining the difficulties incorporating previously cut scenes back into the film, the restoration demo is a revelation.

The audio options include English language Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and 4.0 and it's quite good if not exactly fantastic, there's just not a lot of channel separation or use of he surrounds. While I am not one to demand newly created 5.1 Surround mixes for older films I think this sci-fi horror could have benefited from a sonic upgrade, during The Resonator scenes I could almost hear what could have been. That said, the dialogue, effects and great Richard Band score are presented clear, crisp and  well-balanced. Optional English subtitles are included, too. 

The supplemental material is flourishing on this release beginning with over a minute of restored footage that was excised due to an MPAA "castration". The restoration is fantastic and documented in the previously mentioned The Editing Room – Lost and Found (4:55) containing interviews with the restoration team and Stuart Gordon, the restoration demo is probably my favorite feature, tales of cut films restored to their original, and in this case, gorier glory have always brought a smile to my face. 

The Audio Commentary with Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna and cast members Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs is quite entertaining. The foursome have blast reflecting on the film and their time in Italy, lots of fun anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stuff, a  lot of this you will hear repeated to some degree during the other special features but it's a commentary definitely worth a listen. 

Now onto four supplements not found on the previous MGM DVD, we get over an hour of featurettes produced by Severin films beginning with Stuart Gordon on From Beyond (19:44) features the director talking about how this is the movie where he started murdering his wife, so to speak. He also discusses how the stunning pink hue of the film is based on Lovecraft writings and how cinematographer Mac Ahlberg brought that vision to life. Gordon also discusses discovering the writings of H.P. Lovecraft  originally wanting to make Dagon his second feature but when Charles Band shot the idea down decided to go with From Beyond, even borrowing some of the Pretorious creature elements from Lovecraft's The Mouths of Madness. Topics discussed are the principle cast, shooting in Rome, the influence of John Carpenter's The Thing, a scene he cut himself (which is lost and not included here) and being scolded by the MPAA for the film's grotesque imagery and subject matter.

Gothic Adaptation (15:22) which is not included on the MGM edition features screenwriter Dennis Paoli discussing finding Lovecraft powerfully weird prose through science fiction rather than horror, his meeting and longtime collaboration with Gordon, the Organic Theater Company, the challenges of adapting Lovecraft's Re-Animator, what he considers collaboration versus adaptation, unshot scenes and theories about the pineal gland.

Monsters and Slime – The FX of From Beyond (19:53) for fans of effects and gore is a true delight containing interviews effects creators John Naulin, Anthony Dublin and Greg Bartalos. This was an effects heavy extravaganza and Greg Bartalos (Frankenhooker) whom all talk about what they brought to the film, Naulin has a pretty fantastic story about losing two of his fingers on-set during a freak accident, fun stuff. 

The Doctor Is In – An interview with Barbara Crampton (13:53) is a 2007 interview with star Crampton, who might I just say is still quite a gorgeous woman. She speaks a bit about being the daughter of a carnie barker, getting the part in Gordon's Re-Animator (1985) and then From Beyond (1986) and her experiences working with Combs and Gordon.

Director’s Perspective (8:53) features director Gordon talking about his three picture deal with Empire and thinking Dagon would be his next feature until Charles Band balked at the idea, which is how he ended up coming to From Beyond. He also speaks to the role reversal of the Combs/Crampton characters whom appeared in Re-Animator, the connection between horror and sex in cinema and a fun story about battling the MPAA for an R rating, including a stiff scolding by a librarian in regard to the infamous eye-sucking scene, going on to discuss the origin and assembling of this director's cut of the film.

The last of the major supplementals is Interview with the Composer (4:33) featuring composer (and brother of Charles) Richard Band whom speaks to exploring the film's inherent horror and sexuality through the score, composed by a 40 piece string orchestra with some assistance from synthesizer. The DVD is rounded out by a cool Photo Montage (4:45) set to Richard Band's score, a the Storyboard to Film comparison (1:23). The only thing missing would be some trailers, but what we get is a goldmine of awesomeness. 

Cool Main Menu, love the artwork. 
Special Features:
• Stuart Gordon on From Beyond (19:44)*
• Gothic Adaptation – An interview with writer Dennis Paoli (15:22)*
• The Doctor Is In – An interview with Barbara Crampton (13:53)*
• Monsters and Slime – The FX of From Beyond (19:53)*
• Director’s Perspective (8:53)
• The Editing Room – Lost and Found (4:55)
• Interview with the Composer (4:33)
• Commentary with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Jeffrey Combs
• Photo Montage (4:45)
• Storyboard to film comparison (1:23)
• Includes English subtitles for hard of hearing

* - Not on the R1 MGM Unrated Director's Cut 

Verdict: A fantastic mid-80's sci-fi horror classic dripping with grotesque creatures and slime from director Stuart Gordon's classic period, fantastic stuff. Gordon doesn't get enough praise in my opinion and if you haven't check out his 80's and early 90's oeuvre you are missing out on some true cult-classics. Sure, every one's seen Re-Animator (1985) but definitely check out Dolls (1987), The Pit and the Pendulum (1991) and Castle Freak (1995). Much the same way Roger Corman had his classic Edgar Allen Poe cycle of films Stuart Gordon executed a fantastic series of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations including Dagon (2001), the aforementioned trio of films, plus  two episode's of the Masters of Horror TV series Dreams in the Witch-House (2005) and The Black Cat (2007). I recommend them all enthusiastically. Second Sight's  DVD edition matches the R1 2007 MGM Unrated Director's Cut edition of the film, includes all of the MGM produced extras and throws in sixty-nine minutes of additional Severin produced featurettes. This is a top notch release, a fantastic edition of a frightfully fun film that's also available on a region B locked Blu-ray. 4 Outta 5