Thursday, April 4, 2013

Blu-ray Review: FROM BEYOND (1986) Collector's Edition

Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack

Collector's Edition - Unrated Ditrector's Cut

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A

Rating: Unrated
Duration: 86 Minutes
Video: 1080p Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Ted Sorel, Kenneth Foree, Barbara Crampton

Synopsis: The Resonator, a powerful machine that can control the sixth sense, has killed its creator and sent his associate into an insane asylum. But when a beautiful psychiatrist becomes determined to continue the experiment, she unwittingly opens the door to a hostile parallel universe... and to the deviant behavior within the human psyche. With its victims becoming creatures who feed on - and become aroused by - human brains, the Resonator is the ultimate man-made monster. And now somethings gone horribly wrong and no one can turn it off!

From Beyond (1986) is a title I snatched-up at my local VHS rental shop as a youth, it lured me in with pretty much everything a horny gore-hound could want: chills, tits and slime slime-covered sci-fi viscera  It's the film that introduced me to director Stuart Gordon and actor Jeffrey Combs, not to mention the teen masturbation fantasy that was Barbara Crampton. The only familiar face to me at the time was Ken Foree, from George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978), which even at that young age was already a favorite of mine.
As story goes, 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 with mind-expanding 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 startling discovery while making adjustments to the machine, turning it on he sees creatures resembling moray eels floating in the air, at first intruiged by their appearance his interest turns to fear when one takes a nice bites out of his face, startled he turns it off. The panicked physicist immediately notifies Pretorious who, of course, against Tillinghast's advice turns on the machine and is overwhelmed with a powerful sensation. Pretorious  spouts off  about his insatiable need to see beyond normal human perception, it's almost orgasmic the way he delights in it. All the while 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 next to the resonator, his now MIA head having been twisted-off in a grotesque fashion. The experience leaves the Dr.'s assistant near insane, accused of the murder 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 the discovery could benefit the science of schizophrenia. Further proving the adage that  the road to Hell is paved with good intentions McMichaels checks Tillinghast out from the psychiatric ward against Bloch's wishes and is accompanied back to the scene of the crime 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 in a nutshell is the story, it's pretty simplistic but with a great cast of b-movie stars and some inventive special effects director Stuart Gordon created of my favorite mid-80's science fiction horrors, a slime-covered Lovecraftian classic.

Once the Resonator is brought back online it's not long before all three bare witness to the strange other dimensional creature from beyond, as well as the transformed Pretorious, now transformed into a slime-covered grotesque version of his former self, the lustful doc attacks McMichaels a whom 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 forehead like a phallic third-eye and he's cursed with a hunger for human brains!

The film is steeped in creepy atmosphere, the fantastic otherworldly score from Richard Band combines with the neon pink and blue hues 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 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 spirits. The Pretorious transformations are particularly fantastic, unsettling stuff which still managed to sends shivers down my spine today.

Blu-ray: Shout! Factory imprint Scream Factory, the new home of classic horror, presents Stuart Gordon's slime-tastic classic in it's original widescreen aspect ratio (1.78:1).  I gather it's sourced from the same master as the MGM's 2007 Unrated Director's Cut, it looks fantastic, even more so with a sweet 1080p upgrade! The film benefits from increased clarity and depth, there's some great fine details, too. The old school practical and optical effects here from John Buechler, Anthony Doublin, John Naulin, and Mark Shostrom are fantastic and have never looked better.The film has a gorgeous neon color scheme and the otherworldly pink and blue hues pop off the screen. Even twenty-seven years later the film still packs quite a visual wallop. Definitely check out the  featurette on the disc explaining the difficulties incorporating previously cut scenes back into the film, the before and after restoration demo is a revelation, and it's great to see these b-movie masterpieces getting the attention they deserve.

Audio options include choice of 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with option English subtitles. The 5.1 is quite good with some fun use of the surrounds, we definitely get a more enveloping sound field with some depth to it. Dialogue, effects and Richard Band's fantastic score are presented crisply and well-balanced, this is good good stuff. 

Scream Factory's edition incorporates all the special features from MGM's Unrated Director's Cut  including over a minute of restored footage that was excised due to an MPAA "castration". The restoration is fantastic and documented with The Editing Room – Lost and Found (4:45) which features interviews with the restoration team and director Stuart Gordon..

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.

Director’s Perspective (8:53) features Gordon talking about his three picture deal with Empire and thinking Dagon would be his next film following Re-Animator until producer 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 both 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.

Interview with the Composer (4:33) featuring composer Richard Band whom explores the film's horror and sexuality through it's score. The last of the MGM extras includes Photo Montage (4:45) set to Richard Band's score, a the Storyboard to Film comparison (1:23) featuring five scene from the film. 

So these features are fantastic unto themselves and when I bought that 2007 MGM edition I was quite thrilled but Shout! being the fans of classic horror that they are and realizing they needed to sweeten the pot beyond the brilliant 1080p presentation and carry over extras went on to commissioned four new featurettes from Red Shirt Pictures in addition to a brand new Audio Commentary with longtime Stuart Gordon collaborator and screenwriter Denis Paoli (Re-Animator, Castle Freak) who offers a sparse commentary detailing the differences between the source material and the film, it's interesting but fairly quiet, it's a welcome addition and a must listen for fans of Lovecraft.  

Multiple Dimensions – A look at the film’s extensive Make-Up and Creature Effects with Special Effects Creators John Buechler, Anthony Doublin, John Naulin, and Mark Shostrom (23:24) is a must watch for fans of practical effects.The effects geniuses behind the film talk about the difficulty of bringing Gordon's Lovecraftian vision to the screen on a relatively budget. It's pretty great to hear the guys talk about their craft with such fondness, the best of the bunch include John Naulin telling a pretty freaky story about losing two of his fingers on-set during a freak accident and the revelation that Ted Sorel is the nephew of Universal horror legend Jack Pierce, who did so many of the classic universal monsters, it's fun stuff.

Reversible Artwork 

Paging Dr. McMichaels – An interview with Actress Barbara Crampton (13:45) features the starlet of the film whom speaks about the reversal of roles between her and Jefferey Combs characters in From Beyond versus Re_Animator, that awesome leather outfit, her characters sexual awakening, and on a side note, Crampton is still quite a cutey, too. 

A Tortured Soul – An interview with Actor Jeffrey Combs (17:46) features the longtime Gordon collaborator speaking about coming into the role, not really feeling suited to playing the victim, working with Ken Foree, Ted Sorel and Barbara Crampton. He also goes into the mechanics of some of the effects work in the film, plus an amusing anecdote about having to chew on Fixident during the brain-noshing scene, it's always a blast to hear from Combs. 

The last of the new features is An Empire Production – An interview with Executive Producer Charles Band (5:02), a new conversation with director Charles Band whom reflects on the genesis of the film and this specific period in time shooting the film in Italy. 

The 2-disc set also includes a standard definition DVD featuring the same special features, a very cool slipcase and newly commissioned artwork from designer Jeff Zornowa plus a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original theatrical poster art  for the film. 

Now this is a nearly definitive edition, chances are From Beyond will never look better than what we have here but there is another UK edition on Blu-ray and DVD  from Second Sight Films that feature the same MGM extras plus separate Severin Films produced extras, too. Read the review for the standard definition DVD edition from Second Sight HERE

Menu Screen 
Special Features: 

All New Scream Factory Extras

  • Audio Commentary with writer Denis Paoli
  • Multiple Dimensions – A look at the film’s extensive Make-Up and Creature Effects with Special Effects Creators John Buechler, Anthony Doublin, John Naulin, and Mark Shostrom (23:24)
  • Paging Dr. McMichaels – An interview with Actress Barbara Crampton (13:45)
  • A Tortured Soul – An interview with Actor Jeffrey Combs (17:46)
  • An Empire Production – An interview with Executive Producer Charles Band (5:02)

    Extras Carried Over from the MGM 2007 DVD
  • Audio Commentary with director Stuart Gordon and the Cast
  • The Director's Perspective - interview with Stuart Gordon (1:23)
  • The Editing Room: Lost And Found - Gordon Stuart and MGM restoration team interview (4:45)
  • Interview with composer Richard Band (4:33)
  • Storyboard to Film Comparisions with Introduction: Introduction (1:23), Appearance of Dr. Pretorius (1:22), Death of Bubba (2:16), Hospital Escape (2:59), Katherine Frees Herself (1:09)
  • Gallery (4:23) 

  • Verdict: Stuart Gordon's From Beyond (1986) remain a fantastic mid-80's sci-fi horror classic dripping with grotesque creatures and slime covered horrors. Gordon just 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 excellent cult-classics. Shout Factory's reputation for sterling editions of beloved horror classic remains untarnished, they've assembled a stunning 1080p edition of From beyond, this gets a high recommend. 4 Outta 5