Cult Eighties splatter masters (and somewhat implausibly, writers of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids) Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna’s deeply demented follow-up to their 1985 zombie classic Re-Animator continues in their mission of taking the ball from HP Lovecraft and dropkicking through a funfair of coloured lights, flying eels and piranha-jawed jellyfish, and over-ambitious special effects – later continued so brilliantly in the underrated (and underwater) 2001 direct-to-video effort Dagon.
When an experiment to open the third eye/pineal gland goes awry transforming promethean sex addict Dr Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) into a sort of sneering, cackling Brundlefly/Thing hybrid, his neurotic assistant Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), accused of E-Pretz murder, is forced to return to their Munsters house/lab by psychiatrist Dr Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) and detective Bubba Brownlee (Dawn Of The Dead‘s Ken Forree) in one of the most poorly conceived investigations since Leon Kennedy decided to retrieve the president’s daughter by pitching up in a Spanish zombie village.
The experiment is repeated (you know, in the hope it unlocks Tillinghast’s repressed memories of the murder what he gone definitely done), purple/red lights flash and flicker the Pretorious monster returns to torment them, dripping slime and waggling his animatronics.
Seemingly unable to leave 666 Mockingbird Lane due to a heady brew of horror movie stupidity and the pre-natural lure of forbidden knowledge, the hapless Tillinghast begins a physical transformation into a brain-eating monster with a protruding pineal tentacle, while McMichaels undergoes a psychological one into an obsessive knowledge-seeker/rubber-clad dominatrix – seemingly dividing Pretorious’ role between them (and as at least two people point out at least six times in the extras, reversing their roles of mad scientist and victim in Re-Animator). There’s lots of stuff in there about sexuality and sensuality, and the excesses of, if you’re given to a sort of Early Learning Centre Freudian analysis of such things – all of which works well with Lovecraft’s obvious repulsion toward women and sex.
The acting is hammy at its glorious best – Combs starts off relatively restrained compared to everything else he’s done, while Sorel leads in the overacting stakes, barking lines like the oft-quoted “Humans are such easy prey” while eyeball-fucking the camera, but soon everyone is rolling their eyes, gurning and chowing down on the fixtures, swallowing the scenery like it’s been smothered in Nutella.
Obviously it all looks fantastic in HD – all eerie hues and slime-dripping physical effects that age so much better than the ABC CG that followed a decade later. Perhaps a testament to the strength of the era’s genre output – Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II was released a year later – that From Beyond, although maintaining a cult following, hasn’t penetrated the commonly accepted pantheon of outrageous Eighties gore-tesque pictures. Hopefully this delicious Blu-ray edition – with extensive behind the scenes interviews and FX featurettes – will see the film afforded some small measure of the respect it deserves.