Rentals Revisited – From Beyond (1986)

As mentioned in the book, Adventures in VHS began life as a series of articles for a site named Eat Sleep Live Film. Here is one of those original, unedited posts focused on a gloriously gory Lovecraft sci-fi horror called From Beyond.

From Beyond (1986)

Vestron Video International – VA 15182

(Originally posted April 8th 2011)

In a new series of articles, I’ll be revisiting some VHS classics that burned a movie-shaped hole in my subconscious as a child and asking the question – how do they hold up on a rewatch? First up, I look at Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond.

I could probably reel off hundreds of films that I saw on VHS as a child that hold a special place in my heart. Growing up as a child of the video generation, I recall weekly, sometimes daily visits to the local rental store to score my latest fix. I remember taking in some terrifying horror, bizarre comedy and tons of action and sci-fi during those years, but more importantly, I remember it as being the time I really fell in love with film.
Of course, many of these movies I grew up with, I’ve seen again since. Others (let’s say for example The Goonies) have gone on to be revered as classics, while some have gone on to be re-released – or even remade. But what about the ones that have been largely forgotten? Those straight-to-video oddities that live on only as a vague but pleasant memory scarred themselves upon my mind as a child and galvanised my devotion to film, but how do they hold up now I’m a cynical old man?

I’ve compiled a list of movies I’m keen to track down and watch again, movies I can barely remember save for the way they made me feel watching them for the first time and the few gently fading mental images they left behind. In many cases, these are horror or fantasy titles that tugged at my youthful curiosity for the macabre with their lurid cover art and typically tempting taglines… exhibit A, Stuart Gordon’s 1986 HP Lovecraft adaptation, From Beyond.

Based on the H.P. Lovcraft story, From Beyond is a deliciously gooey little tale that I recall having a pretty foreboding presence in poster form on the walls of Video World, the local rental outlet I frequented back in the late 80s. The VHS sleeve, courtesy of the one and only Vestron Video International, carried an incredibly memorable sleeve, with the leering and disfigured face of Ted Sorel as Dr Edward Proteus, alongside the gruesome tagline: “Humans are such easy prey.”

Proteus is a man apparently obsessed with exploring the sensual in both this world and the next, and has created a machine that allows him access to an alternate reality and the beastly creatures that live within it. When his assistant, Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), discovers the extent of his mentor’s lunacy, it has already become too late to save him from himself.

Although at first he’s thought to be dead, Proteus hideously metamorphosising body returns to our plain of existence thanks to Dr. Katherine McMichaels’ (Barbara Crampton) dedication to uncovering the truth behind his work. Joined by genre legend Ken Foree as Bubba Brownlee, a gentle giant who serves as the muscle-with-a-heart for the film, the trio get way more than they bargained for when they return to Proteus’ lab and begin meddling with his gadgets. As Katherine becomes increasingly obsessed with the sensual pleasures evoked in her whenever these two worlds collide, Crawford becomes more and more concerned about what opening this pandoras box might lead to. Meanwhile, Bubba is also trying to keep things within some degree of sanity, bringing the two scientists down to earth with a bump when required.

From the outset, From Beyond is everything I would have loved as a kid of, I guess, about 9 or 10 years old. Things kick off with some familiar ideas, the nosy next door neighbour who wanders in to the thick of things and sees more than she should, the hard boiled detective who wants to get to the bottom of things (he actually says “The DA is gonna chew out my ass” at one point) and, of course, the smart young doctor who’s methods are unorthodox yet progressive. Things get ticking along quite quickly as we learn more about Proteus’ obsession with sado masochism and the pursuit of pleasure, which comes back to the narrative once Katherine begins to develop her own appetite for carnal satisfaction.

One of the first images that sparked an “I remember this” in me was that of a caged mental patient sat cross-legged on the floor of his cell masturbating furiously as Katherine looks on. I’m quite sure I had no idea what he was doing at such a young age and I’m not sure what it says about me that I remember it so vividly, but to this day its still a pretty disturbing shot. Obviously, when we get into the thick of the action, there are some similarly memorable moments. Proteus’ first and second reappearances in varying degrees of bodily disfigurement, for example, have been seared into my brain. Of course, it should also be said that these are quite brilliant examples of the rapidly dying art of prosthetic effects that were so prevalent at the time.

Tonally, From Beyond is certainly a sci-fi horror, but while it does owe some of its flavour to the work of director’s like Romero and Cronenberg, it does everything with Gordon’s usual comedic flourish – ensuring tongue is firmly in cheek throughout. These moments come relatively thick and fast, from Crawford’s assertion that the creature from the nether-world bit off his master’s head “like a ginger… bread… man” to Bubba’s perpetually amused expression for the film’s first third. In fact, Foree is perhaps the most delightful part of the whole thing, starting from his hilarious introduction to his final act of selfless heroism.

My recollection of From Beyond in childhood is one of genuine warmth. I remember being fascinated by the grotesque body horror and sci-fi set pieces, as well as the rich, almost comic-like colour palette. I’m happy to report that at the age of 33, I still found this to be a wonderful little slice of genre cinema that I can happily recommend. While you could argue it boast effects that are very much of their time, I would suggest it is this that makes it so special. There is no question in my mind, this fantastic late 80s artifact absolutely holds up on a 2011 rewatch.