Year 1986
Studio Empire Pictures

Charles Band

Roberto Bessi

Brian Yuzna

Director Stuart Gordon

Stuart Gordon

Brian Yuzna

Dennis Paoli

Music Richard Band

Jeffrey Combs

Barbara Crampton

Length 85 mins

From Beyond

‘‘ IT bit his head off like a GINGER-BREAD MAN! ’’

"From Beyond" was written in 1920 and "rejected by all the paying magazines," as Lovecraft indelicately put it in a lengthy letter to Duane Rimel. Howard seemed to agree with the rejections, ruefully commenting that his tale might make "excellent shelf paper, but little else." His low opinion to the contrary, "From Beyond" is a highly original story that has roots in Rene Descartes' theory of the brain's pineal gland being the mortal mediator between the material and spiritual worlds.

But "From Beyond" is more than an obscure philosophical treatise; it's a nasty little sci-fi horror tale so visual it almost cries out to be put on film. It's made it to the screen a few times: once as a feature, and more recently as a couple of amateur shorts.

Following the worldwide success of Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, and Jeffrey Combs quickly re-teamed to produce From Beyond for Empire Pictures, the second of a projected series of Lovecraftian features that was eventually to include "The Shadow Over Innsmouth."

The film begins with a shot of Jeffrey Combs as Crawford Tillinghast. Unlike Herbert West, Crawford is much more insecure and lacks the arrogance and ambition of West. This is readily apparent as we see Crawford with pencil in mouth sitting in an enormous attic, finishing the computer program to a bizarre room-sized machine called a "resonator." Four huge tuning forks planted atop a glowing globe are the focal point of Lovecraft's "detestable electrical machine," a sci-fi tower resembling something straight out of the secret laboratory of Nikola Tesla.

Crawford gingerly engages the machine by closing a big knife-switch, emitting a noise Lovecraft described as "unmistakably musical . . . a quality of surpassing wildness which (makes) its impact feel like a delicate torture of (the) whole body."

Richard Band's evocative and award winning musical score brings HPL's words to sonic life as the resonator awakens the pineal gland inside Tillinghast's brain, showing him creepy eel-like creatures circling the tuning forks, inter-dimensional entities HPL saw as "great, inky jellyish monstrosities."

Tillinghast's curiosity gets the better of him. He moves towards the creatures and one of them takes a nasty chunk out of his cheek, but promptly vanishes when the machine is shut off. Crawford hurries downstairs to tell Dr. Edward Pretorius, his scantily clad and bondage-loving boss, that the resonator actually works—and an aroused Pretorius slides the machine's controls all the way up to eleven, making more unearthly music and a "sickly, sinister, violet luminosity."

The decadent doctor shivers, shakes, and moans as the vibrations arouse his pineal gland. He announces that "something's coming" and some thing does come—something that blows out the windows, eats the Doctor's head, and sends Crawford stumbling down the stairs for his very life.

At this point Gordon & company, having run out of Lovecraft material, play the rest of the film like an extended improvisation over the chords of the 3,000-word original, albeit with heavy emphasis on some very un-Lovecraftian multi-dimensional lust.

After the opening credits we are taken to an ever-popular Lovecraftian location—an insane asylum—where we meet the brainy and beautiful experimental psychiatrist Dr. Katherine McMichaels, portrayed by Re-Animator babe Barbara Crampton.

McMichaels is there to determine Tillinghast's sanity and his fitness to stand trial for the murder of Dr. Pretorius. Crawford protests that he didn't kill him. He was in awe of the great Dr. Pretorius and only wanted to help him stimulate the dormant senses that reveal other dimensions. The resonator they invented did just that, but lifting the curtain on other worlds comes with a heavy price. In the resonant vibrations the revealed beasts can see us as well, and that's why he destroyed the machine, because it came and bit off Pretorius' head "like a gingerbread man!"

McMichaels examines Tillinghast and finds that his pineal gland has been simulated . . . indeed, it's growing right through his brain! Intrigued, she wants to re-create Pretorius' experiment to prove that Tillinghast is not insane, but she can't do it without his help. The law reluctantly agrees and under the watchful eye of Police Sergeant Leroy "Bubba" Brown, the trio returns to the decaying 18th-century house at 666 Benevolent Street.

After much coaxing, the sexy psychiatrist gets Crawford to repair the machine. Windows break again and the supposedly dead Pretorius appears naked in the resonator's shimmering red light. But Crawford is a Doubting Thomas and reaches out to touch the doctor's skin—skin that is actually a mass of sickly soft bio-putty. Pretorius mutates before their eyes and Crawford quickly shuts the resonator down, exclaiming, "that will be enough of that!"

Pretorius' appearance proves Tillinghast isn't a killer or insane, but an aroused McMichaels wants to run the experiment again to "check the results" and, somehow, find the cure for the schizophrenia that killed her father.

The men-folk are terrified of turning the machine (and themselves) back on, but Katherine talks them into taking a nap (!) and sneaks back up to the attic where she stares at the weird machine while softly caressing her nipples, suddenly remembering that she's there to turn the resonator on—not just herself.

Tillinghast awakes with a throbbing pineal and finds the beautiful Doctor in a miasma of shimmering sound and magnetic fields. It doesn't take long before McMichaels is all over Crawford like butter in a hot pan, but before she can get any, Pretorius re-appears as a hideous monster, giving the lovely Ms. Crampton possibly the grossest screen kiss of all time.

Crawford and Bubba, unable to combat the mutated doctor, race down to the basement to cut the power. Unfortunately, their quest is hampered by a miniature version of a Dune sandworm made out of hefty trash bags. The creature wastes no time sucking up Crawford but Bubba saves the day by cutting the power and stopping the bad vibrations, leaving Crawford bald and unconscious.

But even after all this, Dr. McMichaels is unable to overcome her pineal envy and wants to run the experiment one more time. Meanwhile, back in the attic, Pretorius starts the resonator from beyond and all rush upstairs to destroy it once and for all.

Pretorius is now a bent and twisted Heronymus Bosch monster with an erect pineal gland suggestively swaying out of the center of his forehead. He's come back to finish his "kiss" and deliver the film's tag line, "Humans are such easy prey."

Caught in the intense vibrations, Crawford's own pineal pops out of his head. "So beau-ti-ful . . ." he moans, seeing things now in a very different light. McMichaels, wasting no time, turns out said light by spraying the contents of a fire extinguisher all over the resonator, dampening the forks and saving the day.

Tillinghast is rushed to the mental hospital, where a raving McMichaels has now become a patient as well. The film spins into a kind of Frankenstein meets Altered States meets Night of the Living Dead, showing a mutating big-brained Crawford lurching around hospital hallways munching on human brains. Dr. Bloch, played by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, wisely counsels, "Don't eat those! They'll make you very sick." Crawford agrees wholeheartedly and instead sucks some fresh brains out through the eye-socket of the stunned doctor.

Crawford escapes, McMichaels escapes, and both go back to the old house on Benevolent Street. Dr. McMichaels suddenly becomes an expert on explosives and sticks a purse full of TNT into the resonator, but Crawford catches McMichaels trying to blow up his beloved machine and shackles her to Pretorius' S&M chains. There he tries to show her a good time by sucking out her brain, but can't keep that damn pineal gland inside his head and, in a strange "tribute" to I Spit on Your Grave, the blushing psychiatrist bites the nasty thing clean off.

The mutated Pretorius returns yet again and a recovering Crawford makes fun of his manhood. The monster doctor is not amused and consumes Crawford's mind, only to suffer terrible indigestion as student and master dissolve into a pile of cosmic slop battling for cellular control. Before anyone wins, however, the bomb goes off and McMichaels is blown out the attic window.

Finally, having completed her research and having satisfied her urges, it's asylum time for Dr. McMichaels, who has been reduced to a laughing madwoman, unable to contemplate the very painful-looking femur protruding from her very shapely leg.

From Beyond is a visual treat for those who enjoy gooey monsters and Barbara Crampton in leather (and who doesn't?). Its intense prologue is actually a compelling and rather accurate film adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft's stranger tales. And although the gross sexual excess may displease hardcore Lovecraft fans, at least the house doesn't burn down on screen.

Screened at the 1999 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.