Monday, February 16, 2009

From Beyond to the Cutting-Room: The Unrated Director's Cut of FROM BEYOND

by Paul DeCirce

In 1986, Charles Band and his Empire Films were squarely in the middle of the resurgent horror film industry. Churning out a long string of b-graders meant to cash in on the new VHS home video market, Band was on the look out for anything that could interest his audience. His bigger successes included THE DUNGEONMASTER, GHOULIES, TRANCERS and Stuart Gordon's RE-ANIMATOR. Based loosely on H.P Lovecraft's short-story "Herbert West: Re-Animator," RE-ANIMATOR scored big with home video viewers for its over the top, tongue-in-cheek mixture of gore and sleaze. It also severely bunched the panties of the MPAA, who never saw the film to rate it. Even unrated, the film did big business for Band and Gordon's sudden future as a horror filmmaker.

A three-picture deal was made between Empire and Gordon; FROM BEYOND went on to become the first of them. Again based on a short story by Lovecraft ("It Came From Beyond"), FROM BEYOND has developed a solid cult following as top-notch in the '80s ilk of genre horror, mostly on the legs of Stuart Gordon's flexible direction. His stylish usage of low-budget contraints and his history in theatre, mixed with the right amount of situational humor, lewd sexuality and realistic grue has set a bench-mark of what '80s horror is renowned for. His other films, including DOLLS (87), CASTLE FREAK (95), KING OF THE ANTS (03) and the excellent DAGON (01), as well as a respectable non-genre career in THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT (98) and the recent EDMOND (05) as well as writing HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS have won him many fans and much respect in the indie-film industry. He's also set to direct HOUSE OF RE-ANIMATOR with William H. Macy for 2010.

But if people thought RE-ANIMATOR was too much...forget FROM BEYOND. For some reason, Gordon had to deliver an R rating for this film, and it was rejected three times. When it finally did get its rating, a number of intense and key scenes of gore, sexuality and depravity were missing, making the theatrical release a little tame and clumsy, though fans of the genre recognized it as an achievement. Little did us trolls know it would be twenty years before we'd see the film in its intended form.

And what a form it is. The missing footage has been lovingly replaced almost seamlessly and now the true power of this low-budget gem is fully in place. As Gordon himself said, "the film got its balls back." The story opens with Jeffrey Combs and Ted Sorel playing scientists making advances on the pineal gland, or sixth sense, the un-excercised muscle located in the center of the forehead. With wild tones of science fiction insanity, Sorel absorbs too much frequency from their attic-fashioned 'resonator' machine, causing his head to explode. That's in the first three minutes, folks.

Combs' character is ultimately placed in the care of psychiatrist Barbara Crampton (who is rather young and unconvincing as a doctor), who decides it best to re-create the horrific situation to discover what they'd been fooling with all along. She is soon turned seriously on by the stimulation as it reverberates to her, ahem, nether region and begins revisiting the dangerous space of the 'resonator,' until finally, Sorel returns -- apparently unharmed -- and from there the machine begins working on its own, drawing Combs, Crampton and a police officer (played by Ken Foree of DAWN OF THE DEAD) into a twisted path of addiction and destruction.

While the story seems a bit played by today's standards -- and it's an amicable job from the actors -- it's truly the special effects and tense action scenes that give this movie its legs. The disfigured creature Sorel becomes, apparently from over-stimulation of the pineal gland, is a special-effects hallmark, utilizing film-layering, puppetry, clay-mation, make-up, slime and good old-fashioned camera placement. At one point Sorel's face appears to have grown into a long worm like gland, and Gordon's usage of varying long and close-up shots completely convinces the audience there's a face at the end of this long, penis-like appendage.

After a number of close calls, Combs' pineal gland bursts forth from his forehead in grotesque fashion, like a limp little worm wriggling curiously while his eyeballs loll in his head. This leads to Combs' returning to the hospital where the film really picks up the pace and careens into a crash and burn climax of gore, explosions and insanity that ranks among the most memorable for its time.

The film, now fully restored, features a high count of gross-out scenes of perversity and gore. The sixth-dimension Sorel rudely exposes Crampton's pert breasts and rubs slimy elongated fingers all over them before dipping below screen for an inferred invasion. Combs' character does a lot more truly disgusting brain eating than the theatrical cut had, including an entire shot of him sucking the brains out of a doctors eyeball, after spitting said appendage rudely onto the floor. There's also a lengthy televised long shot of some rough S&M, featuring more breasts and violence. It's fair to say this uncut edition is pretty much packed with horrific A-level gore and slime and sleaze.

Gordon makes effective use of low-budget scenery by using a lot of purples, violets and velvety colors, skewed camera close-ups and in other places, brightly lit exposure of gore. Lee Percy, the editor, keeps the film moving at an excellent and interesting pace, and Richard Band's score uses strings and funky synth to good impact, if not a bit dated.

The complete picture draws certain comparisons to like-minded films of scientific experimentation, most accurately as a poor-man's comparison to Cronenberg's THE FLY, curiously released the same year. As an examination of the connectedness of our deeper urges of pleasure addiction with what might be right and wrong, the film succeeds in its lurid frankness. Void of morals, forgiveness or apology for its pseudo-scientific madness, the uncut FROM BEYOND successfully replaces a sense of rhythm and gut-punching that had indeed been castrated for its theatrical release.

Band has continued to be a major figure in the now booming DVD industry, most notably with his PUPPET MASTER films. While many of today's equivalent ilk lack the creativity and usage of technique and inventiveness of the '80s kind, it seems as though the B-Grade home viewing industry still remains hungry for the kind of sleaze that FROM BEYOND benchmarked. Stuart Gordon's career has veered into more diversity and he seems on the upsurge, with excellent additions to the Masters of Horror TV series, as well as highly rated features, such as KING OF THE ANTS and his most recent full-length, STUCK.

While the MPAA questioned Gordon's motivation at crafting such a disgusting and dirty-feeling film, now that it's restored, it's better to enjoy the ride and marvel at how the film manages to repulse while at the same time ask the viewer to admit the truth: they love it and they want more. Indeed a far cry from the philosophical questions raised by Lovecraft's fascination with the potential of the human mind, but by no means beyond the realm of the horrific framework his fiction created. Indeed it came FROM BEYOND, and twenty years later, it has finally arrived.

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