The Summer of Lovecraft: From Beyond (1986)

FROM-BEYOND

“Humans are such easy prey.”

Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree and Ted Sorel

The Story

Never professionally published during Lovecraft’s life, “From Beyond” was written in 1920 and published in fanzine form in 1934. It deals with an unnamed narrator who visits his friend, Dr Crawford Tillinghast. Tillinghast has developed a way to activate dormant sensory organs to see higher dimensions. As Tillinghast’s device works, the narrator perceives strange other realities, until it becomes clear that Tillinghast means to feed him to the creatures, at which point he shoots the machine and passes out. Tillinghast has a heart attack.

The Film

The basics of Lovecraft’s story are present here, but given a strong Gordonian spin. Crawford Tillinghast (Combs) works for Dr Edward Pretorius (Sorel). When the resonator they’re building reveals higher dimensions to them, one of the spooky other-dimensional models kills Pretorius. Crawford runs away and is locked up in a psychiatric institution. Doctor Katherine McMichaels (Crampton) wants to prove he’s not insane, so she goes with him and tough cop Bubba Brownlee (Foree) to investigate the house and repeat the experiment.

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Turns out Pretorius is still alive, just stuck in the new dimension and super excited about his new powers. After some run-ins with the increasingly-mutated doctor, McMichaels starts to go a little nuts in Pretorius’s sex dungeon and Tillinghast starts mutating. Eventually, Bubba gets eaten by other-dimensional bees and McMichaels drags him back to the hospital only to find that they want to give her electroshock therapy. Tillinghast starts biting people’s eyes out, which creates a diversion for both of them to escape. Back at the old house, Tillinghast — whose pineal gland is now sticking out of his forehead grotesquely — decides he is in live with McMichaels, who chews off a chunk of his mutant brain. When Pretorius, now just a face on a monstrous, mutable body, attacks again, Tillinghast sacrifices himself to save Katherine. Pretorius, the machine and the house get blown up with a bomb.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s kind of a mess. Faced with a Lovecraft story that’s basically no more than a premise, Gordon takes it in the kind of slimy-body-horror, Barbara-Crampton-in-bondage-gear direction that you might expect from him. Which is all well and good, but it’s kind of a jarring notion, isn’t it, to suggest that when humans start perceiving vistas of reality unknown to their experience they’ll just use it to do gruesome flesh-suit boning? I mean, maybe that’s the case but it seems a little limited in its view.

What’s right with it?

It’s a well-executed mess. The effects are gruesome, the shocking, gory bits are actually shocking and gory, the other dimension is not bad for its day and the acting ranges from serviceable to pretty good. Combs in particular is good value; he’s typecast as usual as a swivel-eyed loon, but on the other hand he’s so good at that role.

How bad is it really?

It’s trash, but it’s excellent trash. If you like this kind of thing, you will really like this one; it’s the 80s trash horror movie par excellence. But as far as a Lovecraft adaptation, it’s a little … off-target. It’s hard to see where in Lovecraft’s oeuvre you put a cackling villain who mutates into a big wrinkly ballsack monster, a sex dungeon and the hero jumping out a window ahead of an explosion.

It is nice and brisk at under 90 minutes, but it lacks something that really made Gordon’s most famous Lovecraft effort, Re-Animator, great: humour.

Best bit (if such there is)?

I think I really like the bit where Dr Bloch (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) comes into the hospital morgue (or whatever), sees Tillinghast eating a brain and says “please don’t eat those. They can make you very sick.” It’s so nicely understated. Shortly thereafter Tillinghast bites her eye out and then sucks the fluid out of the socket, so there’s that.

What’s up with…? 

  • Tillinghast’s name? He calls himself “till-in-gast,” but McMichaels calls him “tilling-est.”
  • McMichaels’ bomb? Where did she get a fuckload of dynamite between breaking out of the hospital and getting to the house? Maybe I blinked.
  • The other-dimensional bees? Where did they come from and what is their deal?
  • Pretorius’s suite of powers? He can turn the resonator on “from beyond?” If he can do that …

Ratings

Production values Not bad — the effects are sometimes primitive, but it was 1986. 9.
Dialogue and performances Combs is good; most others are all right. Minor characters often weak. 12.
Plot and execution A certain amount of repetition and contrivance, but brisk-paced and eventful. 14.
Randomness I think the bees and the sex dungeon tell against this film. 16.
Waste of potential A really mind-bending vision of another dimension could have been amazing. 14.

Overall 65%

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