FROM BEYOND (1986) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Stuart Gordon
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

FROM BEYOND, Stuart Gordon’s follow-up to RE-ANIMATOR, gets the Scream Factory treatment courtesy of Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray/DVD combo.

Psychiatrist Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton, THE LORDS OF SALEM) is brought in by the Boston District Attorney (Bruce McGuire, BATMAN) to determine whether physicist Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs, FRIGHTMARE) is fit to stand trial for the bizarre death of his S/M enthusiast mentor Dr. Edward Pretorious (Ted Sorel, THE KILLING HOUR) even though his head was never found and there was no blood on the axe that a crazed Crawford was wielding when arrested. Crawford tells Katherine that Pretorious had built a machine to stimulate the pineal gland – which he believed to be a dormant sensory organ embodying with “resonant vibrations”. The “Resonator” machine made visible creatures from another dimension, one of which Tillinghast claims bit off Pretorious’ head. A CAT scan of Crawford’s brain reveals that his pineal gland is enlarged. Dr. Bloch (Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, DOLLS) believes that the gland is pressing on his brain and causing the delusions, but Katherine believes that Pretorious’ experiment might have worked (or at least there is a connection between enlarged pineal glands and schizophrenia). She decides to recreate the experiment, and the district attorney releases Crawford into her custody under the guard of Sergeant “Bubba” Brownlee (Ken Foree, DAWN OF THE DEAD). Crawford reluctantly repairs the machine and runs it only for the trio to discover that Pretorious’ sadistic mind has been incorporated into the creature that ate him and is hungry for more. Crawford shuts down the machine before they are harmed, but Katherine’s own curiosity (and her awakened sexuality due to the machine’s influence on the pineal gland which regulates the sex drive) causes her to turn the machine back on summoning back Pretorious and other creatures from beyond…

After the success of RE-ANIMATOR, Charles Band’s Empire Pictures signed director Stuart Gordon to a three-picture deal with another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation to follow up his debut film. Band was not interested in a sequel to RE-ANIMATOR nor was he interested in the people-turning-into-fish concept of Lovecraft’s “Dagon” which Gordon was developing (the project would be approached again by Band and Gordon for the unproduced “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” before Gordon and Yuzna would eventually make DAGON in conjunction with the Spanish production company Filmax in 2001). Yuzna supplied Band with a couple other possible Lovecraft stories and he chose “From Beyond”. Gordon’s sophomore effort benefits from a larger budget, a longer shooting schedule, the contributions of three effects crews – headed by John Carl Buechler (DOLLS), Mark Shostrum (PHANTASM II), and Anthony Doublin (BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR), and supervised by John Naulin (DEADLY BLESSING) – and the expansive (if stripped-for-parts) former Dino De Laurentis Studios at his disposal (not to mention the Italian technical crew including production designer Giovanni Natalucci). It’s more outrageous than RE-ANIMATOR, but the more serious approach makes the graphic gore and sexualized violence more disturbing – not unlike his later CASTLE FREAK – than anything seen in the previous film or DOLLS despite the film’s victimization by the MPAA (who Gordon believed were displeased that RE-ANIMATOR went out unrated). Much is made in the extras of the role reversal of casting Combs in the passive victim role and Crampton as the driver of the plot, and things do feel a bit off-balance (but Crampton proves she can go just as nutso as Combs when required). Foree is more than just a name recognition actor here, providing a nice balance of toughness, sympathy, and appropriate comic relief; but – like David Gale in RE-ANIMATOR – it’s Sorel who steals the show with or without layers of prosthetic make-up (if anything, Gordon and screenwriter Denis Paoli give us memorable villains), and it might have been interesting to get more of a sense of what the beyond offers in terms of sensory experiences for his character.

FROM BEYOND was one of the lucky few MGM-held Empire Pictures releases to not only warrant a digital remastering, but also to get a deluxe special edition DVD (along with a great edition of Gordon’s DOLLS) in 2007. MGM not only created a brand new high definition widescreen (1.83:1) – with a four-channel rendering of the film’s Dolby-compatible matrixed Ultra*Stereo mix (presumably decoded from the matrixed two-channel track rather than the four discrete stems since some music and effects do bleed into the center dialogue track) – they also restored MPAA-mandated cuts to the film’s gore scenes from workprint trims. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray and DVD combo utilizes the same high definition master. If you’ve already got the DVD, don’t expect a huge leap in detail but do expect the quality differences in the scene extensions to not be as seamless as they seem on MGM’s DVD. Audio options include a 2.0 rendering of the original Ultra Stereo mix as well a 5.1 bump-up (DTS-MA on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital on the DVD) that just gives the music and effects a bit more breathing room (some of the front left and right channel effects have a bit more presence but the surround channel was always monophonic). Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. Although the same could be argued of the MGM DVD – for fans who already picked that up – revisiting the film on Blu-ray or even HD-mastered DVD does enhance one’s appreciation of Mac Ahlberg’s elegant photography – easy to miss upon first viewing given the glut of gore and creature effects – as well as just how well Richard Band’s actually does support the images (when not divorced from the images on the CD soundtrack).

Carried over from the MGM disc is a fun commentary track from director Gordon, producer Yuzna, and stars Combs and Crampton. Gordon mentions that one trim that could not be restored was an extreme bit of Pretorious’ S&M proclivities in his first scene (in the finished film, his bedroom partner is not seen or ever mentioned). It is revealed that several of Giovanni Natalucci’s sets were redressed for DOLLS which was filmed right after (the Pretorious house exterior – actually based on the historic landmark that inspired Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House” – was a forced perspective model, not unlike Natalucci’s exterior for the house in DOLLS). Gordon also amusingly recalls his mother’s reaction to the script, which she deemed pornography. The commentators – it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the voices of Yuzna and Combs – also point out the contrast in Mac Ahlberg’s cinematography of the psychedelic pink lighting to the neon green of RE-ANIMATOR’s color scheme. Much is made of the idiosyncrasies of shooting in Italy including technicians speaking during takes since most Italian films were still shot wild with a guide track and dubbed in post, interacting with Italian-speaking crew and extras, as well as working on freezing sets (either De Laurentis sold the studio heating and air conditioning equipment or it was stripped by the creditors when the producer fled to America). They speak warmly of their co-stars whether absent (Purdy-Gordon and Foree) or no longer with us (Sorel), and manage to riff on some perceived flaws in the film without ruining the viewing experience (it’s obvious they all enjoy the film even if it wasn’t always the most pleasant experience for some like Combs spending a large of his screen time either in prosthetic make-up or playing unconscious).

Scream Factory has also recorded a brand new commentary with screenwriter Dennis Paoli. He starts off telling us that the entirety of Lovecraft’s story is the pre-credits sequence and that Crawford Tillinghast was the original main character. Pretorious – named after the scientist from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN – was their addition to the scenario (as well as everything after the opening credits). He describes the exaggerated “Bunny” character as being emblematic of the example of the bourgeois world the author loathed. The Katherine character was scripted with the express purpose of giving Crampton something more than an ingénue role. The sexual angle of the film was felt to be an expansion of the extra-sensory goals of the Resonator (exposing the characters to anything beyond what society might have deemed acceptable). It’s clear that Paoli found Pretorious to be the most interesting character and – though absent for large parts of the film – he drives the momentum of the film even more than the Katherine character. Humorously, Paoli goes beyond some of the theories about the pineal gland in the film, suggesting we’ve evolved beyond the gland (making us safer for not being able to sense certain things). After a while, the comments become more sporadic and limited to reactions to the film as a viewer, commenting on Crampton’s look in the film and appreciating the film’s photography, music, and effects work. The track might have worked better as a selected scenes commentary or with a moderator to ask for more of his insights on Lovecraft.

Shout! Factory’s Cliff MacMillan and Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher have produced some brand new extras. “Multiple Dimensions” (23:40) combines the reflections of the film’s four effects supervisors. Buechler describes how the Lovecraft’s indescribable monsters are open to interpretation and pretty much an effects artist’s dream. Supervisor John Naulin compares the eight-and-a-half week effects work schedule on RE-ANIMATOR to the thirty-two week one for FROM BEYOND (well in advance of the film’s shooting period), although he only half-jokes that the price of shipping the effects creations to Italy may have been more than the effects budget. Doublin supervised the visual effects, but also the physical and mechanical effects, and also mentions the valuable contribution of cinematographer Mac Ahlberg’s lighting to the realization of the effects (he also recalls how he had two fingers ripped off in an on-set accident and how Albert Band got them repaired by the Vatican surgical team after a not-so-good job by a local clinic). Shostrum describes how he may have given Gordon too many options for the final Pretorious creature and that he was not able to go to Italy since he was working on EVIL DEAD II (assistant Robert Kurtzman – later of KNB Efx – went in his place).

In “Paging Dr. McMichaels” (13:45), Crampton describes FROM BEYOND as featuring her favorite Stuart Gordon role since she had more to do. She addresses her prickly relationship with Combs on the film, likely because of the aforementioned role reversal in characterization compared to RE-ANIMATOR. She also describes how she and Gordon went hunting for her leather outfit, and is good-natured about the sexual aspects of the film. In “A Tortured Soul” (17:46), Combs reveals that he thought the more passive, victimized character he was asked to play here would have been more suited to RE-ANIMATOR co-star Bruce Abbot. He describes getting to go to Italy for the shoot and working with Foree and Sorel. He also repeats some anecdotes from the MGM commentary, including Gordon’s reaction to his “brain-eating” pantomiming. Executive producer Charles Band appears in the brief interview “An Empire Production” (5:02) in which he mainly discusses how the film was the first to be shot at the former Dino De Laurentis Studios rechristened Empire Studios. Also new to the Shout edition is a very brief but effects-heavy theatrical trailer (0:58) featuring Pretorious’ utterance of the “Humans are such easy prey” tagline (the effect not unlike the “We’ll tear your soul apart!” tag on the HELLRAISER trailers).

The remaining extras are carried over from the MGM DVD starting with “The Director’s Perspective” interview with Stuart Gordon (8:51) in which he theorizes that the more repressive societies produce the more extreme horror films as an outlet using the Reagan and Bush eras as examples. He also emphasizes the importance of detailed storyboards (and sticking to them) when on a limited effects budget (so some effects creations only needed to be partially built to suit specific angles), and describes the finger-wagging chastisement he got from an MPAA member over the brain-sucking scene. Gordon appears in “The Editing Room” featurette (4:45) in which he describes how the trims editor Lee Percy saved in anticipation of an extended video version were thought destroyed until MGM Technical Services’ James Owsley called him over to identify the contents of a single can of workprint. Also on hand is Ascent Media colorist John Dunn to briefly describe the challenge of matching the scratched and greasepaint-marked workprint trims to the internegative (including how one shot seemed impossible to reintegrate until it was discovered that it had been inadvertently transferred in reverse. While Shout’s MacMillan and Red Shirt’s Felsher should be congratulated for the work done on the new disc, the featurette shows that Owsley and Ascent’s Dunn – along with Timothy Cutt who directed the MGM featurettes – are also deserving of recognition for the creation of the director’s cut and the earlier MGM DVD. Composer Richard Band also appears in a brief interview (4:32) in which he describes the score for the film as not having any themes but consisting of a handful of motifs. He also reveals that the film’s original main title track was not well-received so it was turned into the end title track and Gordon created a new composition for the main titles after the film was edited. Also carried over from the MGM release are a photo gallery and the storyboard-to-film segments introduced by Gordon. The four side-by-side comparisons show that Gordon and the effects crew did indeed stick very close to the planned angles and editing. (Eric Cotenas)