One often wonders what fear will feel like staring you in the face, when it encompasses everything that you are and transforms not only your surroundings, but your very self into something monstrous. Unrecognizable. At least that was what I contemplated as I walked into the Alamo Drafthouse for their Terror Tuesday’s showing of FROM BEYOND.
Based off an H.P. Lovecraft short story first published by the author 14 years after writing it in 1920, it carries many of his usual themes. Which is why I pondered where this film would take me. Looking through the murky sunken world of HP Lovecraft once more, would I find some subterranean terror, transformation, or a threat so inescapable that it felt as vast as a far off ocean horizon in the dead of night?
Dan McCoy, podcaster on Flop House – and this weeks film presenter- sliced short some of my darker pondering with a little bit of levity, and lust only a horror cinephile could manifest, “This movie has everything I love about 80’s horror. Its got gooey special effects, and they are really gooey. This is one of the slimmest movies you are gonna see. It has that great 80’s horror tone where everything is just the side of being a comedy.”
The 1986 film release of FROM BEYOND certainly takes some departures from H.P. Lovecraft original short story. Dan explained in his introduction, the original “story is only 7 pages long, so there is a BIT of embellishment.” Directed by Stuart Gordon, FROM BEYOND follows Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (played by Jeffery Combs) assistant to Dr. Edward Pretorius (played by Ted Sorel) who through his invention of “the Resonator” can create an electric field that puts anyone in its range at that same frequency as another realm of reality and all the creatures that inhabit it – a world on top of our own. The fate of most mad scientists zeal befalls Dr. Pretorius, and Crawford is blamed for the tragedy and locked away by local authorities, not buying any of his story. That is until an equally as zealous (and possibly as unhinged) Psychologist, Dr. Katherine McMichaels (played by Barbara Crampton) rigs Crawfords release under the conditional that they recreate Dr. Pretorius mysterious experiments.
This film is an interesting mix. Keeping the themes of late 19th century to early 20th century fixation on pseudoscience and terror toward sanatoriums, the viewer can easily see elements of the original text show itself. The scene where Dr. McMichaels finds a patient manically masturbating, reflects that. Popular medical theory during the 1800’s was that sexual pleasure physically pollute the body, and was the source cause of many health problems people were inflicted by. So through 19th century eyes, this moment would be seen as an insane act of self harm and mutilation, akin to the reaction of disgust found in viewers watching 80’s body horror films. Which is why the marriage between the original text and the 80’s adaption work so well. Both stories, be it the more somber text, or the more wacky film, come to the same conclusions – that a scientists own ego for discovery may lead to such terrifying discoveries, that their own demise would be a welcomed alternative to their actual fate.
Ultimately, FROM BEYOND is a foundational tale of warning for those searching the edges of what is known. Be it scientist, philosopher, or story maker. What we search for with zeal, we may only find in equal measures of horror.