Day 7: Step into the goo
The following review was originally published on the website Flick Attack, 16 April 2013.
Where would horror movies be without slime? They’d still be here, obviously, but they’d be way less slimy. And where’s the fun in that? What, would you have Bill Murray say, “I’ve been touched by a ghost?” You monster!
Slime is the all-purpose, perfect go-to method for disguising effect flaws, with the added benefit of making an audience squirm with disgust. Enter From Beyond, the movie that puts the “goo” in “goopy.” Its chief monster, the dimensionally disfigured Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel, Basket Case 2), almost puts John Carpenter’s Thing alien to shame with its overall shape-shifting malleability and gallons of ooze.
As if that weren’t enough, the movie is an excellent exercise in mad science, sadomasochistic inventiveness, and squirrelly Jeffrey Combs-ian mania. Combs portrays the unhinged Crawford Tillinghast, beleaguered lab assistant to the good/bad/mad/whackjob doctor. As the movie opens (playing out its source material, H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, in the first five minutes), Pretorious has triggered the resonator, a device that allows all within its psychic field to perceive the myriad transdimensional beasts that swim around. After Pretorius’ head is removed by something “from beyond” (“It bit off his head like a gingerbread man!”), psychiatrist Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton, Re-Animator) and cop Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead) persuade Tillinghast is repeat the experiment, because science.
True to form, the resonator shows them the world waiting just beyond our eyesight. It also stimulates the pineal gland, which leads to increased libido (good), a third eye protruding from a stalk on the forehead (bad), and a taste for human brains (um … good?). This leads to the classic scene where the sexually repressed Dr. McMichaels unleashes her inner goddess, dresses up in leather, and gropes an unconscious Tillinghast. Crampton never quite sells the “psychiatrist” aspect of her character — when will people learn that glasses do not a scientist make? [see also (or better yet, don’t): Tara Reid in Alone in the Dark]— but she absolutely nails the sex-maniac part.
Making the most of a meager budget, director Stuart Gordon bathes his horror in a gorgeous giallo lighting scheme and buckets of ectoplasm. Famed for his earlier Lovecraft adaptation Re-Animator (which also starred both Combs and Crampton), From Beyond is the stronger film, completely unafraid to delve into utterly depraved areas. Combs is reliably strange and wonderful; Foree plays the Ken Foree role to the hilt; Crampton goes places few actors would let themselves go; and the makeup artists, working with practically no money, rose to the challenge with inventive prosthetics and copious gore.
And, of course, slime. By the end, as Tillinghast and Pretorious wage a mucus-bathed battle that literally turns each of them inside out, From Beyond makes a compelling case for itself as the slimiest movie ever.