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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #387

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: October 24, 1986
Sub-Genre: Exploitation
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $4,500,000
Box Office: $1,261,000 (US)
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Stuart Gordon
Producer: Brian Yuzna
Screenplay: Brian Yuzna, Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon
Based on From Beyond by H. P. Lovecraft
Special Effects: John Carl Buechler
Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg
Score: Richard Band
Editing: Lee Percy
Studios: Empire Pictures, Taryn Prov
Distributors: Empire Pictures, Vestron Video
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Bunny Summers, Bruce McGuire, Del Russel, Dale Wyatt, Karen Christenfeld, Andy Miller, John Leamer, Regina Bleesz

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Richard Band From Beyond

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“He used to bring beautiful women here… eat fine meals, drink fine wine, listen to music… but it always ended with screaming”

In 1985, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator was birthed upon an unsuspecting public. Chock full of grisly vitality and outlandishly schlocky special effects, it fast became a firm favorite in horror circles and went on to spawn two sequels in the process. Based around master of the macabre H. P. Lovecraft’s episodic novella Herbert West – Reanimator, it updated the formula for an eighties audience crying out for extreme splatter, and gave them exactly what they requested…and then some. Evidently Gordon was onto something, thus barely a year had passed when he delve back into Lovecraft’s font once more, this time turning a seven page story into a full length feature more than worthy of standing alongside Re-Animator with chin up and chest puffed out.

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These weren’t isolated incidents and Gordon has since gone on to honor the great man’s work with Castle Freak, Dagon and Dreams in the Witch-House, as well as tackling Edgar Allan Poe’s fiction for The Pit and The Pendulum in order not to show favoritism. In many ways, he has become our own modern-day vessel for these great works to gain wider recognition and I would imagine he possibly rubbed shoulders with both great men in a previous existence. More than anything, it is their theory that malevolence is all around us operating on different planes of existence to what the naked eye can discern which fascinates him most and this is a theme he explores with recurrence. However, Gordon is nobody’s puppet and can back this up with a stylistic approach which sets his work apart from his contemporaries effortlessly.

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Having witnessed Re-Animator become an overnight cult favorite on such a slender budget, Gordon was keen not to lose the momentum so recruited Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton and placed them in lead roles once again. He met opposition from the studio with regards to Crampton playing psychologist Dr. Katherine McMichaels as executives believed her to be too young but stuck to his guns doggedly. Combs as the deluded Crawford Tillinghast was a no-brainer as he had proved already that he had the mad scientist down to pat and the new character shared distinct similarities with Herbert West. He then threw Ken Foree (Dawn of The Dead, Knightriders) into the melting pot as homicide detective Bubba Brownlee and began his ominous experiment.

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Barely five minutes had passed before we knew precisely what we were letting ourselves in for and it quickly became evident that Gordon’s past success was no fluke. We were introduced to The Resonator, a machine which allowed for perception beyond the realms of reality, and to the machine’s owner, Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) who had already become seduced by the stimulation it provided the pineal gland. Within the opening scene, the mad scientist had been decapitated leaving his assistant Tillinghast to explain the mess to the authorities. He failed and was shipped off to the nearest psychiatric hospital post-haste, charged with his murder. There Edward was placed under the watchful eye of Dr McMichaels and she soon bought into his story, releasing him into her custody. Along with Brownlee they returned to the laboratory and fired up the Resonator once again. Bad move!

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Given that the source material was so fleeting, Lovecraft’s tale was pretty much tied up within the opening act so Gordon elaborated, revealing the foul creatures that populated this parallel dimension. Madness is something which Gordon courts particularly well and he doused the screen in lush pink tones, while allowing his marvellous monstrosities to run amok. John Carl Buechler’s creations were suitably nauseating and, while not all of them hold up today, his use of in-camera effects, stop-motion, and practical splatter, reminds us of the good old days before CGI took precedence. Brian Yuzna, on co-writing duties here, would go on to punish our senses further in 1989 with his even more repulsive cult classic Society and I would imagine he gained much of his inspiration right here. The sound design was also excellent and Richard Band’s original composition went on attain accolades the world over.

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“It ate him… bit off his head… like a gingerbread man!”

Combs’ performance as Crawford was every bit as intense and brilliant as it was in Re-Animator although notably here he played it decidedly straight. The real revelation however was Crampton who gave a career best turn as Katherine. No longer naive as she was as Megan Halsey, instead the doctor was gutsy, dedicated, and wonderfully sassy, particularly when garbed in black leather dominatrix gear I hasten to add. Meanwhile, Sorel as Crawford’s misaligned mentor Dr. Edward Pretorious also provided great value and matched David Gale’s Dr. Hill for sleaze and sadomasochism. Pretorious became consumed by his own sick amusement and Sorel reveled in the extra dimension that The Resonator afforded his character. As for Foree, it baffles me even more than that extra dimension that it took the best part of ten years for somebody, other than George A. Romero once again, to offer him a role of any real distinction after Dawn of The Dead.

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From Beyond could never hope to match Re-Animator with regards to attaining cult status as it’s a more restrained experience and not so freely gratifying. However, this in itself shows what a breath of fresh air Gordon was at a particularly lean period for true innovation within horror. There was no attempt made to crank things up a notch in order to appease his fan base and instead he treated them respectfully, telling a story and remaining true to the spirit of Lovecraft in the process. There have been few other directors during my lifetime who have struck that balance, between handling historical horror fiction with the utmost reverence and ensuring that it remains synonymous to his own brand, quite so masterfully.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: While not ever quite as relentlessly propulsive as Re-Animator, there was still more than enough schlock to satisfy our perverse desire to be sickened. Once Crawford’s distended pineal gland commenced craving, it was time to hold onto those cerebellums for dear life as his chosen extraction method via the eye socket was far less than hospitable. Any budding beekeepers may also find themselves looking over their shoulder anxiously after witnessing the whittling down 6″5 of dark destroyer in record time. Think I’ll pass on the Honey Nut Cheerios thanks. One thing I most certainly won’t be passing on is another brief flash of Crampton’s wondrous mammalia although it would appear that Pretorius was more into their repellant union than she. Boy does Barbara pick ’em.

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Read Re-Animator Appraisal

Read Dagon Appraisal

Read Society Appraisal

Read Faust Appraisal

 

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