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Is It Possible to Adapt H.P. Lovecraft's 'From Beyond'? || From Beyond (1986) Movie Review

From Beyond (1986) is director Stuart Gordon’s second H.P Lovecraft adaptation with Re-Animator (1985) being his first and his later work Dagon (2001) being his third Lovecraft based film. From Beyond follows Dr. Pretorius (played by Ted Sorel) and his assistant Crawford Tillinghast (played by Jeffrey Combs) the night that the doctor’s machine – The Resonator – finally kicks into action to display the existence of life on a plane parallel to our own. However, the cosmic creatures are incredibly hostile, leaving the doctor dead and Crawford as the sole survivor and assumed suspect for Dr. Pretorius’s death. Locked away to a mental institution, Crawford remains in solitary confinement for his sudden insanity when he meets Dr. Katherine McMichaels (played by Barbara Crampton), a psychiatrist who wishes to keep Crawford in her custody for the purpose of reigniting The Resonator and understanding Dr. Pretorius’s work. The film then follows Crawford, Dr. McMichaels, and Detective Bubba Brownlee (played by Ken Foree) as they set up camp in the old Pretorius mansion and reawaken terrible monstrosities which can only be seen by the pineal gland – a sixth sense in humans which has stays dormant until the correct sound frequency is played.

This film was an absolute treat for me to watch, so much that I’ve rewatched it three times since the initial viewing just for fun. From Beyond has everything from an enticing story to high quality practical effects to shocking and unexpected displays of body horror which gets progressively more insane as the film continues. Oh, and it has Jeffrey Combs who seems to be the perfect dorky protagonist for Lovecraftian movies of the 1980s (and I love him for it). While I’m a little familiar with Stuart Gordon, having seen Re-Animator an ungodly amount of times, I was not expecting what this film had to offer me. For example, I truly was not expecting body horror at all. However, this was a pleasant surprise as I felt the body horror added to the story taking place. In other words, it wasn’t placed there solely for the purpose of shock (although I’m sure it was one reason; it’s horror, the main goal is to shock and scare) rather it felt necessary to include with the direction the narrative goes towards. I found myself hoping for deformities and morphed human bodies before the first one was even shown – and when it was, I was ecstatic that the film would actually be going that far. And trust me, it does go a little ridiculously far when it comes to making the viewer uncomfortable and disgusted while looking at what should be a human body. If From Beyond never made the first step into body horror, especially early on like it did, I feel as if I would’ve been entirely disappointed in this film because body horror fits so perfectly within the plot.

I might not always plunge into discussing differences between a literary work and the film adaptation along with what works and what doesn’t within those differences. However, since I have studied H.P. Lovecraft and am familiar with his work and life I have a lot to say about Gordon’s adaptation of From Beyond. Also, I’m sure many in my audience wonder how faithful Gordon’s film is to Lovecraft’s original short story of the same title. Was it a reliable depiction? How far does Gordon stray from the source material? If this is not something that interests you, I’m sorry to say that my literary nerd brain is about to take over the entire rest of this review.

If you’re unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s work I feel it’s important to first note the nature of his narratives, especially his short stories which can be very, very short or very, very long; there is no in between. While he has written books and lengthy short stories (Herbert West – Reanimator being a longer short story cut into parts), many of his writings are also brief snapshots of madmen who have gotten too greedy in their search for unlocking cosmic secrets of the universe. Another way to put it is that Lovecraft often wrote more about horrific ideas which included a foundation in science and astrology rather than graphic, gorey, or classic depictions of horror one may be more familiar with. From Beyond is a great example of this as the original story consists of two characters, Crawford Tillinghast and an unnamed narrator, as they experience the horrific machine (unnamed in the original story) in action.

I won’t get too detailed on the narrative of From Beyond as I encourage others to read it for themselves; it’s brief and easily accessible online. But on a narrative level Gordon’s film and the original story are like cousins – they share the same ideas but are two wildly different narratives. Within the short story, it’s Crawford whose life obsession has become creating a machine and studying life on a parallel plane of existence and much of the story is Crawford rambling like a madman. While Gordon is focused on the visual horror which Lovecraft’s story could contain, the original story itself focuses more on the why behind the machine and Crawford’s actions. I found this helpful as the film doesn’t go over the why or the purpose in regards to The Resonator further than the fact that it allows others to see existence on a plane otherwise invisible to us. In fact, Dr. Pretorius is killed before the opening credits are shown. While he is seen again, the audience is never given the same kind of villain monologue which Lovecraft’s Crawford Tillinghast does. Crawford’s descent into madness within Lovecraft’s story is, as always, beautiful to read through; a mixture of complex words and ideas mingled with the insanity and mania of the character’s disposition is sophisticated and sinister. Perhaps my favorite line within Crawford’s monologue as to why his machine was invented is:

With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos, yet other beings with a wider, stronger, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have.

Despite the narrative differences, I believe Gordon’s film is still a faithful adaptation as well as an ambitious one.

Once one reads Lovecraft’s original story it becomes clear how difficult (and frankly anticlimactic) it would be to transfer visually with 90-100% accuracy. If Gordon’s film were a short indie film for a festival I might argue otherwise, but as a full feature film it would be difficult to retain the audience’s attention. I believe Gordon did great with the source material provided and even included small details from the story such as the ultra-violet rays and the jellyfish creatures. Likewise, Gordon expands the narrative of how or why The Resonator expands the pineal gland, which Lovecraft’s story only notes briefly. I believe Gordon is an excellent filmmaker within the Lovecraftian genre because while the narratives are different there was at no point where I felt as if I were watching someone else’s narrative with Lovecraft’s name plastered on for ticket sales. The nature of the story felt incredibly Lovecraftian despite only loosely being based on one of his stories. As mentioned before, the only other Stuart Gordon film I’ve seen at the time of writing this has been Re-Animator, another Lovecraft adaptation which takes the original story and reinvents it while still remaining faithful to the source. It’s very easy to tell that Gordon not only has a lot of passion for his own work, but has a lot of respect for the stories which he’s adapting.

H.P. Lovecraft was a lot of things and he wasn’t a great person as he believed Anglo-Saxons were the better race and all others (even including my lineage, the Italians) were lesser than. However, one positive trait he had was that he enjoyed when others took his original work and either expanded on it, told it from a different perspective, or straight up made parallel universes to his writing. Nowadays, there’s an entire subgenre of horror dedicated to expanding and exploring the world Lovecraft started. With that being said, I really do believe Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of From Beyond is something Lovecraft would have approved of and appreciated.

From Beyond -- A Tier

I desperately wanted to place From Beyond as my first S Tier film because of its gorgeous cinematography, disturbing nature and practical effects, and for the reason that I genuinely have no complaints with this movie. I’ve seen this film more times in a week than I’ve seen my own family (within a week, not in general) – how could I not place it in S Tier? However, the more I mulled it over I came to the decision that S Tier should be reserved for films that blow me away, or films that I lose sleep over (such as Skinamarink), or films that I regard as being the absolute cream of the crop. While I have nothing but praise for From Beyond, I wouldn’t say that it blew me away, nor do I lay awake at night ruminating on its contents. Maybe if I decide to revisit this piece in the future I’ll change my mind, but currently I’ll leave it in the second highest tier – A Tier. It exceeded my expectations and makes for an excellent creature feature, but I would not speak as passionately about this film as I might others. Still, it’s very enjoyable and disturbing, especially if you’re one to find pleasure in monsters, body horror, or if you love a good mad scientist story. From Beyond should absolutely be on your watchlist if it isn’t already.

From Beyond is available for streaming through Shudder, Amazon Prime Video, and MGM+ and is available for free streaming (with commercials) through Tubi and PlutoTV


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