Release Date(s)1986 (February 28, 2023)
Studio(s)Empire Pictures (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A+
Director Stuart Gordon made a name for himself with his debut feature Re-Animator, an audacious blend of H.P. Lovecraft, earthy humor, and Grand Guignol excess. It wasn’t so much of a Lovecraft adaptation as it was a complete Lovecraft reinvention, reflecting just as much of Gordon’s own imagination (plus that of as his co-writers Dennis Paoli and William Norris) at it did of Lovecraft’s. For Gordon’s sophomore release From Beyond, he returned to the Lovecraft well, but this time he let his imagination run even more free. Lovecraft’s original story is one of the shortest of his shorts, barely running 3,000 words. At best, it provided little more than a basic template and a prologue for Gordon’s feature adaptation. Fleshing that out fell to Gordon, Paoli, and producer Brian Yuzna, all of whom contributed ideas to Paoli’s final script—and they also added in a liberal dose of cross-dimensional sadomasochism that prefigured what Clive Barker would do in his novella The Hellbound Heart and the subsequent film Hellraiser. The result is hardly the most faithful Lovecraft adaptation in existence, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the most memorable Lovecraft films ever made. With a writing style as highly elliptical and allusive as Lovecraft’s, slavish fidelity isn’t always the best approach. Sometimes, you just have to let things rip, so Gordon & Co. did exactly that, and with a vengeance. If Re-Animator was Gordon Revealed, From Beyond is Gordon Unleashed.
Lovecraft’s story was about a scientist named Crawford Tillinghast, a mad genius in search of other planes of existence. To find them, he created a machine capable of stimulating the human pineal gland, allowing those affected by its resonance wave to be able to perceive the otherworldly horrors that exist all around us. The only minor hitch is that if you can see them, they can also see you. The tale is narrated by an unnamed protagonist, who becomes the reader’s portal into Tillinghast’s madness. Paoli’s script inverted that basic relationship, with Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) serving as the protagonist. His associate Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) is the actual creator of the Resonator, and when things go horribly wrong after it’s been activated, Tillinghast appears to be the sole survivor. He ends up being arrested for murder and shipped off to a psychiatric ward, where he’s placed under the care of Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton). When a CT scan shows that his pineal gland has taken on a life of its own, she has him released into her custody to investigate further. Together with police detective Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree), they all return to the scene of the crime to try to uncover what really happened. Yet the only way to prove Tillinghast’s innocence is to rebuild the Resonator and turn it back on again, which goes about as well as they should have expected. From Beyond also stars Carolyn Purdy-Gordon and Bunny Summers.
Re-Animator had been a showcase for practical makeup effects, with the actors buried under mounds of latex and gallons of fake blood. Yet all of that was still just a warmup for From Beyond, which to this very day remains the ultimate makeup artist’s wet dream. The gallons of blood were traded in for even more gallons of methylcellulose, with Gordon insisting that everything be covered with buckets of the slime. The story provided the perfect opportunity for everyone to let their imaginations run wild, and so From Beyond is filled with an untamed collection of fantastical creations, some of them vaguely drawn from Lovecraft’s short story, and others drawn from different Lovecraft works, but all of them really representing the whimsies of Gordon and his crew. Yet however much that they may have indulged themselves, there’s nothing really self-indulgent about it, since all of it serves to help create a genuinely otherworldly atmosphere for the film. That ambience is also aided by an unusual color palette that emphasizes pinks and purples—it may not be The Color Out of Space, but it’s an effective visualization of the colors from inner space. The challenge with adapting Lovecraft is that the author’s unimaginable horrors are by definition, well, unimaginable, but From Beyond is one of the few films that found a credible way to bring those incomprehensible horrors to life. Sometimes, the best way to adapt something is to transform it, and Gordon had a knack for doing just that.
Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg shot From Beyond on 35 mm film using Arriflex BL 35 III cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This version uses a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, cleaned up and graded for High Dynamic Range (only HDR10 is included on the disc). From Beyond ran afoul of the MPAA in 1986, so some of the sex and violence had to be excised in order to achieve an R rating. This is the uncut version, but unfortunately, the only existing source for the missing footage is a 35 mm workprint. The inserts from those have always been obvious in previous releases of the uncut version, and while they’re still noticeably different than the surrounding material here, they’re far less distracting in this iteration thanks to some much more judicious digital tinkering to help them to blend. Aside from those inserts, everything else looks free from any significant damage, and the fine detail is as well-resolved as it can be within the limitations of the film stocks that were originally used. It’s not significantly more detailed than the Blu-ray, although Tillinghast’s fuzzy sweater does seem perhaps a touch sharper in 4K, and the grain is generally better resolved. Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the production, it’s the HDR grade that offers the biggest differences. Those otherworldly pink and purple hues really glow in this rendition, and the contrast range has been strengthened. The overall saturation levels have been heightened, but that’s entirely appropriate for this particular film. The only minor issue is that despite the consistently high bitrate, there does seem to be some faint noise visible at times, primarily in backgrounds like the sky. It’s really noticeable in the scene outside of the hospital near the beginning of the film, especially on the wall behind Barbara Crampton’s head, as well as on the collars of Jeffrey Combs’ blue shirt. It’s not really present on the Blu-ray, so it seems to be confined to the HDR layer on the UHD. It’s also possible that it may not affect all displays, but it was visible projected via a JVC RS2000 (as well as an OPPO UDP-203). Your mileage will probably vary. Regardless, it’s a minor blemish that many people wouldn’t notice anyway.
Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. From Beyond was originally released in Ultra Stereo, a four-channel surround mix matrixed into two. The 2.0 track is a straightforward encoding of that matrixed mix, while the 5.1 version appears simply to be a discrete encoding of those original four channels, with mono surrounds, rather than any kind of a significant remix. Once the 2.0 has been decoded, there’s not much practical difference between the two, although the 5.1 does offer more precise steering. Either way, it’s relatively tame for an Ultra Stereo mix, with the surrounds primarily limited to light ambience and reverberations for Richard Band’s score. They’re a bit more active whenever the Resonator is turned on, but still only marginally so. The dialogue is always clear, although it doesn’t always integrate smoothly into the soundstage, since much of it was recorded via ADR. It’s a fine mix, but it’s not necessarily representative of the best that Ultra Stereo had to offer during that era.
Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K Ultra HD release of From Beyond is a three-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, plus a second Blu-ray with more extras. The insert is reversible, with new artwork on the front, and the original poster artwork on the back. There’s also a Limited Edition embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, designed by Tom Hodge, that’s limited to the first 7,000 units. Aside from the commentary tracks, all of the extras are confined to the Blu-rays only:
DISC ONE: FILM (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs
- Audio Commentary with Dennis Paoli
DISC TWO: FILM (BD)
- Audio Commentary with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs
- Audio Commentary with Dennis Paoli
- Re-Resonator: Looking Back at From Beyond (HD – 94:43)
DISC THREE: EXTRAS (BD)
- A Director’s Perspective (Upscaled SD – 8:53)
- Stuart Gordon on From Beyond (HD – 20:37)
- A Tortured Soul (HD – 17:47)
- The Doctor Is In (HD – 14:29)
- Paging Dr. McMichaels (HD – 19:51)
- An Empire Production (HD – 6:47)
- Multiple Dimensions: The Creatures & Effects of From Beyond (HD – 23:38)
- Monsters & Slime: The FX of From Beyond (HD – 20:47)
- Gothic Adaptation (HD – 16:05)
- Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons with Director Stuart Gordon (Upscaled SD – 9:01)
- Interview with Composer Richard Band (Upscaled SD – 4:34)
- Trailer (Upscaled SD – :58)
- Still Gallery (HD – 1:13)
The commentary with Gordon, Yuzna, Crampton, and Combs was originally recorded for the 2007 MGM DVD release of From Beyond, and it’s made the rounds on many other versions as well. It’s a congenial, freewheeling track recorded by a group of good friends, and while it may lack focus, it makes up for that with enthusiasm. They talk about some of the shots that were added for the unrated cut, with Gordon adding that there’s still more footage missing, but he couldn’t locate any of it. They also point out some of the in-jokes and Lovecraft references from other stories, such as the fact that they borrowed the Shoggoth from At the Mountains of Madness. They make a few dubious assertions along the way, like claiming that there’s some scientific basis for the discussions about the pineal gland in the film, and they do fall into the trap of reacting to what’s happening (they react hard to some of the added gore), but there’s still plenty of good information to be had here.
The commentary with Dennis Paoli was originally recorded for the 2013 Shout! Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray of From Beyond. Paoli calls it a “narration track” up front, and that’s not far from the truth, albeit with one caveat. He opens by quoting from Lovecraft’s story, and then continues by explaining the some of the differences between that and the way that he structured the script. He does indeed narrate what’s happening, even reading the credits aloud, though he offers a few thoughts here and there along the way. Unfortunately, he lets the film narrate itself far too often, so there are persistent gaps throughout the track. Describing what’s happening onscreen and frequent pauses are definitely two major commentary sins, but for those who are patient enough to look past them, Paoli does provide some analysis that’s different than anything in the group commentary.
Re-Resonator: Looking Back at From Beyond is brand-new making-of documentary produced by Brad Henderson, featuring new interviews with a broad cross section of the surviving cast and crew. That group includes Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Brian Yuzna, and Richard Band; editor Lee Percy; foley artist Vanessa Ament; effects supervisors Michael Deak and Anthony Doublin; plus effects artists William Butler, Gabriel Bartalos, John Naulin, and Robert Kurtzman. (There’s also an audio-only interview with effects artist Mark Shostrom.) They explain the conception and development of the project, as well as the challenges of shooting the low-budget production on soundstages in Italy. Appropriately enough, the bulk of the running time is spent covering the complex makeup and visual effects work, which required multiple crews to get everything completed. Among other amusing tidbits, they ended up having to mix a hundred gallons of methylcellulose on location in Italy, since that was cheaper than shipping barrels of the finished product in from the States, but methylcellulose has a limited shelf life, so things got a little rancid on set. They close by discussing the disappointment of the limited theatrical release from Charles Band’s Empire International Pictures, as well as the ultimate legacy of the film and Stuart Gordon. If you’re not familiar with the history of From Beyond, then this documentary is the best place to start.
The rest of the extras combine material taken from that 2007 MGM DVD, the 2013 Region B Blu-ray from Second Sight, and the 2013 Shout! Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. A Director’s Perspective and Stuart Gordon on From Beyond are both interviews with the late Master of Horror, recorded five years apart. (Note that Vinegar Syndrome’s packaging and menu designs misidentify A Director’s Perspective as being from 2013, but it’s definitely from the 2007 MGM DVD.) A Director’s Perspective is a standard interview, while Stuart Gordon on From Beyond intermingles its interview with an on-stage Q&A after an unidentified screening of the film. Gordon will have been gone for three years as of this March 24th, so these are both invaluable records of his thoughts.
A Tortured Soul is an interview with Jeffrey Combs, who talks about the very literal tortures of working with makeup effects throughout his career, and shares some of his experiences on From Beyond. Interestingly, he doesn’t consider it to be one of his better works. The Doctor Is in and Paging Dr. McMichaels are both interviews with Barbara Crampton, this time recorded only a year apart from each other, so there’s a bit more overlap between them. She also questions her own performance in the film, even though she still considers it her best role in any Gordon movie. An Empire Production features Charles Band, who considers the film from his perspective as executive producer and distributor. Gothic Adaptation has Paoli offering his thoughts about adapting Lovecraft’s story in far more concise fashion than he does in his commentary track. In the Interview with Richard Band, Charlie’s brother talks about his process of writing and orchestrating the score, breaking down some of the specific motifs that he used.
Multiple Dimensions: The Creatures & Effects of From Beyond and Monsters & Slime: The FX of From Beyond are featurettes focusing on the makeup effects in From Beyond. John Naulin and Anthony Doublin appear on both of them, joined by John Carl Buechler and Mark Shostrom on the former, and Gabe Bartalos on the latter. The presence of the late Buechler on Multiple Dimensions definitely gives it the edge, since he passed almost a year to the day before Gordon did, and it’s his only representation in this set. Once again, there’s naturally a bit of overlap between the two, but Buechler and Shostrom definitely provide a different perspective that makes both of them worth watching. Finally, the Storyboard-to-Film Comparisons with Director Stuart Gordon offers the director showing off his own hand-drawn storyboards for the film, followed by some split-screen comparisons with the final shots in the film.
That’s nearly everything of note from all previous editions of From Beyond, with one glaring omission: The Editing Room: Lost and Found, a brief featurette from the 2007 MGM DVD that covered the process of restoring the censored footage to the film. Not including it here is a defensible decision, though, since the technical information that it gives is completely inapplicable to this Vinegar Syndrome restoration. It still could have been offered for archival purposes, especially since it has more interview footage with Gordon, but it probably would have confused some people, even with a disclaimer. So, if you’re a completist, you’re going to want to hang onto your previous Blu-ray just for that one brief extra. (The only other thing that’s missing here is the German-language commentary track with film historian Marcus Stiglegger and H.P. Lovecraft expert Kai Naumann from the 2013 OFDb Filmworks Region B Blu-ray release of From Beyond, but that didn’t have English subtitles, and it’s never been included anywhere else anyway.)
That’s a wealth of archival extras, and one major new extra in the form of a feature-length documentary. Combine that with a 4K restoration, as well as an HDR grade that really does enhance the unearthly feel of the film, and this 4K Ultra HD release is the one to own. It’s well worth the upgrade if you own any of the previous versions of From Beyond, and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you? Time to rectify that situation. Stuart Gordon may no longer be with us, but his legacy lives on, thanks in no small part to boutique labels like Vinegar Syndrome.
- Stephen Bjork