The sixth sense: From Beyond

19 February 2013

On DVD and Blu-ray from Monday, 25 February, Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna's 'From Beyond' a 1980s cult classic that still endures.

According to his assistant Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), Miskatonic University scientist Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) was a genius for whom five senses weren't enough, and who built The Resonator, a machine that stimulates one's pineal gland, in pursuit of a sixth. Pretorius is also back from the dead, his mind indivisible, as an "incredible creature" that has "total control of its body on a molecular level", after being beheaded by a similar beast when his invention opened a seductive but destructive parallel universe. Like a fly to neon as well as to shit, humans are indeed "easy prey", as From Beyond's tagline has it.

This 1986 body-horror classic, directed by Stuart Gordon and produced and co-adapted by Brian Yuzna from an H.P. Lovecraft story, is a delirious succession of provocative ideas and rich imagery. Before any literal gore is to be had, Tillinghast tells, in a direct address to camera, of how an alien bit Dr. Pretorius' head off "like a gingerbread man"; soon after, released from hospital into the custody of Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) and escorted by cop Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree), Tillinghast returns to the crime scene, in a laboratory situated on the ominously named Benevolent St., and gets pulled into The Resonator's sensory overload, as well as the grasp of Pretorius' shape-shifting, Hutt-like growler.

From Beyond's DVD and Blu-ray release comes courtesy of Second Sight, and the bonus features are generous indeed: an audio commentary with Gordon, Yuzna and Combs; separate interviews with co-writer Dennis Paoli, Barbara Crampton, Stuart Gordon; a photo montage as well as a storyboard-to-film comparison; features on directing the film, editing the film, composing music for the film and of course creating its effects; and subtitles (which spell Pretorius "Pretorious").

As its opening and subsequent credits sequence suggest, From Beyond is high on visual energy, with an emphasis on Mark Shostrom's suggestive creature designs and the special effects work upon the "reckless enlargement" of a pineal gland that sprouts through one's forehead like a curious, conscious sperm. Mac Ahlberg's lighting is a joyous palette of puce and deep pink - and there goes Foree running about in his red underpants! - while the sound design supports the slither-fest.

Somewhere along the way there's a backdrop that pits Dr. Bloch's (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) old-fashioned views on schizophrenia treatment against McMichaels' utopian beliefs on social integration, but the bottom line is Pretorius' uncontainable sex drive, which results in his own decapitation and consequently enthrals McMichaels - and by proxy Tillinghast and Brownlee - into libidinous submission. Only ostensibly driven by the quest for scientific discovery, Pretorius is debased and deformed by his own invention, which was built in the final analysis for his own unquenchable pleasures. And the real horror is that for a time here he may in fact have our sympathies.