Film Review: The Pineal (Phallus?) Gland’s Revenge

From Beyond (1986) directed by Stuart Gordon

Starring Jeffrey Combs, Ken Foree, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel

 Most horror film aficionados love Re-Animator, the first of Stuart Gordon’s many H.P. Lovecraft story adaptations for the big screen. Its follow up, From Beyond, is a lesser-known film, but in many ways superior to the original.

Both films have a lot in common. First and foremost is the performance of Jeffrey Combs, who plays (in both films) a scientist crossing over into unethical and unnatural research. In Re-Animator he is arguably the villain as well as one of the main protagonists; it’s his out-of-control research that invites the terror and splatter that follows. In From Beyond, however, his character is Crawford Tillinghast, now a resident at a psychiatric hospital following his research with his mentor, Dr. Pretorius (a wickedly delightful Ted Sorel).

Crawford wants nothing to do with the house in which they conducted their research; he fears most of all the resonator machine on the top floor, which, when activated, stimulates the pineal gland (or the third eye of mysticism), allowing human beings to see and be seen by creatures in parallel worlds. He claims the activation of the machine drove Pretorius mad and ultimately led to his death at the hands of some monstrous, unspeakable creature.

The opportunity to study Crawford’s apparent psychosis is too much to resist for Dr. Katherine McMichaels (the lovely Barbara Crampton), who arranges for his release on the condition that he accompany her to the house and show her the resonator. They are accompanied by a no-nonsense policeman (Ken Foree, who is the only one making relatively good decisions in the film), and spend several days at the site of the strange research.

Capture

The plot is predictable in its pacing, but the set pieces involving the resonator, human mutation, and sexual deviancy are anything but. The film, while quite funny at times, shocks with its unnerving, gross-out special effects. Fans of Re-Animator, Videodrome, or The Thing’s practical creature effects and body horror will squirm in disgusted delight. Everyone else will be suitably horrified.

The mushroom-trip visuals of the film, quick pacing, and outstanding practical creature and mutation effects, all make this a visual and aural treat for horror fans. From Beyond is an overlooked classic that pushes the limits of the visual medium of cinema—it’s a dark nightmare of absurdism, a grim portrait of humankind’s place in the cosmos, and quite simply the most fun you’ll have with some beers, popcorn, and a couple of friends on a Friday night.

My only real complaint about the film is the sexual bondage motif—it felt shocking for shocking’s sake, meant more to titillate than horrify. If you’re not much of a Puritan, it probably won’t bother you.

All in all, From Beyond is a superior film to Re-Animator, but both are in the same ballpark of greatness in the horror genre. Stuart Gordon doesn’t accurately adapt Lovecraft’s stories, but he does try to capture some of the tone of hopelessness and horror intrinsic in the writer’s work. If you enjoy the film, consider reading the original story here, which is much shorter, but provides plenty of tiny glimpses into a realm of madness and unholy un-life.

5/5 Phallic Snake Brain Glands (You’ll See What I Mean)

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