It’s a truth well accepted that there are three truisms of the works of HP Lovecraft. Firstly, that they were pivotal in creating modern horror and, to a great extent, modern sci-fi. Secondly, that they often show quite how much of a bigoted dickhead he was. And, thirdly, that they shouldn’t be committed to film because he was all about the cosmic horror of what you couldn’t see (and not that he hit on a cheap way of making the reader do all the work). Well, Stuart Gordon (Director) and Jeffery Combs (actor) put paid to that, twice!, with 1985’s Re-Animator and, ridiculously quickly, 1986’s From Beyond. Re-Animator is, justifiably, more known, but From Beyond is more “out there”, plus it’s on Netflix right now and I wanted to use it as the first Trash Or Treasure LIVE!
The setup for the movie is pretty straightforward: Dr Pretorius (Ted Sorel) has set up a machine that lets you see beyond the realms of what mortal man should know, mostly for shits and giggles. His assistant, Dr. Crawford Tillinghast, quite rightly thinks it’s all going wrong (as suggested by the constantly sinister purple light kicking off from its Tuning Forks Of Doom) and does a legger when it all starts going really, really wrong. The neighbors of (I shit you not) 666 Benevolent St. call the cops on the mad scientists for opening voids into other realms at unreasonable hours, and the moderately innocent Tillinghast gets nicked when the body (but not the head) of Pretorius is found.
Tillingshast then does the second stupidest thing possible: telling the police the truth, which results in him getting carted off to the nuthouse. He’s then put under the supervision of Dr. McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), who does the stupidest thing possible by calling in Officer Brownlee (Ken Foree) to join her and Tillinghast at 666 Benevolent St. (an address too bobbins not to repeat) to find out if any of his story is true. Once in the world’s most obviously evil house, neither ominous foreshadowing nor sadistic sex apparatus, nor even round one of demonic horror happenings, will get them to leave! Which is, as said, bloody stupid for them, but excellent for us as it means we get a whole load of psychedelic body horror to chew through.
The gore, lovingly crafted by John Carl Buechler and John Naulin, make up for the silliness of the plot in absolute spades and are the real selling point of it all. Everything is just the right side of slimy and, especially with the now mutated Dr. Pretorius, manages to be unpleasant in ways you just can’t put your finger on. It’s not especially bloody, or horrific: it’s just bad and wrong because “urgh, no!”. For the 80s it was spectacular stuff, giving the director confidence to show a ton of it straight to the camera. Also, because it was all done by practical effects it carries a weight that a remake would probably lose along the way. Some of that weight definitely comes from the cast selling the shock and revulsion, as they are all wonderfully committed to their roles.
The story also manages to have some really unnerving bits through its usage of sexuality. Dr Pretoruis is presented as being a dedicated sadist, and once Dr McMichaels is exposed to the powers of the beyond she too develops similar appetites. But this is presented as possession and loss of her true self, which leads to the conceptually impossible situation of Barbara Crampton not being attractive whilst wearing some incredibly sexy and overengineered leather underwear. Obviously, the stills are collectors’ items, but in the moment it’s horrific rather than arousing and shows a delicate touch of direction that you wouldn’t expect. Fans of the male form also get a similarly decent eyeful with Ken Foree in his prime running around in his pants and being chased by a very interested camera, which is ridiculously progressive for a movie of that era.
None of this gets away from the fact that it is sensationalist horror, pure and simple. For all its showboating, it’s a vehicle for some incredibly compelling special effects justified by some bloody silly dialogue. The film carries its head high and takes itself seriously, just enough to avoid winking at the camera and stepping into the world of comedy. And that gives the whole affair a charm that knocks it above the sum of its parts. It’s a wild, daft, visceral, and predictable ride but there is enough imagination and intelligence to keep you glued to it and to remember it fondly once done.
But don’t just take my word for it. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix Party, I can confirm that three members of the Bunkazilla Stomp Grounds watched it with me and all gave it the accolade of “Treasure” when doing so. The Chrome Extension, released just in time for everyone in the UK to go into Covid-19 Lockdown, does two things that go some way to giving you a virtual group sofa to hunker down on. Firstly, it syncs up your watching so that all of you are at the same point in the video. Secondly, it gives you a one-shot chat channel to throw up comments and quips via. Yeah, you can’t pass the popcorn, but it’s a pretty good experience and avoids the problems of tracking comments and threads that such events on Facebook or Twitter have. I’m not too sure how well it’ll work with large groups, and it’s not as preformative for social media as other platforms, but I’m happy to find out.