From Beyond

There are worlds that man should fear to tread. Worlds that man should never see. But in spite of these warnings, several years ago I found myself trapped in a horrifying otherworldly dimension; the women’s restroom at Target in Downtown Minneapolis.

Unlike most Targets the Target in Downtown Minneapolis is two stories tall, making it a bit of an engineering marvel for those of us used to the standard storefront footprint. Now the store really is no different then any other, merely cut in half and stacked on top of one another. But there is something about it that draws people to it. I will say this though; the specially designed escalator for the shopping carts is pretty darn impressive.

But as much as I would like to keep the focus on the physical structure of a big box retailer in a blatant attempt at diverting attention from my terrible decision making skills and inability to pay attention to my surroundings. You see, I left my companion with the simple plan of meeting up a few minutes later in the toy aisle, yet due to my inattentiveness I would not be seen or heard from for over a half hour.

You see I didn’t notice my mistake until I was well beyond enemy lines. If I had been lucky I would have been spotted as soon as I entered, would have been embarrassed, and promptly tucked my tail and ran. But instead the flank was left unsecured and I marched in, not realizing this tremendous breach in protocol until I opened a stall door and noticed a receptacle strong enough for a man but made for a woman. Then, before I could curse under my breath and hurry out, they came in.

A smarter, more assured, competent man probably would have just walked out, secure in the fact it was a simple mistake that could have happened to anyone. But I am not that man. No, I panicked like a frightened turtle and dove into my newly found protective shell, the bathroom stall. And as I sat there, terrified at my ridiculous predicament, the true horror began.

As I sat there I began to consider my limited options. Now that I was trapped I couldn’t simply make a run for it, as that would surely send up a red flag. And if I was discovered in the stall how I could ever explain such an absurd predicament. Simply stated, if I didn’t get out of there soon without anyone noticing, I was going to be having a nice, long conversation with the police. Thus I only had one recourse, to sit there and wait for an opening to flee.

You can’t imagine the terrors that creep into every crevice of your mind as you cower in fear in an unknown place. Sure it may not quite be a foxhole in Nam or an odd tale from gothic horror master H. P. Lovecraft, but it is close. Too close. I was double and triple checking if my shoes could pass for non-gender specific footwear, all while deftly avoiding any of the cracks so no one would discover little old bald headed me. I even had my own aborted escape attempt that resulted in me diving for cover. It was an experience so terrible I had night terrors for hours, nay days, afterwards. So while I may have never served a tour, I have read the stories, and let me assure you dear readers that I have been in The Shit, quite literally.

So you can imagine how deeply I was affected by the story of a man dragged innocently against his will into a world that is both terrifying and alluring. A world he should never have seen and he is desperately trying to escape from. A world of flying worm fish, bug headed aliens and interdimensional half-human monsters in to BDSM. All while a gigantic black man (the always awesome Ken Foree) looms outside my door, waiting to stop me if I try to escape. It was as if From Beyond was recreating every terrifying minute of my Target ordeal.

There is something strange happening on Benevolent St. Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs)has been hard at work trying to perfect Dr Pretorious’ (Ted Sorel) Resonator machine. The Resonator is designed to stimulate the pineal gland, believed by Dr Pretorious to be the key to seeing into the 4th Dimension. But once the machine proves to be a success, Tillinghast and Pretorious discover that something evil is lurking in the 4th Dimension, and thanks to The Resonator, it can now see them.

From Beyond is an odd little duckling, it skirts near science fiction and is plenty gory, but it really never approaches what most would consider horror. It has more then just a few elements that are purposefully campy, yet it will probably always be viewed as the red headed step-child of Re-AnimatorFrom Beyond is a film that should be entered into with a few expectations as possible, as the film so often defies logic and skirts convention then veers onto truly absurd directions that it can’t possibly be what you were hoping for. But once you realize its limitations you will find From Beyond still manages to be immensely entertaining.

From Beyond’s greatest gift is the always fantastic Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), a man who is far superior the actor to B-movie legend Bruce Campbell (I love Bruce but let’s be honest here, Combs can act circles around The Chin), but with no where near the name recognition. Combs once again excels as Crawford, a man initially excited by the possibilities presented by The Resonator, yet he struggles with his sanity once he is exposed to its horrific nature. While Combs typically excels in creating iconic quirky characters that will leave an indelible mark on the viewers minds due to their truly bizarre stagnant nature, in From Beyond Combs is allowed to slowly transform throughout the course of the film. First as an eager Poindexter, then as a crazed schizophrenic, before eventually turning into a man helpless to resist his enlarged pineal gland as he uncontrollably feasts on brains. Delicious brains. Combs’ go for broke style meshes perfectly with the bombastic script, resulting in a performance that can scarcely be believed even after it is seen.

The puppeteer for this act is the under appreciated Stuart Gordon. While similar styled schlock directors like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson have gone on to worldwide acclaim by abandoning much of their bizarre and graphic beginnings, Gordon has fiercely clung to his niche and remained in relative obscurity as a result. But make no mistake, Gordon is just as talented a director, and teamed with his muse they make an incredibly dynamic and entertaining duo. As a result From Beyond is bursting with energy, and it rarely gives the viewer more then a few moments to catch their breath. Gordon recognizes the story is limited, and instead focuses on sheer visceral nonsense to keep the audience from ever catching up.

But what could possibly be going on in From Beyond that would throw audiences for such a loop? Well, what starts as a simple science fiction based gore film quickly morphs into a BDSM picture for no explainable reason. From there the sexual nature of the seemingly unrelated earlier scenes of BDSM become strewn throughout the remainder of the film, even as monsters start eating everyone and Crawford attacks brain pans as if they are a Slurpee. Sure, you may think you are ready for a trip through the 4th Dimension, but once you realize that means watching people with sentient penises protruding from their foreheads, you will realize that Gordon is the one truly steering this ship.

The bizarre mix of overt sexuality and rampant cannibalism is both disturbing and impossible to turn away from as the viewer becomes powerless to resist the gory perverted charms of From Beyond. The conflicting signals of a turning stomach and pulsing genitals is somehow as perfect a match as chocolate and peanut butter. Only this guilty pleasure is both messier and far more enjoyable. On a saner note, after watching the film you won’t even have to worry about being questioned by the police afterwards, unlike a trip to your local Target.