From Beyond (Stuart Gordon 1986), adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘From Beyond’ (1934)

frombeyondposter4[The last of the pieces written for that book on sf adaptations that never appeared]

Written in 1920, ‘From Beyond’ is an early, minor Lovecraft story. Crawford Tillinghast’s new invention stimulates the ‘unrecognized sense-organs that exist in us as atrophied or rudimentary vestiges’, enabling him to perceive the ‘strange, inaccessible worlds … at our very elbows’ (90). The narrator, summoned by Tillinghast, finds his previously stout, clean-shaven friend a dishevelled, muttering, yellow-skinned shadow of his former self. After switching on the machine, Tillinghast warns the narrator not to move, because the rays that enable them to see beyond also make them visible to whatever exists there. As the narrator’s ‘augmented sight’ (95) develops, he perceives roiling clouds, a temple, the cosmos, ‘huge animate things brushing past … and occasionally walking or drifting through my supposedly solid body’ (94–95), another realm ‘superimposed upon the terrestrial scene much as a cinema view may be thrown upon the painted curtain of a theatre’ (95). The laboratory fills with ‘indescribable shapes both alive and otherwise’, with ‘inky, jellyfish monstrosities which flabbily quivered in harmony’ with the machine’s vibrations (95). The ecstatic Tillinghast has ‘seen beyond the bounds of infinity’, ‘drawn down daemons from the stars’, and ‘harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness’ (96). The things pursuing Tillinghast come for the narrator, who shoots the machine. He passes out and Tillinghast suffers a fatal apoplexy. The narrator can never forget the teeming, invisible world around him, or shake the feeling that something hunts him still.

Following the success of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985), adapted from Lovecraft’s ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ (1922), Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, its US distributor, offered Gordon a three-film deal. Gordon pitched an adaptation of Lovecraft’s ‘Dagon’ (1919) but Band preferred one of his alternative suggestions, ‘From Beyond’ (Gordon would eventually make Dagon in 2001). Since Lovecraft’s story is little more than a single scene – and one that would be prohibitively expensive to film – Gordon, screenwriter Dennis Paoli and producer Brian Yuzna adapted it as the opening sequence: Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) switches on the Resonator for the first time, and a piscine creature, swimming through the air, attaches to his face like some monstrous leech, tearing open his cheek; when his boss, Dr Pretorius (Ted Sorel) – named after Ernest Thesiger’s wonderfully queer mad scientist in Bride of Frankenstein (Whale 1935) – activates the Resonator, something tears his head off. We are not shown Pretorius’s demise. It is the last time the film will show such restraint.

Lovecraft’s unseen realm, populated by fragmentary teratalogical wonders, can be interpreted as figuring all that is excluded from what Jacques Lacan calls the symbolic order; and weird intrusions from there can be understood in terms of what Julia Kristeva describes as the abject – things that are neither subject nor object, neither living nor dead, and which are often associated with female bodies and queer sexualities. Although From Beyond now seems quite innocent, twenty-five years ago its escalating and increasingly elaborate special effects sequences looked like a handbook of post-structuralist psychoanalytic theory.

Tillinghast is committed to an asylum run by the draconian Dr Bloch (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon), named after Lovecraft’s friend and protégé, Robert Bloch. The police hire ‘girl from-beyond2wonder’ psychiatrist, Dr Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), to determine whether Tillinghast can stand trial. Along with the cop Buford ‘Bubba’ Brownlee (Ken Foree), she takes him back to the house, where she discovers evidence of Pretorius’s BDSM predilections and reconstructs the experiment that, according to Tillinghast, released whatever killed his mentor. A toothed, tentacled creature attacks Bubba, and Pretorius returns, monstrously transformed, before Tillinghast can switch off the machine. McMichaels, sexually aroused by the Resonator’s stimulation of her pineal gland, is compelled to turn it back on. Pretorius returns in even more hideous form. The enormous slug-like creature that sucked his head from his shoulders fastens on to Tillinghast, tearing of his hair before the Resonator is again switched off. McMichaels, fascinated by the BDSM clothes and equipment in Pretorius’s room, dresses up in dominatrix gear and attempts to have sex with the unconscious Tillinghast and with Bubba. Her sexual energy reactivates the Resonator, unleashing locusts that strip Bubba’s flesh to the bone. Returned to the asylum, the mutating Tillinghast becomes hungry for human brains. He sucks out one of Bloch’s eyes and eats her brain through the socket. McMichaels and Tillinghast return to Pretorius’s house for another extravagant display of sexual apparatuses and gloopy special effects before the Resonator is destroyed.

From Beyond never quite achieves the gleeful excesses of Re-animator, although that did not prevent the MPAA refusing it an R certificate three times before finally approving a cut. Nor did it enjoy the same critical and financial success or cult afterlife. Its prosthetic and make-up effects were soon surpassed – not least by Screaming Mad George’s work on Yuzna’s Society (1989) three years later – and its use of lurid purples and greens whenever the Resonator is switched on now seems like some archaic VHS aesthetic.

Although the original story lacks the adjectival proliferation associated with Lovecraft’s relentlessly failing specificity of otherness, the film’s comic tone detracts from the special effects’ ability to convey the gross materiality that Lovecraft strove to catalogue. Gordon is not concerned to replicate the critical seriousness of Videodrome (Cronenberg 1983), but his slapstick humour is not as well developed or focused as that of the young Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. From Beyond’s more salacious content lacks the shock-value of Re-animator’s notorious cunnilingus scene, while its elaboration of Lovecraft’s sexual undercurrents pales in comparison to Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987). But it is still worth watching, if only for Combs’ remarkable performance. He is adept at conveying with just his eyes the eagerness, hope, anxiety and inarticulate regret of a young man a long way out of his depth. The intensity he brings to the role contrasts with the blandness of everyone else in the cast. It is as if he really has seen beyond and knows more than he should.

References
H.P. Lovecraft, ‘From Beyond’, in H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus 2: Dagon and Other Macabre Tales. London: HarperCollins, 1994. 89-97.

 

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120 years of sf cinema, part eight: 1995-2004

2015 marks the 120th anniversary of sf cinema. This is the eighth part of a year-by-year list of films I’d recommend (not always for the same reasons). Part one (1895-1914), part two (1915-34), part three (1935-54), part four (1955-1964), part five (1965-74), part six (1975-84), part seven (1985-94)

1995015-the-city-of-lost-children-theredlist
Atolladero (Óscar Aibar)
La cité des enfants perdus/City of Lost Children (Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
Kôkaku Kidôtai/Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii)

1996
Rubber’s Lover (Shozin Fukui)
Space Truckers (Stuart Gordon)

1997event_horizon_gravity_drive
Abre los ojos/Open Your Eyes (Alejandro Amenábar)
Conceiving Ada (Lynn Hershman-Leeson)
Cube (Vincenzo Natali)
Epsilon (Rolf de Heer)
Event Horizon (Paul WS Anderson)
Face/Off (John Woo)
Gattaca (Andrew Niccol)
Nowhere (Gregg Araki)
Smilla’s Sense of Snow (Bille August)
Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven)
The Sticky Fingers of Time (Hilary Brougher)

1998movie-of-the-day-blade-L-1tZSBX
Blade (Stephen Norrington)
Dark City (Alex Proyas)
Last Night (Don McKellar)
New Rose Hotel (Abel Ferrara)
Pi (Darren Aronofsky)
La Sonámbula (Fernando Spiner)
Velvet Goldmine (Todd Haynes)

1999Ubergonzo
eXistenZ (David Cronenberg)
Muppets from Space (Tim Hill)
Spectres of the Spectrum (Craig Baldwin)
Wild Zero (Tetsuro Takeuchi)

2000
Batoru rowaiaru/Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku)
Donggam/Ditto (Jeong-kwon Kim)
Happy Accidents (Brad Anderson)
Pitch Black (David Twohy)
Possible Worlds (Robert Lepage)

2001billy-zane-and-cq-gallery
The American Astronaut (Cory McAbee)
Avalon (Mamoru Oshii)
CQ (Roman Coppola)
Electric Dragon 80,000 V (Sogo Ishii)
Hey, Happy! (Noam Gonick)
Kairo/Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

2002
2009: Lost Memories (Si-myung Lee)
Cypher (Vincenzo Natali)
Rokugatsu no hebi/A Snake of June (Tsukamoto Shinya)
Teknolust (Lynn Hershman-Leeson)

200328sl3
Akarui mirai/Bright Future (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Bedwin Hacker (Nadia El Fani)
Dopperugengâ/Doppelganger (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Jigureul jikyeora!/Save the Green Planet (Joon-Hwan Jang)
Koi… Mil Gaya (Rakesh Roshan)
Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women (Manish Jha)
Patalghar (Abhijit Choudhury)
Le temps du loup/Time of the Wolf (Michael Haneke)

2004
2046 (Wong Kar-wai)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry)
The Final Cut (Omar Naim)
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Mamoru Oshii)
G.O.R.A. (Ömer Faruk Sorak)
Primer (Shane Carruth)

part nine, 2005-14

752.original