*. Why did this team — director Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton — give or take individual members, keep returning to the works of H. P. Lovecraft? After all, they changed the actual stories so much as to make them virtually unrecognizable. Indeed, in some cases they seem to have only kept the characters’ names.
*. Roger Corman had taken the same liberties with the works of Poe in his Poe cycle, and apparently Gordon had the idea of doing the same with Lovecraft. This doesn’t, however, explain the particular attraction Lovecraft had.
*. I think the main draw was that it was material that was in the public domain that had name recognition. The titles were even sometimes presented as H. P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond, H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, etc. At the same time, however, the stories were not sources that people were too familiar with or particularly wed to.
*. As an added bonus, with Lovecraft you got tentacles. Lovecraft is all about ropey, grasping tentacles. For some reason these movies really like tentacles too. They almost make a fetish of them. So there was something that was simpatico there.
*. There is one consistent, and glaring, digression from Lovecraft they make (I’m still talking about the Gordon-Yuzna Lovecraft films in general here). That has to do with sex. Most of these films have an enlarged and explicit sexual component, but sex was never big for Lovecraft. Or at least, it wasn’t big on the surface. Biographers and literary critics like to speculate on the meaning all those tentacles might have had in the mind of someone so repressed.
*. Of course there’s nothing new about erotic horror. Dracula was a sexy guy. The Wolf Man was the awakened id. Around this time, however, horror was getting downright kinky. A year after this movie was released Hellraiser came out, which played up the S&M angle even further. In fact, they’re very similar films in many ways, with horny devils from another dimension and women who get turned on by all that nasty stuff. For Dr. McMichaels the “resonator” is clearly some kind of proto-orgasmatron.
*. As with the famous scene of “the head giving head” in Re-Animator, the envelope here is pushed pretty hard. I mean, Katherine giving Crawford a handjob and then licking her fingers is pretty darn explicit.
*. Aside from the sexual angle though there’s nothing much of interest here. Lovecraft’s story is done before the credits start to roll. The plot basically just exists to show off a bunch of gruesome effects involving people’s bodies melting in grotesque ways. And pineal glands that sprout like erections from foreheads. And tentacles.
*. At the beginning of the movie (right after the credits) Dr. Bloch leaves her keys in the door to Tillinghast’s cell when she leaves. I thought they were going to make something out of that, but I guess it was just a slip.
*. It’s not a scary movie but it does have some fun moments. Bubba (Ken Foree, who was Peter in Dawn of the Dead) fighting the monster in his red Speedo-underwear. Crawford sucking out eyeballs. Just hearing the name Dr. Pretorius (in the story Tillinghast is the mad doctor while the Jeffrey Combs character is unnamed).
*. But basically it’s an effects film. Given the date and how cheaply the film was made (in Italy, where the producers could really stretch a buck), we shouldn’t expect too much from those effects today. Some of them, especially the floating fluorescent eels, look pretty bad. There’s also none of the sense of transgressive danger that would energize Hellraiser and make that movie such a game-changer. From Beyond doesn’t ask us to take it seriously, because that’s not how it takes itself.