Saturday, October 12, 2013

From Beyond (1986)

I've finally begun reading through H.P. Lovecraft's collected works this October, and when I came upon the short story From Beyond, I recalled that it had been adapted into a movie. So after reading the story - which has a great premise - I watched the movie. And the movie does take some liberties in adapting the short story to a feature-length film, but I think it's still a pretty good demonstration of Lovecraftian horror - particularly in the emphasis on the idea that there is much out there that humans don't understand, and that it is so horrible, that experiencing it leads inevitably to madness.

Lovecraft's original story is a bit subtler than the movie. The premise is that a brilliant scientist has built a machine that stimulates the pineal gland of the brain, enabling man to begin to sense the existence of creatures that exist all around us, in alternate dimensions. Some of these monsters are so horrible that simply perceiving them can drive one mad. The original story recounts the narrator's close encounter with this machine and the horrors it reveals to him, but the movie delves further.

As a result, it is less subtle, but it better satisfies the morbid curiosity one can't help but develop when presented with this premise. The narrator in Lovecraft's story survives by not looking at whatever monster is stalking him; at the same time, you want to see what it is. The movie shows you much more, and though the fx are wildly over the top and have an '80s movie quality to them, they are the greatest and most imaginative creature effects I've seen in a movie since John Carpenter's The Thing.

If anything, the movie suffers most from the need to tell a conventional narrative (this is where the succinctness and philosophical prose of Lovecraft's original prevails), but I cannot fault the movie for focusing on the human condition - how this ability to see beyond entices us, and how it transforms us (not for the better). I also appreciated the inclusion of a sexual element (for what is sex if not a sensual experience?), from a sadomasochistic "ultimate pain and pleasure" perspective that echoes Hellraiser in a good way.

From Beyond is not a perfect distillation of H.P. Lovecraft's style, but it is a good adaptation of one of his stories, and a prime example of the dark imagination that fuels his stories, and the influence and inspiration he's had on other artists in the realm of horror. Few movies boast the intelligence and spectacle that From Beyond demonstrates, and if in the end it is not quite a masterpiece of horror, it is wild enough to warrant remembering, and disturbed enough to cultivate nightmares.

No comments:

Post a Comment