From Beyond is a 1986 horror-science fiction film, directed by Stuart Gordon. It’s based on the short story of the same name by HP Lovecraft. The film takes a lot of liberties with the original story, particularly in the realm of adding T&A to the story, probably to increase the commercial appeal.
Lovecraft’s fiction generally revolved around the idea that there are hidden realms, just on the threshold of human perception, and his characters are simultaneously fascinated and terrified by these realms and their inhabitants.
The basic premise of the story and film is the invention of a device, “the resonator”, which makes an unseen world, which exists in parallel to our own reality, visible and tangible. The problem is that the device attracts creatures from this other realm and allows them attack people. In the film, the device’s creator, Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), is accused of killing and decapitating his colleague and financial backer, Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel). (Pretorius, incidentally, is the name of another mad scientist in the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein.)
Crawford, escorted by a psychologist, Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) and a police officer, Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree), returns to Pretorius’ house/laboratory to investigate.
One of the first things they find in Pretorius’ house is a fully stocked BDSM playroom, including a videotape of Pretorius whipping a woman in bondage. Pretorius commands her: “I want more yelling!”
Bubba comments, “This guy was into some weird shit.”
Katherine shuts off the TV. “I don’t care about his private life.”
Later on, Crawford, who has developed an odd crush on Katherine, watches her sleep at a desk. To Bubba, he says, “He [Dr. Pretorius] used to bring beautiful women here. They’d eat fine meals, drink fine wine. listen to music. But it always ended with screaming. And I would just lie there and listen to them. Screaming.”
Bubba: “Your boss had some screws loose.”
Crawford: “He was a genius. It’s just that the five senses weren’t enough for him. He wanted more.”
In this film, both sadomasochism and his Faustian experiment is a symptom of Pretorius’ decadent overindulgence in physical sensations, so much so that he seeks out new realms of experience. I think we’re supposed to see Pretorius as a sick person, not a consensual sadomasochist.
When Crawford turns the resonator on again, Pretoroius returns, apparently whole. He explains his decapitation by an unseen creature as, “A necessary rite of passage. Quite wonderful.”
Crawford, at Pretorius’ urging, touches him, and finds that his flesh is like clay.
Pretorius rips off his own face. “It’s just a body. But my mind is indivisible. Bodies change.”
Crawford turns off the device, banishing him again.
While Crawford and Bubba want out, Katherine is fascinated and says this could be the key to curing schizophrenia. When they sleep, Katherine wakes up and turns on the resonator again. Crawford tells her to turn it off, but she says, “No. I have to see more, feel more.”
Pretorius returns, partially transformed into a blob, and molests her. “I’m more than human. Join me forever. Everyone must join me.”
Bubba and Crawford battle a giant worm in the basement to turn off the circuit breakers, which sends Pretorius away. Katherine, traumatized, smashes parts of the machine.
In the dungeon, Katherine tends to the rashes Crawford got when partially swallowed by the worm. She still insists she can control the “experiment”, while Bubba says she’s acting like a junkie.
Alone (except for Crawford), Katherine tries out some of the bondage gear on herself. She opens a cabinet and finds fetish outfits. She strokes her face with a leather glove and starts stroking herself. She puts on a full leather fetish outfit and does her makeup in the mirror, including red lipstick. She gazes lustfully at herself in the mirror. This is the old idea that if a woman’s sexual drive is activated, she expresses this through a more sexualized self-presentation, rather than being an active sexual agent.
(Was Pretorius a cross-dresser too, or did he keep outfits for his subs? Wouldn’t they have brought their own? Or was he so controlling he acquired outfits for them to wear?)
Katherine molests the unconscious and helpless Crawford, his body covered with pink rashes. It’s implied she masturbates him, then licks her fingers, then straddles him. Bubba comes back, and is shocked. Katherine gives him a lustful look.
Bubba: “I told you to get dressed.”
Katherine strikes a sexy pose. “I did.”
She approaches Bubba, and tries to seduce him.
Bubba: “You’re asking for it.”
Bubba grabs her and shows her herself in an overhead mirror. “Look at yourself. Look at yourself! Is that who you are?”
Katherine covers her eyes, and looks away. “I don’t know. I don’t know who I am.”
At this point, the resonator turns itself on, despite Katherine’s earlier damage to it.
In the lab, Bubba is killed by extradimensional creatures, then Pretorius appears for the third time, now fully transformed and with a stalk coming out of his forehead. He attacks Katherine again.
Pretorius: “Humans are such easy prey.”
Crawford: “Let her go!”
Pretorius: “Oh ho ho, I will. Beyond her wildest dreams. She will go into my mind. And I will go into hers. It’s the greatest sensual pleasure there is.”
Crawford: “You never knew pleasure, or gave it. Only pain.”
Crawford moans in pain.
Pretorius to Crawford: “You are evolving into a being that has never existed before.”
Pretorius: “Let it happen, Crawford. Let it out.”
A pineal stalk emerges from Crawford’s forehead.
Crawford sees the scene solarized. “Oh, it’s so beautiful. So beautiful.”
Pretorius: “Now you can truly see.”
Katherine freezes the machine with a fire extinguisher, and she and Crawford finally leave the house.
After some misadventures at the hospital, Katherine and Crawford separately return to the Pretorius house. Katherine sets a bomb to destroy the resonator.
On her way out, Crawford grabs Katherine, drags her into the dungeon and chains her up. He says he loves her, and wants them to be together. He starts to eat her brain, but Katherine bits off his pineal stalk instead.
Crawford comes to his senses, somewhat, but Pretorius in monster form appears too, intent on Katherine. “The greatest sensual pleasure there is is know the desires of another mind.”
Crawford: “I know your desires, you impotent pig!”
Pretorius: “We are the most powerful being in the universe!”
Crawford: “She’ll know, Edward, how pathetic you are. How you can’t make love.”
Pretorius: “Maybe you could teach me.” He chases Crawford out of room.
At the climax, Pretorius transforms again and eats Crawford, but when he tries to do the same with Katherine, Crawford literally claws his way out of Pretorius’ body. The hybrid being fights itself, allowing Katherine to escape the explosion, albeit traumatized.
Despite the exploitative elements, From Beyond does have roots in its source material. Lovecraft was a New England Puritan at heart, and he avoided anything sexual in his work, while having an erotic relationship with knowledge, torn between wanting to know and fearing what that knowledge is. There’s an obvious parallel that Pretorius’ search for other realms of reality isn’t driven by his intellect, but by his libido. He orders Crawford, “I want to see more! More than any man has ever seen!”
This sets up a parallel with Katherine, who is implied to have done unethical experiments on patients to prove her theories, and says, “There’s always more to see.” and, “I believe in you, Crawford. I want to see what you saw.” Her intellectual attraction to the resonator and what it reveals is linked to her heightened libido, with disastrous consequences.
The film perpetuates two damaging myths about BDSM, which have turned up in legal and psychological discourse. The first is that the pursuit of greater sensations will necessarily escalate in intensity, overcoming any ethical or moral restraint. The second is that sadomasochism is necessarily incompatible with love. Pretorius, the decadent Faustian mad scientist, has gone too far, and brought ruin on himself and others. Katherine is only barely able to keep from sliding down the same slope.
We’ll see these myths in other films in this series.