In the second installment of my series shedding a spotlight on lesser-known genre entries in relation to their more attention-getting contemporaries, I take a look at two early-period Stuart Gordon films: the popular 1985 Lovecraft adaptation Re-Animator, and the considerably less-popular but also-excellent 1986 Lovecraft adaptation From Beyond.
Given that both films are highly successful in merging the splatter with the side-splitting, why is it that Re-Animator is held in such high regard while From Beyond has largely been relegated to “second-banana” status? Inside, you can check out my argument for why the former could stand to share a little more recognition with its redheaded step-sibling.
Beloved Favorite: Re-Animator (1985)
Number of votes on IMDB: 14,340
The Plot: A medical student gets in over his head when he begins assisting his odd-duck roommate in experiments focused on reanimating dead tissue.
Why it’s so celebrated: Still widely considered director Stuart Gordon’s greatest work to date, Re-Animator was not an enormous hit on its initial theatrical release but has developed a considerable and devoted cult following in subsequent years. It went on to spawn two sequels (neither of which the director returned for) and more recently Gordon’s extremely well-received L.A. stage adaptation Re-Animator: The Musical, which has been enjoying sold-out performances and a boatload of rave reviews since it opened. Continued fan interest in the property isn’t exactly surprising at this point; over 25 years since its debut, Re-Animator is regularly cited as one of the greatest independent horror films ever made, and one of the few that managed to successfully capture the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work.
Why it’s time to back-burner it for awhile: Though Re-Animator is absolutely deserving of the praise it’s received over the last couple dozen years, it also seems to suck up almost all the attention from the rest of the films in Gordon’s oeuvre. This is a shame, as the director has helmed several other top-notch works of horror that also deserve recognition but nevertheless consistently reside in Re-Animator‘s shadow. It’s about time we re-focused some of that love onto one of Gordon’s other, less-celebrated genre entries for a change. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and recommend…
Underappreciated Also-Ran: From Beyond (1986)
Number of votes on IMDB: 4,748
The Plot: Two scientists get in over their heads when they develop the “Resonator”, a machine with the power to open the gates to another dimension by stimulating the human pineal gland.
Why it’s not so celebrated: While From Beyond is one of Gordon’s better-known efforts, the amount of audience appreciation it receives still pales in comparison with that of Re-Animator. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that although the former film proved a minor success at the box-office (grossing about twice its production budget on initial release), From Beyond made back less than a third of its $4.5 million price tag theatrically. In addition, though it was generally well-received by critics, it nevertheless failed to garner the level of praise enjoyed by its predecessor.
Why it deserves a revisiting: Not only is From Beyond almost as good as Re-Animator (and arguably equal to it), it’s also a superb companion piece to that film. Released only a year apart, both movies take the works of H.P. Lovecraft and gleefully update them into modern-day settings, all while imbuing their outlandish concepts with a blackly comic sensibility. Both also enjoy the benefits of a game cast (Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton star in both movies), phenomenal practical effects work, and several gruesome sequences of over-the-top gore that are often ladled with sexual overtones (particularly those featuring the sex kitten-ish Crampton).
None of this is to say that From Beyond is an exact replica of Re-Animator, for while it’s tonally similar it’s also perhaps even more outlandish in both concept and execution. For one thing, it ventures much further into the realm of “body-horror” than the latter film ever did, featuring as it does some of the most exuberantly disgusting “human-to-what-the-fuck-am-I-looking-at” transformations ever committed to celluloid. Indeed, in many ways the film actually one-ups its forebear for pure wall-to-wall outrageousness; though Gordon will likely never top the infamous “severed-head cunnilingus” scene in his previous film (a tough act to follow if there ever was one), From Beyond features perhaps an even more bountiful supply of sheer gross-out horror moments. Also, if you straight dudes thought Crampton was foxy in Re-Animator, just wait `til you get a look at her in bondage gear.