With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Based on a 7-page short story by H.P. Lovecraft, From Beyond unleashed a loose adaptation filled with gooey creatures, phallic pineal glands, and body horror washed in neon pink haze. It also marked a reunion between director Stuart Gordon, screenwriter Dennis Paoli, producer Brian Yuzna, and actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, continuing their collaboration on Lovecraft adaptations, something that Gordon had hoped to continue in a series. Knowing how surreal he would push this creature heavy nightmare spectacle, effects artists John Carl Buechler and John Naulin were also carried over from Re-Animator.
Filmed in Italy with a mostly Italian crew to keep the effects-heavy production budget down, there were four separate effects teams that worked on the effects in From Beyond. With roughly 86 of the film’s scenes including special effects, you can bet each and every member was vital. Mark Shostrom (Evil Dead II, DeepStar Six, Phantasm II) was in charge of creature and prosthetic design for the largest creature of the film; the ever-evolving Pretorius creature. While some of the Pretorius creature effects were animatronic, many were also actor Ted Sorel covered in prosthetics and makeup. It was a job he was excited to take on, too, being the nephew of legendary Universal monster makeup creator Jack P. Pierce (The Wolf Man, Frankenstein).
Ted Sorel’s Dr. Edward Pretorius may have been the primary antagonist, an icy scientist that becomes less and less recognizably human as the story progresses, but his Pretorius creature isn’t the only one brought forth from the multi-dimension machine, the Resonator. Once flipped on, it allows those within range to see beyond reality into another dimension, and the other dimension to see into our realm, by expanding the pineal gland. It allows protagonist Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Combs), psychiatrist Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Crampton), and Detective Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree) to see floating eels, monstrous lampreys, and flesh-eating bugs.
The MPAA wasn’t a fan of the completed film and refused to grant an R-rating, in large part of the gore and sexuality (namely the S&M footage). More so, the team had to convince the MPAA that the pineal gland was a thing that actually existed; the MPAA was convinced that the little squirming thing that protruded from Tillinghast’s forehead was simply a penis. Naulin and crew had to show them that the pineal gland was not only a legit part of the brain, but their animatronic effect was designed to look like the true pineal gland. Gordon did trim a few of the more extreme shots, and so the MPAA finally did grant it an R-rating.
Proving the adage that artists bleed for their work, Naulin, who handled optical water tank creature creation and special makeup effects, got his hand caught between stage doors during production and severed two fingers in the process of trying to free his hand. The viscera and blood made Gordon pass out when he saw it. Luckily, both fingers were reattached, but it’s a fun anecdote worth sharing because Naulin was waist deep in water the very next day, shooting the scene that featured Tillinghast’s encounter with the mammoth lamprey in the flooded basement.
The fun thing about Lovecraft’s writing is that the creatures that haunt his pages are vague in description, leaving a wide margin for interpretation. Gordon, Yuzna, and their frequent collaborators take their interpretation to the best possible extreme. Slimy, gooey, creative, violent, and gory by way of darkness and humor. Gordon never quite managed to get the Lovecraft series going that he intended, but every time he would team up with Combs and Crampton for a Lovecraft adaptation, it was magic.