A breakdown of the parts of From Beyond would reveal the foundation of an old-fashioned haunted house film, but the combination of the right elements place the movie in a different part of the horror universe. You could say that this is the Combs/Crampton/Yuzna/Gordon/Lovecraft The Haunting to go along with their Frankenstein (Re-Animator, naturally), but simplifying either film into such a narrow comparison would be a disservice to the bizarre and manic energy that each film possesses.
In From Beyond, a doctor - who, for lack of a better term, seems "mad" - named Pretorius has created a machine known as "The Resonator" which aims to alter the user's perception of reality. The machine is set to stimulate the pineal gland, a real part of a real brain (not just some mumbo jumbo that the film created) which is involved in sleep cycles and other stuff. Dr. Pretorius believes that stimulation of this gland will basically let him see into other dimensions of reality, but he just wasn't prepared for what would happen next.
Also unprepared is his assistant, played by Re-Animator veteran Jeffery Combs. He again plays the unstable doctor, though his reasons for instability - in this case, seeing creatures from beyond reality and then seeing his coworker decapitated - set him up in a different role here. Enter doctor Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) and police officer Bubba Brownlee (Dawn of the Dead veteran Ken Foree), the former of whom decides to take the now committed Combs back to the house of the resonator and the latter of whom is their unfortunate escort.
Which brings us back to the "haunted house" aspect of the film. Like notable haunted house features (for example, The Legend of Hell House) this one requires a big piece of machinery to bring out the spooks. But the difference between the spooks of Richard Matheson and the spooks of H.P. Lovecraft is a lot of tentacles and plenty of goopy special effects, and From Beyond does not skimp in that regard. Several teams of special effects masters - including future Friday the 13th Part VII director John Carl Buechler - worked on the deranged special effects that are shown off throughout the film. These effects are led by the increasingly deformed visage of the returning Dr. Pretorius, but the most visually interesting part of the film to me (outside of Ms. Crampton, of course) is the shorn and shattered vision of Combs in the second half of the film.
Combs' turn is doubly impressive as his character actually moves through multiple roles in the film. He's a little bit Dwight Frye, a little bit Elisha Cook, Jr. and - eventually - a little bit Robert Englund, yet he nails all aspects of the role. Not to be completely overshadowed, Crampton also gets to play different types throughout the film. Most male horror fans remember her from the mid-film sequence in which she dons some leather and plays sex kitten, but she also gets to play scientist and damsel-in-distress on opposing ends of the film. The character who is bewitched by the macabre intrigue of their setting is a role that males often dominate in horror cinema, but it's Crampton's turn here and her obsession with the case early in the film sets up the twisted world of From Beyond beautifully.
I have to admit, I'm a relative newbie to the works of H.P. Lovecraft in comparison to other horror fans. But From Beyond, with its host of mutations, flying creatures, and phallic imagery, seems to fit perfectly with what I do know about the man's work. Director Stuart Gordon seems to always have a loving interest in the writer's bizarre vision, and From Beyond stands out as an entertaining and inventive adaptation of his work. With plenty of splatter to please the gorehounds and enough psycho-babble to keep the brain working overtime, From Beyond should please anyone who's looking for a bit of fun with a side of psychosexual splatter.