Barbara Crampton

Beyond the Gates

It was the 80’s retro throwback feel that initially drew me to Beyond the Gates. Well that and Brea Grant, who I have been having a bit of video love affair with and is once again delightful. Beyond Brea Grant, Beyond the Gates also features famous scream queen Barbara Crampton in a different kind of role for her. Which is a refreshing change, it’s nice to see director Jackson Stewart placing her in the strange role of the video host. Though Beyond the Gates isn’t all roses, as it takes a while for the retro feel to start going and the film’s bare bones, low-budget quality of the film at times feels like it’s holding the film back.

Estranged brothers, John (Chase Williamson) and Gordon Hardesty (Graham Skipper) reunite to clean out their alcoholic fathers video store after his latest disappearance. Which has lasted so long that he’s thought dead. While cleaning out the shop, Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) comes to visit and help. They break for the day and have an awkward run in with John’s friend Hank (Justin Welborn) while at the restaurant, eventually leaving rather than get into a confrontation. While in bed that night Gordon refuses Margot’s advances as he feels awkward about having sex in his fathers bed. While turning the lights out to go to sleep Gordon finds the missing key to the office. Which he explores the next day with John, inside they find a VHS board game, Beyond the Gates. They take the game home and along with Margot start playing. The video host (Barbara Crampton) spurs on the players and the players realize that by completing the game they may find John and Gordon;s father. But fist they have to survive the game and move beyond the gates…

While the film was overall okay, I found a few aspects lacking. Mainly it was how bland and apathetic feel. From the bar confrontation, to the brothers discussions on the father, to killing people for keys for the board game. None of them feel conflicted or even bothered by events that are happening. They just all roll along with what’s happening. Which makes them feel a bit like sociopaths.

The other issue the game, which overall I really like as I’m a fan of the VHS games being introduced to them via Atmosfear by a close friend back in high school. So as far as a game goes Beyond the Gates looks fun, you know, other than it being supernatural and would likely get me killed. My issue is the lack of why with the game. It’s origins are never explored nor is the purpose that it’s suppose to serve. Other than a cryptic warning at the end of the film.

I love the visuals in the film, the neon pinks and blues give a great atmosphere. One that’s as memorable as it is engaging. It was these moments that I found to be the most interesting, both for looks as well as tone. These visual elements are perfectly paired with the synthesizer music. Which is without a doubt is my favorite element of the film. I just with that it had been used more.

Final thoughts, it’s okay. Bland at times, but visually rich at others. The characters are hard to relate to due the emotional vacancy they possess. A lot of the films themes, family, alcoholism, among others is often touched on but never truly explored. Sadly to the films determent. If you’re looking for a terrifying horror film, I wouldn’t recommend Beyond the Gates. But if you’re looking for a low budget horror film with elements of an 80’s throwback then you might just enjoy this film. 6/10

From Beyond

MPW-33790From Beyond released in 1986 is an American horror film based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. A short story that’s only seven pages long and Stuart Gordon made great us of that level of creative freedom. So while really good film, I don’t really get an H.P. Lovecraft vibe. I found the story fun, but underwhelming. What really got my attention was characters, visuals and special effects. Which are all fantastic. So again, seven pages long. So I can easily understand the lack of atmosphere that makes me feel H.P. Lovecraft’s hand at play being somewhat absent here.

The film opens with Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) of the Miskatonic University, assistant Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) of  working on The Resonator. A machine that through creating a magnetic field that stimulates those within’s Pineal Glands, allowing them to perceive creatures that exist beyond our normal perceptibility. After getting the Resonator to work Crawford gets Pretorius, who activates the machine at full power. Mad with power… I think, Pretorius refuses to turn it off, causing events to transpire, that leave him dead and Crawford in jail under suspicion of Pretoruis murder. Crawford is admitted to a Psychiatric hospital due to his wild story and placed under the care of  Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton). After hearing his story, she orders a CAT scan the reveals Crawford’s Pineal Gland is growing. She manages to convince her colleges to release Crawford to her care and be allowed to return to Pretorius’s home and the Resonator. They go under the watchful eye of Detective Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree), the lead detective in Pretorius’s murder investigation. Crawford tells them of that night’s events before restoring the Resonator to working order and reactivating it. Crawford, Katherine and Bubba start to perceive the creatures while under the Resonators influence. After Bubba is attacked by an eel like creature, Pretorius appears telling them of a world beyond our own. Pretoruis then begins to transform into a grotesque being and never stops transforming over the remainder of the film. Panicked Crawford turns of the machine causing Pretorius and the creatures to vanish. The next morning Katherine suggests that they turn on the resonator again, something both Crawford and Bubba disagree with. While the others are sleeping, Katherine sneaks up to the attic and reactivates the Resonator. This wakes up Crawford, who reaches the attic as an increasingly monstrous Pretorius appears. He seizes Kathrine and prepares to consume her mind to bring into the world beyond. Crawford and newly awakened Bubba run to the basement to cut the power, but are confronted by a giant worm like creature. Crawford tries to face the creature, but is eaten. But he and Kathrine are saved when Bubba manages to kill the power. Crawford now wounded badly from being eaten is being prepared to be taken to the hospital, because no way is Bubba staying here. But before Bubba can get them out, Pretorius somehow reactivates the Resonator from beyond. The trio rush to the attack to turn it off, but are confronted by Pretorius and strange bee like creatures. The creatures swarm Bubba devouring him to the bone and Crawford’s enlarged Penial Glad sprouts free from his forehead. Kathrine manages to deactivate the machine by spraying it down with a fire extinguisher. Kathrine is admitted to the psychiatric hospital where she works, while Crawford still hasn’t waken back up. Crawford wakes up, now driven to kill and consume the Penial Glands of others by his own makes his escape, just as Kathrine makes her’s. Kathrine heads to Pretorius’s to destroy the Resonator for good and Crawford follows behind her…

So yeah, some weird shit happens and I absolutely love it. Because not only is this film a treat to look at. But the atmosphere, it does have is absolutely amazing. Stuart Gordon really shows his growth as a director since his previous film Re-Animator. The cinematography is simply fantastic here and I couldn’t have been more delighted.

Just like the cinematography, the acting is also top-notch. With the core cast did a fantastic job, with their on-screen performances being fluid and natural. In such a strange film it would have been easy to play it campy, and it does once or twice. But, you can tell the actors are taking this job seriously and brought their A game.

But I do have gripes. Mainly it’s the writing, sorry Dennis Paoli. Which is shaky in most places and thin in others. Not to say a story isn’t told here. Because one is and a good one at that. Just looking back, the run time feels empty and I wish the theme of body horror would have been further explored with Crawford’s character. As well as Bubba to be more affected by the effects of Resonator.  From Beyond is a good example of a film that could be improved by just a couple more revisions.

Final thoughts, it’s good. Hell I say its great even. Just not outstanding. Parts for sure are, but others not so much. The main cast is fantastic, but the supporting cast is incredibly forgettable. But the question to ask is how does this film work as a horror film? The answer is fantastically. You care for the characters because you can connect to them. So the terror easily translates to you and with the suspension of disbelief you’re there with them and the terrors they encounter. 9/10

Re-Animator

Re-Animator-posterI’m more than a little upset with myself that I allowed myself to go so long without watching this film. I’ve known about for what feels like forever, but for one reason or another I just never got around to watching it. Well, I can proudly say that’s no longer an issue, time was made and Re-Animator was watched. Watching Re-Animator for the first time, reminded me of the first time I watched Return of the Living Dead. Both films have this vibrant atmosphere that I have a hard time putting into words. Both films share a lot in common, flawless use of humor, memorable scenes and some of the best practical effects shots that I can think of. But if I had to choose a favorite between the two, Return of the Living Dead would win out, mostly due to my nostalgia tied to that film’s sequels. I really enjoyed that this Re-Animator is based on an H.P. Lovecrafts novella Herbert West-Reanimator and feel that more of his work should be adapted.  Re-Animator also stars Jeffrey Combs, whom will forever be Agent Dammers from the Frighteners to me.

Re-Animator follows Herbert West (Jeffrey Dammers), who moves to Arkham to attend to Miskatonic University to further his studies and re-search into re-animation, after the death of his mentor. West moves in with fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), who happens to be secretly engaged to/dating the dean’s daughter Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton). One night West re-animates Dan’s dead cat, which goes crazy, forcing the pair to kill it. West talks Dan into helping him with his research, something Dan is reluctant to do. As Dan doesn’t believe West’s claims, until West demonstrates on the Cat. Bringing it back to life again, this time as a gorey mess. Dan goes to the dean, Dr. Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson) informing him of what West has achieved.  Thinking the pair mad, Dr Halsey throws the two out of school and bars them from entering the hospital. That night the pair sneak into the morgue in an attempt to reanimate a corpse, to show Dr. Halsey and salvage their careers. The corpse comes back as a feral zombie creature, which attacks and kills Dr. Halsey when it comes in to confront West and Cain. After killing the zombie, West and Cain use West’s reanimator serum on Dr. Halsey bringing him back as a zombie, just not a frenzied, crazed one. Dr. Halsey’s care is taken over by his colleague Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), who discovers while doing expiatory surgery that  Halsey isn’t alive, merely reanimated. Dr. Hill goes West and confronts him his discovery, in an attempt to blackmail West for his research so he can have the credit. But West is having none of that and kills Hill by decapitating him with the shovel. West then reanimates Hills head and body separately, something that turns out to be a terrible idea. As while questioning Hills head, West is knocked out by Hill’s body. Hill then escapes with West’s notes and serum, fleeing to the morgue where he sends out Halsey to abduct Megan. Now with Megan in Hill’s clutches Dan and West must work together to stop Hill and his new army of reanimated corpses…

My favorite thing about this film defiantly the practical effects. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, films with practical effects age so much better than CGI does. Re-Animator is thirty years old (at the time of writing this) and still looks great, sure it’s a little campy. But that’s not the fault of effect, or even a flaw for that matter. The best shot I feel is with Hill’s head in the metal dish at the morgue. I feel asleep shortly after finishing this film and it was the only thing from the film to carry over into my dreams. By the way, watching this film and going straight to sleep is a great way to get some weird dreams, at least in my experience.

Something I wasn’t expecting was for the acting to be so damn fun. I won’t go as far as to call it great, but the performances are incredibly solid and entertaining to watch. If you’ve seen Return of the Living Dead and like the acting there, which has a very similar feel, Re-Animator is going to be a delightful watch for you. Dammers, Abott and Crampton, all do great jobs playing off each others energy.

Final thoughts, I really liked this film and really can’t think of anything I had an issue with. The musics fitting, the cinematography is good and the ending is great. That said the whole time I was watching Re-Animator I kept thinking of how much this film feels like Return of the Living Dead and that made me just want to watch that instead. But that’s just me and I still heavily recommend you watch this film should you find yourself with time to watch a true cult classic. 9/10