Shadowvision: “FROM BEYOND”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
After this writer learned that Stuart Gordon was, at one point, entertaining his adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s RE-ANIMATOR being shot in black and white, I soon after gave the film a Shadowvision treatment. But while the green glow of West’s serum is undeniably iconic, the film itself is never necessarily defined by its color, at least not in a manner akin to Gordon’s later Lovecraft films. Thus, my mind began to wonder what Gordon flick I should next watch in monochrome, and if it would play as effectively as RE-ANIMATOR under this new lens. Lo and behold, the nearest Gordon title in HD to this writer was also the filmmaker’s chronological follow-up to RE-ANIMATOR: H.P. Lovecraft’s FROM BEYOND.
While the convenience of the title did make for an enticing option for this category, the film also featured the ingredients for a rather fascinating Shadowvision experiment after all. First of all, the visual style, SFX and heightened color scheme are all variables within the column with the potential to either make or break the black and white experience. Furthermore, the Lovecraft brand of dialogue, which often sounds like a horror-infused take on medical, scientific or psychological jargon, might match the classical, stripped-down monochrome design. And the film also carries strong yet heightened performances, which helps the film match up to other haunted house or science-gone-wrong titles of ’50s horror.
Technically speaking, FROM BEYOND’s adjustments are going to rely on your set-up entirely. While the film looks great even with just the image completely drained of color, standard definition set-ups will likely benefit from a slightly increased contrast to clear up some of the condensed and pixellated shadowing. However, those with high definition set-ups should be able to experience the black and white transfer effectively via basic desaturation.
Almost immediately, FROM BEYOND works wonders in black and white, with the shadowed science equipment shrouded as if in a TWILIGHT ZONE episode gone insane. From there, the black and white certainly elevates the atmosphere of the film, evoking Hitchcock, Wise and even Fritz Lang to an extent, especially once the in-camera effects come to life. And once the “transformations” come to light, the film almost takes on a monster movie construct, with Combs’ performance perhaps unintentionally offering a sympathetic and cognizant monster in the vein of Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN.
From top to bottom, FROM BEYOND feels like a much more precisely constructed and creepy film in black and white. While now deprived of it’s rich color scheme, Mac Ahlberg’s cinematography absolutely works in black and white, with the use of light as well as meticulously constructed camera angles creating an all-the-more engaging and eerie experience. Furthermore, John Carl Buechler and John Naulin’s SFX are not nearly as gross in black and white, appearing more organic and monstrous without necessarily seeming like disgusting ooze as it does in color. And like with RE-ANIMATOR, Richard Band’s score once again works wonders in monochrome, providing the film with a classically informed horror score that adds authenticity to the visual style.
Of course, not every moment of FROM BEYOND benefits from the black and white translation. First and foremost, the gore of the piece, while still effective, doesn’t resonate nearly as much, especially once Combs’ character gets a taste for brains. Furthermore, some of the more era-appropriate moments, such as when Foree and Crampton watch the doctor’s sex tape on the television, remind the audience of the intended time period and thus make those sequences somewhat tonally awkward. And lastly, the film’s final moments reflect a contemporary mindset with a cognizant edge that just doesn’t feel as epic or as creepy as the ending to RE-ANIMATOR in black and white.
One’s experience with FROM BEYOND in black and white will also have to do with how much one is beholden to the intended color palate. On one hand, the rich, purple-and-red color scheme of FROM BEYOND adds a dream-like fantasy to the film, which makes the heightened nature of the performances and set pieces all the more organic and beautiful. That color scheme also is used to warp the notions of reality and provide more unexpected moments, some of which feel inherently chaotic when matched to the bright colors on the screen. However, if you’re more of the mindset of the content over context, or substance over style, you might be more willing to take the film at face value and enjoy the film without color.
As a whole, FROM BEYOND is an impressive fright flick in black and white, and further insinuates Gordon as a filmmaker to recur throughout the Shadowvision column. From the atmosphere to the visuals to the score, there are many elements of FROM BEYOND that simply just work in monochrome and make for a fulfilling alternative viewing experience. If the film’s vibrant colors are essential to you, you might want to pass, but if you’re a fan of Gordon’s macabre take on Lovecraft’s mad science, black and white is one hell of a way to go.
Recommended for Black and White Consumption?: Yes.