From Beyond (Unrated Director’s Cut) is based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft in which a “mad scientist” type, Dr. Pretorius, develops a machine, “the Resonator”, a device which looks a whole lot like a giant Van De Graf generator, which allows human beings to see and otherwise have contact with strange and horrible creatures from an alternate dimension by giving off sound waves or vibrations stimulating the pineal gland in the human brain.  Most of these alternate-dimensional creatures as depicted in the movie (special effects in 1986 were not what they are today) seem to be jellyfish and trilobite-type things that swim in the air as their earthly counterparts swim in the water.  The problem is that in this invisible world there are some things larger and more dangerous than ethereal jellyfish, and that one of those “things” killed Dr. Pretorius by literally biting his head off. 

However, when Dr. Pretorius’s assistant, Dr. Tillinghast, tells that story to the legal system, he initially gets charged with the homicide of Dr. Pretorius, but then, as the investigating detective points out, it becomes known that the ax with which Tillinghast supposedly decapitated Pretorius is distinctly lacking in blood evidence.  What to make of Tillinghast’s story about the pineal-gland stimulating technology, the strange creatures, and the interdimensional being that attacked his colleague?  Tillinghast gets sent to the mental health system, where he  gets diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and waits for the arrival of a second doctor to concur on the issue of whether he is to be considered fit to stand trial (technical sanity for the purposes of the legal system and good mental health in an absolute sense being two different things). The psychiatrist who runs the facility in which Tillinghast is being held considers the new doctor, who is known for doing experiments on patients and embracing unusual theories about schizophrenics, ethically dubious as well as ineffective.  Dr. Bloch, hospital administrator, takes a dim view of experimentation upon patients, and holds to the traditional way of handling schizophrenics, institutionalizing them for life. According to Wikipedia, “As with his earlier film Re-Animator, Gordon made use of medical advisors to be sure that the actions taken by the doctors and nurses of the film followed proper medical procedures”. This story was clearly set in a time before widespread deinstitutionalization (perhaps the Reagan revolution and the idea that releasing people with mental health conditions on antipsychotic medication and leaving them to their own devices hadn’t yet arrived).

Tillinghast’s evaluation sparks a larger investigation after the second psychiatrist, Dr. Katherine McMichaels, orders a CAT scan (technology unknown in Lovecroft’s time, and reletively new in 1986, when this movie was made). As the doctors smoke while looking at the images, the CAT scan reveals that Tillinghast’s pineal gland has enlarged and is influencing other parts of the brain in an unprecedented way, leading to the hypotheses that (1) Tillinghast is not schizophrenic, and the Resonator did work; and (2) if powerful pineal gland = schizophrenia symptoms, schizophrenics are not really “crazy” so much as “differently abled”, being able to percieve supernatural phenomena unseen by others, a view held in Lovecraft’s time by people who actually worked with schizophrenics, most notably C. G. Jung.

Though Tillinghast rightly considers re-activating the resonator and re-running the late Dr. Pretorius’s experiment extremely dangerous, it is the only alternative to a life of institutionalization and worse, so accompanied by Dr. Michaels and a police sergeant, he reluctantly agrees to “return to the scene of the crime”, the creepy Victorian mansion in which the late Dr. Pretorius died. Tillinghast gets the Resonator working again, and they all see the strange creatures. Dr. Michaels gets “hooked” and runs the Resonator herself, putting them all in jeopardy. They re-encounter Dr. Pretorius, who lives again, effectively having been incorporated into the creature that ate him, and seeking to eat others. She also discovers an S&M dungeon in the basement of the creepy old mansion, and dons a leather outfit, which is suprisingly in good condition and just the right size. Then things really go off the rails. I had trouble following the plot at this point, but it seems I’m not the only one.

The repeated stimulation of his pineal gland causes Tillinghast to grow a stalklike appendage in the middle of his forehead, assume a zombie-like demeanor, and develop a taste for human brains. (A “frequent flyer” to the psych ward who sees him at the hospital is initially suspected of suffering the DTs, until an EMT sees him, too.) Tillinghast proceeds to wreak havoc when re-admitted to the mental hospital. When Dr. McMichaels returns to the hospital with the story about what happened and her new bondage look, the psychiatrist in charge, having been given a perfect opportunity to avenge her professional rivalry, orders that Dr. Michaels be given electroshock therapy. Last minute exigencies caused by the rampage of the brain-eating creature that used to be Tillinghast lead to the administration of the ECT being delayed. This gives Dr. Michaels the opportunity to escape, acquire new clothes, and misappropriate an ambulance. She returns to the old house and sets a bomb to blow up the Resonator. Tillinghast and Pretorius end up meeting mano-a-mano, but Michaels is the only survivor.