H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond: Dragon to Scream Factory (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

We may've completed the Re-Animator trilogy, but we haven't run out of Brian Yuzna/ Charles Band co-productions of H.P. Lovecraft stories by Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli, scored by Richard Band and starring Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton yet. And while From Beyond might not be quite the film the original Re-Animator was, it's pretty damn close. And it's got just as interesting a history on disc as the rest of 'em.
An fun fact about From Beyond: the original Lovecraft story is so short, that it's pretty much adapted in this film's pre-credits sequence. Everything after that, then, is extrapolation and invention. And inventive it is. It's a wild and imaginative story that stays true to pretty much everything that was great about Re-Animator in terms of tone, style, performance, etc. The only thing that holds it back, maybe, is that it's so much further out there. Re-Animator obviously had a supernatural element to it: you can't just inject dead people with green goo and have them sit up and start walking around again. But this film has a whole other dimension, shape shifting monsters and all kinds of craziness. It's still got a sci-fi, and of course Lovecraftian base, but it's really over the top, including the characters. So that's what keeps this film from being quite as top shelf as their first endeavor - Jeffrey Combs becoming a brain-eating monster isn't quite as intellectually satisfying as his coldly intellectual portrayal of Herbert West. But on the other hand, in terms of crowd-pleasing over the top effects and general B-movie shenanigans, this movie manages to take it even further, which is saying something!
The story, uh, well let's see. Two scientists discover that sonic vibrations can stimulate a gland the human brain to see another dimension. So they create a machine to do so, and find out it's full of nasty creatures and quickly shut it down. That's pretty much where Lovecraft ends. It's pretty much a "could you imagine?" scenario. But in the film, one of the scientists is changed by the experience and goes back, turning into a shape-shifting creature that wants to absorb more people. The other scientist, Combs, winds up in a mental institution because they think he killed scientist #1. But his doctor, Crampton, wants to take him back to the scene and discover the truth. Of course, she has no idea just how bonkers the truth is, and soon the three of them (including Ken Foree as Bubba, the cop who's there to supervise) are also changed by the machine and can't stop summoning back the original, sadistic doctor. In short, the whole movie's delightfully crazy and backed by a ton of talent.
So, for a long time, this film wasn't available on DVD, despite having a pretty strong reputation. Part of that may've been due to the fact that this film was known to be a cut down version of an even more extreme director's cut that had never been released and included scenes like an infamous eyeball sucking. The German label Dragon put it out in 2003, though, and even made a bit of a special edition out of it. And despite it being full screen, that was pretty much the one to own until 2007 when MGM amazingly stumbled upon cans of the lost film and Gordon was able to restore it. Apparently, it's not 100% - there are still bits of his director's cut missing; but he was able to restore a bunch of it including, yes, the eyeball suck. That was a pretty happy release, I must say, featuring a bunch of new exciting extras as well. Finally a definitive DVD release! And when it became blu-ray time, who else but Scream Factory had the connection to MGM's catalog to make create an even larger special edition? Well, I've got all those releases, so let's check 'em out!
Dragon on top, MGM second, Scream Factory DVD 3rd and Scream's blu bottom.
So, there's four shots per because the Scream Factory release is a DVD/ blu-ray combo pack. It's a pretty natural progression. Dragon's disc is fullscreen at about 1.30:1, but it's not entirely an open/ closed matte situation, since it does have extra info on the top and bottoms but is missing quite a lot more on the sides. Once MGM gets it, though, it's properly matted to 1.85(or maybe more like 1.83ish):1 with much more vivid colors. But then it drops the letterboxing and opens back up to 1.78:1 again once Scream Factory gets their hands on it. Otherwise the images are pretty identical. Obviously I prefer the OAR of MGM's disc, but it's a literally slim distinction, and the upgrade to HD is much more important.
MGM DVD left; Scream Factory blu right.
Not that it's a huge boost, to be honest. Pretty sure Scream's just used MGM's high def master that they created back in 2007, so it's not floor show-level impressive. But it does clear away compression lumps, giving the film a cleaner and more realistic look on blu. And so the difference between the Scream DVD and MGM is pretty much just the ratio change.

The Dragon DVD just offered a standard stereo track (plus a 5.1 mix of the German dub), and MGM upgraded it to Dolby 4.0 mix. Scream gives both a 2.0 and 5.1 mix, and of course both are superior by virtue of them being uncompressed. MGM and Scream also include optional subs.
There's plenty of extras on hand, too. Dragon started us off with two interviews: Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna. They're pretty good, but clearly recorded at some convention with omnidirectional mics, so the background sound really overcrowds the speakers. It also had a little booklet, but the text is all in German. MGM scrapped those and instead assembled a kick-ass commentary with Gordon, Yuzna, Combs, and Barbara Crampton, plus a short featurette on the restoration of the found footage and brief on-camera interviews with Gordon and Richard Band.  They also had some storyboard comparisons and a photo gallery.

Scream has all the MGM extras, plus a second audio commentary with Dennis Paoli. Writers are usually skipped over for commentaries, so that was a really nice surprise. They also created a 23+ minute featurette on the special effects, and on-camera interviews with Crampton, Combs and  Charles Band. Plus they finally added the long conspicuously absent trailer. It adds up to a very satisfying, well-rounded special edition fans should love.
We've wound up with a pretty fantastic special edition. It's nice to hold out hope for the rest of the cut footage to be found and restored for an epic, new 4k scan. But if every movie was treated this well, I'd never complain about anything. It's worth noting that the Scream release has rendered the MGM DVD pretty obsolete (unless you're really hung up on the 1.78:1 matting), though it may not be as compelling a replacement as others. But the Dragon disc still has unique special features. They're not amazing, and the newer extras pretty much cover all the same ground; but if you've already got the Dragon DVD, it's worth hanging onto. Just don't miss out on the restored director's cut.

1 comment:

  1. My first DVD of this was actually an HK import from Ocean Shores! It had to have been released around 1999. The less said about its quality, the better!

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