While it is increasingly becoming a year-round treat, when the calendar roles over to October, horror takes center stage and becomes the focal point for audiences across the country. We embrace our fears and dress up as our favorite monsters, go to haunted houses and pay money for the desire to be frightened by a stranger in a hockey mask, and most commonly, we watch scary movies. As Halloween closes in, we venture into the realm of taboo and revel as we watch people get terrified, mutilated, possessed, and suffer all manner of gruesome fates for our entertainment. There are many theories as to the appeal of horror ranging from cathartic satisfaction to deeper psychoanalytic analysis, but the most common theme is that is indulgence; horror allows us to expose ourselves to and soak up things that we are not supposed to see or be attracted to. When watching death, gore, personal invasion and the supernatural all torment the actors on screen, we allow ourselves to take pleasure in aspects of life which we would otherwise find revolting and terrible.
For the penultimate day before Halloween, we are going to pursue out next batch of scares among the stars with cosmic horror. Pioneered by H.P. Lovecraft, cosmic horror strikes fear into its audiences by pointing to their insignificance next to other celestial beings, and easily humans can be controlled by their stellar visitors. One such film that properly creates this relationship, and the consequences of prolonged contact between the two is Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond.
Cosmic horror is one of the most mysterious and strange sub-genres within horror. The concept itself can seem obtuse and opaque at first glance. Other types of horror are more up-front with their scares utilizing monsters, killers and other supernatural forces. Even psychological horror is more straightforward with the source of its scares that, while often fairly ambiguous, are still rooted by threats that are culturally well-known. Part of the entire premise behind cosmic horror is the fact that exposure to its antagonist causes corruption of the mind. The minds of the characters in such tales will often become twisted and mutated, including that of the narrator, which forces the audience to question what is real throughout the entire story – including the story itself.
This is a concept that is very difficult to capture on film. There is not a long list of films that have been truly able to capture this sensation adequately, and convey it to an audience. Creating something that can cause the audience to question the entire reality of the film itself is a tall task, but conveying that idea to the audience via the characters is possible, and indeed accomplished by From Beyond.
In this film, a pair of scientists create a device that allows humans to interact with lifeforms that are otherwise completely invisible and untraceable. These creatures exist in a separate dimension from our own, but the resonator that the two men created allows for contact, however, the consequences of such contact are dire. Horrible transformations both physical and mental take place for everyone exposed to the device and the creatures it reveals. The first scientist is seemingly killed by a bizarre creature that occupies this new dimension, though it is revealed that he has instead been changed into a new life-form that is a monstrous chimera of both human and cosmic origin. This transformation begins to affect another character which results in a mutation of his brain that brings with it a new kind of hunger.
Each of the other characters exposed to these new creatures are effected in some way. Those that don’t suffer horrible physical transformations, go through mental ones as their brain begins to evolve and create new desires and sensations for them to chase. This is a common theme within cosmic horror, as those mental transformations are what drives the madness that each character experiences. Within these stories, humans are exposed to powers and beings that their minds cannot comprehend. The effort of their brains to understand what they are witnessing is the catalyst for their madness, which can even spread to others through second hand accounts. Though may be another trick of cosmic horror; as From Beyond properly points out, perhaps those who have been exposed to these greater powers and speak of their capabilities and existence only seem mad to those who simply do not understand. The answer can only be found by those daring enough to seek out these celestial monsters and understand the role of humans in the larger universe.