Two scientists create a machine that enlarges the penial gland(the supposed location of the third or “mind’s eye” which Descartes called “the seat of the soul” and Bataille called “the blind spot of western rationality”) and are able to glimpse into an alternate dimension, laying parallel to ours, full of glowing jellyfish creatures, slugs, giant worms, swarms of buzzing things, and eels floating the air, in a diffuse purple light and pink mist. As soon as the scientists see the creatures, the creatures can see them, and before any rational discussion can be made about the breakthrough, one of their heads is bitten off. Yes, the abyss also gazes, and is hungry for brains! Jeffery Combs has to re-create the night for the police, turning on the machine yet again, to find that the headless Dr., he was assisting, has re-constituted himself on the other side into a “new body”. A sadomasochist in life, he’s now a shape-shifting and extra-dimensional psychic, consumed with showing the world the other side of life, and extending his new pleasures to everyone he can get a tentacle around. The machine causes a mix of euphoria, terror, and sexual arousal, in those who stand within its field, which begins to overwhelm the resolve and sanity of the group to keep it turned off. “For some people 5 senses just isn’t enough, I guess?”, Comb’s notes casually, as Barbara Crampton (another Gordon regular, isn’t it nice when casts stay together?), slips into hypnosis and then into a leather bondage outfit, unable to disentangle the Dr’s. Faustian desires from her own.
The special effects are awesome the slimy 80’s creature shop in full effect, more for monsters though than a human body count. Though it does rack one of those up too, this is a very, very gory film. The missing link between Lovecraft and the films of John Carpenter like “The Thing”and those of David Cronenberg, like every-thing( this film owes as much to him as HP rightly, and is the conceptual bridge that allows us to see where one ended and the other left off).
The whirlwind pace of the film is all Gordon’s own though, recalling the best and silliest moments of “Re-Animator”, but with strange modulating fleshy monsters who never stay in one form too long. Combs puts on a noteworthy performance, with a quiet and odd intensity few actors in b-horror can manage, but which he is magnetically drawn. He looks so genuinely sad when he’s finds himself eating organs in the hospital, it’s an oddly emotional scene(for a few seconds anyway) another actor might not have pulled off. The final fight between the two Dr.’s from within the same body mass, also nods to “Tetsuo: Iron Man” and the living Blob in “Akira”, soon to come.
Like “Dead Alive” and “NightBreed” this has become one of my favorite 80’s horror and films in general. It’s “The Thing” with all of the suspense and paranoia gutted, while their entrails slither away into a corner screeching. “Altered States” if the monkey version of William Hurt had climbed the empire state building, after declaring himself a newly enlightened God. It’s a film that’s so excessive, propulsive, and freakishly explosive it demands attention, beyond the level of mere story, and holds it at level of macabre and slime streaked craft. I watched this again after I finished it (this was my first time, and the directors cut seems the way to go. Gordon had to make many a cut to get it down to an R for theaters). They don’t make em like this no more.