Joe Slaader (William Sanderson), a cretinous inbred from the Catskill Mountains, is committed to Ulster County’s Asylum in 1908. Edward Eischel (Fountain Yount), a loony medical intern, takes an unhealthy interest in this latest admit, whose bout of white-trash rampaging has left corpses of his kissin’ cousins strewn across the countryside. Eischel is young, determined, and completely off his rocker, shades of “Re-Animator” scientist Herbert West. No wonder. Like “Re-Animator,” “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” slithers out of a twisted short story by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.
Not your ordinary, garden-variety cracker, Slaader is a mountain man with two very unique attributes. He occasionally spouts out something brilliant instead of the retarded, simpleton dialogue more commonly emanating from his rotten-toothed maw. Meanwhile, he sports a nasty, football-sized tumor on his backwoods back. “We’ll bleed the insanity out of you, Joe,” assures a leering doctor, before applying leeches to Slaader’s hillbilly hide.
Through a series of increasingly unhinged experiments, Eischel discovers that Slaader’s fleshy dorsal growth actually belongs to Amduscious, an evil “twin” of sorts with the power to mutilate other asylum inmates from within its dermal hiding place. Is it any surprise that Eischel becomes obsessed with this unholy finding? Would it be a stretch of the imagination to suggest that Amduscious is getting cabin fever, and enlists Eischel to pull him into the land of the living?
Ultimately, “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” morphs into low-rent Stuart Gordon, slipping across a bloody floor of limbs, electrodes, transformations, and mutilations. Which, to those who revel in over-the-top cinema, might not be such a bad thing. Unfortunately, before its big denouement, “Beyond…” is a snore. Bug-eyed, nostril-flaring acting becomes distracting, and the special effects are glaringly primitive.
The most damaging liability, however, is the film’s editing, which manages to be both plodding and hyperkinetic. Even though the pace seems slow, we’re bombarded with jolting gobs of disjointed montage sequences that suggest a drunken editing-room session between Rob Zombie, Oliver Stone, and Tony Scott. Even before the credits roll, we’re blasted with a “Natural Born Killers” style cut-fest, full of chanting children, grue-soaked organs, and occult scribblings.
It’s interesting to note that the original Lovercraft story on which this full-length feature film is based was a much more streamlined affair. Essentially, it dealt with Eischel’s discovery that while Slaader might be a Forrest Gumpian rube on the outside, he was capable of brilliant, transcendent thoughts during dream states. Eischel communicates with his patient via a “telepathic radio” of sorts, monitoring this sleeping alter ego. And that’s pretty much it.
For this movie variation, writers/directors Thomas Maurer and Barrett Klausman load on the incidental filler. For example, they supply sicko scientist Eischel with a shackled female ideal for performing electrode-to-cranium experiments on. He even saws this human guinea pig a convenient skullcap for easy access to her top-notch noggin. The blood-squirting drainpipes, severed heads, and lobotomized lady lust objects in this screen version don’t exist anywhere in Lovecraft’s text.
Granted, there’s no law against expanding on someone else’s original idea, but when the core story is already so compelling, why muck it up with secondary padding? Eric Morgret’s 2003 adaptation of Lovercraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep” might have been no-budget primitive, but the tight short stuck to its basic story. It realized that the strong material it was based on didn’t require any jazzing up. “The Thing…” was also a short film, while “Beyond…” clocks in at 84 minutes. If Maurer and Klausman had focused on the unique relationship between Eischel and Slaader – and on the concept of dreams providing a parallel existence to conscious reality – they could have tapped into something compelling. Maybe “Sling Blade” meets “Frankenstein.”
Meanwhile, if Oscars were provided to voice-overs, the narrator for “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” would certainly merit consideration. Viewers can literally hear sputum clogging his pneumonia-plagued pipes. As he wheezes out this bloody tale through a series of strained, guttural growls as if fighting the mother of all bronchial battles, the voice is a tip-off to the fierce overkill that will follow – including manic overacting, acid-trip editing, and more loose ends than Eischel’s limb-strewn laboratory.