Letters to Holly

Wednesday, September 12

Twenty-Year Glee

Back around 1988, I found myself at home alone for the night, a first for me. I was two years away from graduating high school. I, of course, did the responsible thing and stayed up all night watching movies on cable TV. The horror movie on Cinemax around 3 a.m. was From Beyond, a film I had never heard of, and this was odd. I read about movies from an early age, and I was deeply invested in horror movies at this age. Also, the TV Guide movie index noted the movie was "not for the squeamish," a warning I likewise had never seen before. There could be no question then; I was going to see this movie.

And it was crap. I mean, this is what Grindhouse tried to recreate. The script was laughable (really, where does a psychiatrist escaping shock treatment and brain-eating physicists find dynamite in the middle of the night?), but the effects were mind-blowing for the obvious budget limits. It was based on H.P. Lovecraft, an early 1900s writer heavily touted by Stephen King, whose books I was inhaling. This wasn't a horror movie to be scared by, unlike all the ones I had seen previously. This was a film to laugh with, to lose one's standards to. It was the first bad movie I enjoyed for being what is. I had found my first trash film. Combine my age + the material + the joy of running loose in the house, and this became my favorite movie.

It stayed that way. I rented the film from Blockbuster (thankfully, the parents didn't use the option to block me from renting R-rated videos), and eventually bought my own copy. Blockbuster, back in the day, would order you copies of the films they rented. It was a little-known service. When DVDs came along, the film had gone out of print. It managed the small leap to laserdisc but not to DVD in an official version. At the time, you could only get it on DVD by ordering a Honk Kong bootleg from eBay. I did that. It was only mildly better than the VHS quality. A few years back, a German edition was released, but it wasn't much better (I bought that too). Eventually, MGM purchased the film rights and looked into releasing a domestic, official DVD. And then the incredible happened: The studio found footage edited out to appease the ratings board. The DVD would be the director's cut with as much as five added minutes, including an infamously excised scene of brain eating.

It came out yesterday, and I spent almost all of last night watching the entire DVD material, including the commentary track. The film was spruced up digitally to air on Monsters HD, a premium satellite station, and the print is pristine. And letterboxed, for the first time. It's like watching a new film. It's a beautiful, sterling release of what remains a gooey, trashy movie. I'm glowing with joy, but my eyes are shot to hell.

I almost couldn't find it. Best Buy didn't have it on their new-release wall, and the guy rolling a cart of DVDs didn't know of it. He went to check on a store-hub computer, and I glanced over his cart load to pass the time. And there it was. I grabbed one of their two copies and told the guy I found it after all. No, it's never easy.

Before I sat myself down to watch it, I went back to the school to work with the paper staff. This time, I suggested some design tricks to their layout officer. I don't know how much, if anything, stuck, but I told them all to contact me if they need help throughout the year. The paper already looks good; it just needs tweaking.

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