AUGUST 29 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE GATE (1987)
The arrival of the home VHS system was a ground-breaking event that should never be underestimated. From my perspective, it meant I’d no longer have to rely on my ceaselessly busy parents to take me to the cinema whenever I wanted to watch a film, and for them, it was a great way to keep me out of trouble.
Back then, there were only four terrestrial TV channels available in the UK and it seemed as if they only had space for snooker and Challenge Anneka. It should also be kept in mind that even if there was a film to watch on television, it would be unlikely to have been made in the decade prior. Nowadays, the gap between theatrical and terrestrial TV premieres is short, but in the mid-eighties you’d struggle to find anything that could live up to the excitement of what was happening down the road at the local cinema.
Luckily for me, my parents liked movies and were keen to take advantage of this great new technology that allowed us to have them in our front room at a time that suited us. Therefore, it was perhaps the convenience of VHS more than anything else that led to us being such early adopters of the format. I remember with great affection the colossal grey Hitachi top-loader that sat proudly in the corner of our living room, with its sleek brushed-aluminium buttons, flip-down plastic tracking panel and giant, green LCD display. This beautiful machine would be our reliable servant for well over a decade and was finally replaced – not because it was no longer up to the job – but because slimmer, sexier models with long/short play had become the norm.
It’s certainly true that this giant silvery monolith acted as a kind of anarchic babysitter from about the age of eight. But in addition to the secret stories of sex and death it would whisper to me when there was no-one else around, it also found time to get the whole family together for some out and out film fun – which brings me nicely to Tibor Takacs’ 1987 horror-adventure, The Gate.
Title: The Gate
Director: Tibor Takacs
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Louis Tripp, Kelly Rowan
Distributor: Medusa Home Video
Tagline: “…Pray it’s not too late!”
So far, in writing this column, I’ve had three genuinely pleasant surprises. From Beyond’s lurid colour palette and ambitious prosthetic effects uncovered something of a sleeping cult classic, while The Wraith served up some high octane, Charlie Sheen-induced vengeance. Even last week, Stuart Gordon’s Dolls managed to entertain me thoroughly and send one or two nostalgic shivers up my aged and cynical spine.
But while From Beyond, The Wraith and Dolls are all movies I rented on VHS as a child but remember very little about, The Gate is one I seemed to recall pretty vividly. Unlike the others, it was also a flick I felt would hold up on a rewatch some 20-odd years down the line. It was a solid little fantasy thriller, I thought to myself, and one that had some decent effects and a familiar Spielbergian charm. Turns out, I was wrong.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of Steven Spielberg. Now I know that sounds like me being my usual contrary self, but the truth is there are very few of his ‘classics’ I enjoy nowadays. I’m pretty lukewarm on Jaws, and while E.T. and Indiana Jones hit the right spot at the age of five, they just don’t hold the same magic for me today. To play devil’s advocate just a little more, I’d even say that of his films, I might count A.I., Minority Report and War of the Worlds as examples of his work I’d sooner discuss than Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jurassic Park I can’t help it, it’s just the way I feel.
However, while I may not be the biggest Spielberg fanboy, I wholeheartedly doth my cap to his incredible directorial talent. This is a man who has not only mastered the technical art of movie-making; he’s also the undisputed champion of heart-warming family fantasies that harbour a dark and sinister heart. So why am I banging on about Spielberg in a review for a film directed by the man who would go on to helm Mosquito Man – A New Breed of Predator? Well, the thing is, watching The Gate reminds you just how good the likes of Spielberg and Dante are and how effortless they make this type of feature seem to create.
Suburban-home-terrorised-by-disturbed-hellmouth has been done so much over the years it could pretty much have its own sub-genre. From Tobe Hooper’s (or Steven Spielberg’s, depending on which stories you believe) Poltergeist to Joe Dante’s The Hole, we’ve seen how portals to the netherworld can play hell with local house prices. We’ll even see it again later this year when Troy Nixey and Guillermo Del Toro’s remake of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark finally hits theatres. But where all these films managed to conjure up a real sense of wonder and adventure, while retaining a more ominous core, The Gate just creaks along with very little to offer. Bad dialogue, ropey effects and a story with nothing to latch on to makes for a pretty dull and lifeless watch. Sure, it’s interesting to see a young Stephen Dorff and, as the nerdy, metal-obsessed sidekick, Louis Tripp gets the odd moment to shine, but the threat level is undercooked and I just couldn’t find the energy to care about what was playing out in front of me.
The Gate is the first film in this series of articles I could confidently say beforehand I expected to enjoy. I remembered it as a dark-edged children’s horror adventure with a decent budget and some fantasy action thrills. Unfortunately, it’s also the first film in this series to leave me disappointed and feeling that I’ve rewatched something that hasn’t stood the test of time. It’s sad, but I’d have to conclude that this is one which should remain buried deep at the bottom of the video garden.
AUGUST 29 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE GATE (1987)
I was rifling through the bargain bin at Walmart the other day when I came across this lost gem on DVD. For only 5 dollars I knew I couldn't pass it up. As I began to think back on my own memories of the film, I realized that it would be the perfect choice to conjure up from the depths of the 80's for the site. So with that I bring you my review of "The Gate."
"The Gate" surrounds a family of kids who are left to their own devices while mom and dad are out of town. All seems to be going well until the youngest boy and his best friend get into a bit of trouble. You see, they take a heavy metal album and (gasp!) play it backwards. The ensuing chanting created by the backwards song opens up a gate to hell in their backyard, which eventually begins to spew out mini claymation demons. That, in a nutshell, is the basic premise of the film.
Only the 80's could have bore an idea this ridiculous. I can hear you sitting there saying, "But wait a minute, people summon demons by playing 80's metal records all the time!". True, but to my recollection this is the only movie about it. Seriously though, There is just so much "80's" going on here that I almost found it hard NOT to like this movie. If it wasn't that chick with the Flock of Seagulls haircut, than perhaps it was watching a young Stephen Dorff embarrass himself on screen as a chubby little 10 year old. Beyond that though, there was just such an irreverence and so many (unintentionally) hilarious things here (including the line "You mean you were serious about all that demon stuff!) that "The Gate comes off as sort of endearing. And I haven't even gotten to those cute little demons yet.
In the annals of horror movie history, the villains here (ie tiny little skipping demons) will have to go down as being some of the coolest. They're brought to the screen via some cool stop motion (oh how I love thee), live puppetry and even the occasional forced perspective shot. You've also got to give props to the giant demon that pops up at the end, and the kick-ass gore bits that are sprinkled throughout the film. While never really scary, the picture also manages passable suspense and a decent amount of atmosphere.
Honestly though, your enjoyment "The Gate" is going to hinge on one thing, and that's whether or not you're able to watch movies that revolve around KIDS. Admittedly I was a bit peeved from time to time myself, but I know there are those out there that would rather have their fingernails pulled out by pliers than watch a horror flick where the kids are the main characters. For those amongst you I would refer you to the nearest hardware store because this entire production has a very "kiddie" tone to it. Although, I will say that 80's "kiddie" was considerably more hardcore than "kiddie" by today's standards... My other complaint is that while the film runs at a brisk 85 minutes, there isn't any demon action until approximately 45 minutes in. Then, they're only onscreen briefly until they disappear for what amounts to a false ending. Essentially the third act is needlessly broken up into two parts and it really messed up the whole flow of the film.
Complaints aside though, "The Gate" is one of those flicks that is definitely worth dusting off from the vault and giving a spin on DVD. If not for the terribly amusing puppetry FX, than for the simple thrill of witnessing the travesty that was crimped hair. While it didn't live up to my childhood memories, it ended up being a serviceable monster movie that is perfect for a rainy afternoon.
Submitted by Eric on Friday, Jul 11th 2008
AUGUST 29 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : THE GATE (1987)
So Lions Gate has brought up a bit of that old retro horror with the rerelease of The Gate, now out on DVD. And as always, the question we’re out to tackle today is, is it worth your rental dollar?
The plot is a little convoluted, and basically requires you to suspend disbelief like no tomorrow. But after an old tree is pulled out of a suburban family’s backyard, it’s left a whole lot of trouble in its wake. Like a load of fairly valuable geodes. And a reeking pit in the backyard that just happens to be full of demons. TINY demons.
And now it’s left to the kids of the suburban family to take on the horde of tiny demons that have burst forth from the hole in the backyard.
See, this may sound just plain old loopy to horror buffs of the modern era, but this kind of thing happened ALL THE TIME in eighties horror flicks, especially ones that carried that malign PG-13 rating, the rating usually reserved for half-baked slasher flicks today.
And frankly, it IS loopy. How do we discover what’s going on under the surface? Simple–the characters learn about it from the album cover of a heavy metal band from “Europe”, and more than likely, from Finland. Because as we all know now, thanks to Metalocalypse and the various Lordi incursions, Finland and metal go together like peanut butter and jelly.
The farther in you get in this thing, the steadily more insane the whole thing gets. In fact, it’s like that loopy uncle of yours that lives in the attic and won’t stop screaming about how the government’s putting mind control suicide chips in the flouride in the water–it’s absolutely insane, and yet at the same time, it’s also entertaining in a creepy sort of way.
If you’re up for a history lesson, then The Gate will provide it. If you just want a creepy and fun little movie with some occasional scares, then The Gate will provide that too.
The Screenhead Ten Scale can’t help but give due props to this piece of the past, and thus issues a seven out of ten for being fun, even if absolutely looney.