Director: Tibor Takács
Screenplay: Michael Nankin
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Christa Denton, Louis Tripp, Kelly Rowan, Jennifer Irwin
Country: Canada, USA
Running Time: 85
BBFC Certificate: 15
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing when it comes to watching films from your youth. Your memories of watching old favourites when you were 13 can become sugar coated by the time you revisit them in your 30s. Some films thrive on this nostalgia and become cult classics because of it, even if the films themselves aren’t all that great. Because of this, some fairly cheesy nonsense from the past can become canonised. What happens then is that when someone who didn’t watch said ‘classic’ when they were a child sits down to check it out decades after its release they’re left sadly disappointed. I had this worry in the back of my mind when settling down to see The Gate. I’d heard it mentioned by some film blogging friends as being an old favourite from their childhood, so I was excited to see it, but it’s not something I saw when I was a kid back in the 80s and early 90s. So although I was interested in watching the film, I was half expecting it to be a bit crap. Nevertheless, I ventured on and put the newly restored and special features-loaded disc in my Blu-Ray player.
The Gate opens with young Glen (played by a 13/14 year old Stephen Dorff in his debut film) having a nightmare about being inside a treehouse when a bolt of lightning strikes down the tree. When he wakes he sees that the tree in his garden indeed got knocked down and under its roots he finds a strange gemstone. Glen and his friend Terry (Louis Tripp) dig deeper to find more and unearth a mysterious hole. Unbeknownst to them though, they’ve opened up a gate into a demon realm and they start to witness terrifying visions as well as get attacked by vicious little gremlins. The only key to closing the gate they find is an obscure heavy metal album. So the boys, aided by Glen’s sister Al (Christa Denton) and her friends, take on the monsters and try to save the world before their parents get home from a long weekend away.
I’m pleased to say that The Gate still stands up. Yes it’s very much a product of its time, but it works and not just through nostalgia for the style. The tone is spot on, balancing comedy and horror perfectly. It’s not hilarious or terrifying, but funny enough to be enjoyable without stepping on the toes of the horror. There are some effectively creepy scenes too, particularly in the dreams and weird visions Glen and his friends have. The final act gets fairly intense too as the stakes and carnage are raised to extreme levels.
The Gate is a particular brand of horror typical in the 80s that I have a fondness for; the child/teen-centred horror movie. Like similar films such as Monster Squad, it blends fun teen comedy with scares, monsters and a little gore. It resurrected the style recently to great success (with slightly less comedy and slightly more horror perhaps), so hopefully the sub-genre will make a comeback. The Gate also motors along at a fine pace, never meandering too far away from the central plot and keeping the running time lean and mean.
These types of movie live or die by their cast and their chemistry, as poor child performances can ruin a film. Luckily the cast here does a decent job, and most importantly the banter between the young characters is always enjoyable and full of snappy put downs. It’s the way the young characters bounce off each other that provides much of the comedy in the film in fact, rather than silly things going on or gags being set up.
Aiding the horror are some decent, largely practical effects that still stand up for the most part. Other than in a couple of shots where green screen and stop motion are used, the gremlins were largely shot using forced perspective on adult sized actors in makeup and this is done very well. There were a couple of shots where I genuinely wondered how they were done. There are some nicely icky makeup effects here and there too including a head that turns to gloop in Glen’s hands and a cool sequence where the telephone melts.
OK, so it’s no masterpiece - it doesn’t have much of a character arc and ‘borrows’ from contemporaries, especially the superior Gremlins and Poltergeist, but it’s still a lot of fun, even without the nostalgia factor.
The Gate is out on 26th February on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Lionsgate as part of their new Vestron Video Collector’s Series. The transfer looks great. The picture is detailed and colourful and the audio comes through nicely.
There are tonnes of special features included too:
- Audio Commentary with Director Tibor Takacs, Writer Michael Nankin, and Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook
- Audio Commentary with Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Craig Reardon, Special Effects Artist Frank Carere, and Matte Photographer Bill Taylor
- Isolated Score and Audio Interview with Composers Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson
- The Gate: Unlocked
- Minion Maker
- From Hell It Came
- The Workman Speaks
- Made In Canada
- From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate
- The Gatekeepers
- Making of The Gate
- Teaser Trailer
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spot
- Storyboard Gallery
- Behind-The-Scenes Gallery
It’s an amazing amount of extra material for what is ostensibly a B-movie that only has a slight cult following. The featurettes and commentaries are all enjoyable too. If this is any indicator of the sort of depth the Vestron Video Collector’s Series is going to go into for their releases, count me in!