Stars: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton, Matt Mercer, Justin Welborn, Jesse Merlin, Henry LeBlanc, Sara Malakul Lane, Caryn Richman | Written by Jackson Stewart, Stephen Scarlata | Directed by Jackson Stewart
Remember Atmosfear? The old VCR-based board game? Growing up I never had that game, however burgeoning Trekker that I was (BBC 2/Channel 4 at 6pm had a HUGE influence on me as a teen), I did have the Star Trek: The Next Generation video board game… Well what if those VCR games, and games like them, were really gateways to another dimension. That’s the basic premise of Beyond the Gates.
Following the mysterious disappearance of their father, two estranged brothers – Gordon (Skipper) and John (Wiliamson) reunite to liquidate his business, a video store which (besides looking like a film-fans idea of heaven) specializes in horror films. As they dig through the stock, they unearth an old VCR board game – the titular Beyond the Gates - that that acts as an inter-dimensional hub to a nightmare world that holds a connection to their father’s disappearance and deadly consequences for anyone who plays it…
To be fair, savvy audiences will know that the video rental shop owned by Gordon and John’s parents only spells doom – and that’s before anyone finds the titular board game. After all, the opening text reads 1992: at least five years too late to have any chance of withstanding Blockbusters domination of the home video market! I jest of course… Actually 1992 was the year I got my own VCR, a hand-me-down from my Uncle, who’d got it from a guy in the pub that needed money for beer (true story). Which is probably why I feel such an affinity for the two brothers in this film – their introduction to obscure movies on VHS essentially took place at the same time as mine. Though I doubt they were recording post-midnight episodes of American Gladiators on their VCR’s…
Whilst the film opens in 1992, and then jumps forward to find Gordon and John all grown-up and returing to the family store, Beyond the Gates actually has an old-school 80s horror vibe. In fact if it wasn’t for that on-screen date, audiences would think this was set in the 1980s. You have opening credits replete with hot-pink text and 80s-electro score; there’s casting of Barbara Crampton, the epitomy of cool in 80s horror cinema (appearing in both Re-Animator and From Beyond, unilaterally proclaimed as two of the best films of the decade); the effects – all practical – are as gory and explicit as those found in the 80s horror; and even lead actor Graham Skipper, a relative newcomer compared to the likes of Crampton, but someone who has become synonymous with 80s “retro” horror after his work with Joe Begos on Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye… Everything about Jackson Stewart’s debut feature screams 80s.
Speaking of effects, Beyond the Gates certainly doesn’t scrimp on the gore – head explosions, eviscerations, they’re all here. I like to think Stewart was looking to get his film featured on the pages of an 80s issue of Fangoria, back when that was THE place to see all the gory stills (some often never seen in the films) from horror movies back in the day! The references don’t stop at the 80s either: besides featuring scenes set in the garden of their parents house, a la The Gate, Beyond the Gates also turns the entire house into one large game board, in much the same way as Jumanji and Zathura… Which, thinking about it, are the closest filmic brethren to Jackson Stewart’s movie – only if they were horror-based.
Lasting about as long as the video board games it mimics, Beyond the Gates is a short-lived love letter to a decade horror fans, like myself, love and cherish. Thankfully it’s a love letter that gets everything, and I do mean everything, right and should be on the must-buy list of genre fans. Just a shame it’s not getting the Blu-ray treatment here in the UK.
Beyond the Gates is out now on DVD from Precision Pictures/Signature Entertainment.