14th Mar2018

Vestron Video Collection: ‘The Gate’ Blu-ray Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Stephen Dorff, Louis Tripp, Chrsita Denton, Kelly Rowan, Jennifer Irwin, Deborah Grover, Scot Denton, Ingrid Veninger, Sean Fagan | Written by Michael Nankin | Directed by Tibor Takacs


“We accidentally summoned demons who used to rule the universe to come and take over the world,” says Terry (Louis Tripp), the troubled best friend of pre-teen Glen (Stephen Dorff in his film debut). He’s not joking. A steaming hole has opened up in Glen’s back garden, and while his parents are away for the weekend he’ll have to defend his home from a demonic invasion.

Glen’s main guardian is his older sister, Al (Christa Denton). Together, the siblings and Terry will face ghosts, poltergeists, zombies, moths and hordes of ankle-biting mini trolls. The ancient evil needs two human sacrifices in order to unleash its full power on the world. Any two will do. Can the kids survive the night?

Filmed with an almost Lynchian dreamlike soft focus, Tibor Takács debut feature is a mid-80s horror madhouse. Its heart is in the right place, and so is its tongue – firmly in cheek. The argumentative family scenes aren’t a patch on early Spielberg, and the kids are no Monster Squad, but the film has great pace and energy, and it succeeds in portraying a child’s imagination: the action is confined to a few rooms and a garden but it somehow feels epic.

For all its comedic gore, this is a pretty wholesome film overall. Glen is genuinely a sweet kid. He’s meek and kind to animals, and he entertains Terry’s trash talk and heavy metal witchcraft nonsense. And his sister Al is a fantastic female role model. She’s strong and fearless and admired by her brother. When her family is in danger she ejects the dumb jocks who’ve just come to party. She even gets to save Glen’s life with a well-aimed Barbie doll.

Par for the trash horror course, there are plot developments which make no sense. Why don’t the kids call the cops as soon as their waxwork imposter parents try to strangle them? And are none of the neighbours alarmed by the demonic portal in the back garden? To hell with it – once the gate is open, the plot moves too fast to fuss over logic.

‘80s teen horror isn’t known for unsettling imagery, but amidst the splatter Takács renders some genuinely eerie images: moths made giant in silhouette on a bedroom wall; the ghost of Terry’s dead mom, calling him for a final embrace; Glen’s parents butchered in the family photos. And there’s a great scare involving a mistaken identity and a dead dog. There’s the tone of urban myth throughout.

On a technical level, effects guru Randall William Cook delivers a great variety of effects: gooey face-melting makeup; some stunning forced perspective work on a horde of miniature demons; well-integrated VFX; and some excellent stop motion for the final creature, an impressive Lovecraftian monstrosity.

In the end, the film’s efforts to tie everything in a neat bow feels like a bit of a betrayal of the genuine tension built up to that point; but it’s hard to wish for something nastier when this is essentially a junior Evil Dead. Playful gore, good characterisation, a conspicuous lack of adult intervention and solid morals make this an ideal entry point to the horror genre for younger teens. It holds up well and it’s highly recommended.

Vestron Video offer a cavalcade of extras. There are two commentaries, the first with director Takács, writer Nankin and Randall William Cook; the second with Cook and his FX team. An isolated score includes an audio interview with composers Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson.

A set of short documentaries (10-30 minutes) includes interviews with various members of the crew: The Gate Unlocked (Takács and Cook); Minion Maker (Craig Reardon discussing the model work); From Hell it Came (Andras Hamori, producer); The Workman Speaks (actor Carl Kraines reminiscing); Made in Canada (various interviews about the production); From Hell (regarding the demons and creatures of The Gate); and The Gatekeepers (Takács and Nankin).

In addition, there’s a making of documentary from the time; teaser and theatrical trailers; a TV spot; and storyboard and behind the scenes galleries.

The Gate is out on Vestron Video Blu-ray now.

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