The Gate Review
Eighties horror was not only awash with increasingly derivative slasher movies, but also a deluge of “creature features”, often mixing milder scares with black comedy and aimed at a younger teen audience. Many were low-grade trash and simply knocking-off studio hits of the day, like Gremlins, minus the adroit humour and ingenuity. Some fun can still be had nowadays revisiting these cinematic clunkers, though often for the wrong reasons, like spotting stars before they became famous. Take the awful – though occasionally hilarious pastiche - Monster in the Closet (1986). This stars Paul Walker (then aged 10) as the smart kid tracking a wardrobe dwelling beast, his co-star being an annoying eight-year-old girl with pig tails sans front teeth – who would later become better known as Fergie from the Black-Eyed Peas. There isn’t much love for this movie, and rightly so - the dubious trailer alone should be enough to deter most punters. Not all these films are dross and, thankfully, hiding among the many B-movie calamities featuring rubbery puppets and precocious child actors are some memorable little gems.
One such highlight is Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad (1987), which is reminiscent of The Goonies (1985), while also paying an affectionate homage to the classic Universal horror films. This saw a gaggle of pre-teens battling the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman and the Mummy - with some eye-popping effects by Richard Edlund of Ghostbusters fame. Regrettably this failed to find an audience at the time, further hindered by a 15 certificate that eliminated much of its target audience. Which brings us to The Gate (1987), another obscure “kids versus creatures” flick, this time shot cheaply in Canada by Hungarian director Tibor Takács and starring a very young Stephen Dorff - in his movie debut no less. The film’s savvy UK distributor recognised its appeal and gave it a fleeting cinema release back in the day, before strong video rentals elevated this little film to cult status.
The Gate has all the stock characters that you might expect: overly inquisitive youngster Glen (Dorff) – who has a penchant for launching toy rockets, his geeky best pal Terry (Louis Tripp) who sports the obligatory oversized specs, Glen’s doubting older sister Al (Christa Denton) plus her ever-present obnoxious friends, and let's not forget the family’s shaggy hound Angus – because you often need a cute pet in peril for this type of story. As the film begins, Mom and Dad are heading away for the weekend, entrusting Al to take care of the house and her younger brother. Perhaps not the wisest decision in this case, especially since they already have misgivings about leaving their daughter in charge and it appears Glen has a history of damaging the house with his rockets. It will therefore come as no surprise to learn that Al is quickly shirking her newfound responsibilities, partying hard and leaving Glen without nearly enough supervision.
Glen becomes fascinated with a loose patch of soil in the back yard, on the spot where a tree once stood. After a little digging he and Terry unearth a mysterious geode, which they believe will make them rich. Their minor excavation unfortunately causes a much deeper smoking cavity, revealing what first appears to be the mother of all sink holes. Strange supernatural forces emanate from the opening and soon play on Glen and Terry’s childhood angst, such as fears of abandonment and feelings of grief, creating some frightening visions. Terry sees what he thinks to be is his dead mother and Glen is initially relieved to see his parents arrive home early - though all is not what it first seems. Other fears come to the fore, like what could be lurking under the bed or, in this case, also within the wall cavities ready to burst out. Some of the nightmare sequences at this point seem old hat and not likely to scare modern audiences, or those much above 15 more accustomed to the work of directors such as James Wan. There does, however, remain a couple of mildly effective icky moments to satisfy splatter fans.
It’s only later that the boys discover to their horror that they have inadvertently opened a gateway to hell. Terry, the perpetual smart alec, conveniently discovers that everything they need to know is contained in the music of his favourite Canadian thrash metal band Sacrifyx. The album discusses demonology and warns of a mighty demon lord – and by playing the vinyl backwards there are hidden lyrics that might enable them to control the gate. After a sluggish start, the pace picks up in the second half of the film as hordes of pint-sized demons clamber out of the Gate and scurry into the house. These diminutive creatures - brought to life by some ingenious FX by Randall William Cook - bear a particularly mean looking expression, rush around in a slightly comical fashion and seem intent on creating chaos. These are of course only the minions of a much larger, far nastier beast that is waiting in the wings - as prophesied in the album. Glen will need all his resourcefulness to defeat the demons, save his friends and the world from destruction or at the very least a small part of Toronto.
The Gate may not quite be in the same league as Gremlins, or indeed The Monster Squad, but it retains a goofy charm. Watching it again after more than 30 years, the most disturbing aspects now are the hideous day-glo fashions and the plight of poor Angus. The film is helped along considerably by an amiable cast, some funny dialogue and ingenious pre-CGI visual effects. Don’t miss the climatic beast too, looking like it has escaped from a Ray Harryhausen movie. For those in search of some eighties nostalgia, this is well worth checking out.
The Gate forms part of a special collector’s series celebrating the horror releases of VHS label Vestron from back in the 1980s. Fans will no doubt remember the distinctive Vestron red cassette boxes and pulp cover art. Lionsgate acquired the rights to their extensive back catalogue, and during 2017 Vestron made a belated comeback – complete with its familiar intro. The first batch of remastered BD releases under this banner included: Return of the Living Dead 3, Waxwork, CHUD 2: Bud the Chud and Blood Diner. The current crop of horror titles includes Wishmaster (1997) and Ken Russell’s audacious Lair of The White Worm (1989). All these editions mirror what Lionsgate released previously in the States last year, though they seem to have dropped several other titles for the UK market. It’s perhaps worth pointing out that The Gate was never handled by Vestron, it just happens that Lionsgate acquired the rights. Maverick Hertfordshire based distributor Medusa Communications originally got the film into UK cinemas and later onto video. Medusa was very much the Arrow Video of the VHS era, loved by fans for its eclectic mix of B-movies and striking box cover artwork – sometimes by veteran Italian artist Enzo Sciotti.
The Gate is presented in a 1080p transfer from original elements, in the correct ratio of 1.85:1. The picture quality here is noticeably improved compared to previous DVD editions. Much more fine detail can be observed, especially in close-up shots of Randy Cook’s wonderful stop motion demon lord. There are no detectable signs of damage to the source material, such as specks or lines. The film looks at it best during the brief daytime exterior scenes, where colours are bold and there are good levels of detail. Some of the sharpness is lost during lower lit interior sequences though, but all things considered – the low budget origin and optical processes involved, it’s perfectly acceptable.
The disc comes with the original 2.0 stereo, which does a sterling job delivering the effective sound FX and atmospheric score. I noticed how very subtle sounds are now quite distinct, like those made by the scuttling minions, as these were probably inaudible on earlier releases. Dialogue is clean throughout and subtitles are also provided in both English and Spanish.
Like previous releases in the Vestron Collector’s Series, Lionsgate has once again done a very commendable job in terms of extras. The cumulative running time of all the featurettes is well over two hours, plus there are two audio commentaries, stills galleries and trailers. The interviews with assorted crew members are both jovial and insightful, covering many aspects of the production. Some interviews have been ported over from an earlier 2009 R1 DVD of The Gate, while other featurettes were newly prepared for this BD, but there is invariably some repetition. What really comes across is the extraordinary effort that went into bringing the creatures to life, avoiding conventional techniques at the time in favour of clever forced perspective trickery. It’s a great shame that there is no input from any of the principal cast members. Dorff has had a long varied career since his debut in The Gate and would have been interesting.
Audio Commentary (1) with Director Tibor Takács , writer Michael Nankin, and Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook. Audio Commentary (2) 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 (27:54) - A new 2017 featurette from Red Shirt Pictures, with director Tibor Takács and effects supervisor Randall William Cook in conversation. Minion Maker (22:36) - Make-up effects artist Craig Reardon discusses his work on the film, creating the effective minion costumes. From Hell It Came (13:13) - An interview with the film’s Hungarian co-producer Andras Hamori, who has worked on many Canadian productions including David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. The Workman Speaks (12:22) - An interview with actor Carl Kraines, who plays a zombie workman in The Gate and previously had a small role as The Slayer in the cult film of the same name. Made In Canada (28:28) - A featurette discussing making the film in Toronto. From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate (14:53). The Gatekeepers (15:46) - A short feature ported over from the 2009 R1 DVD. Making of The Gate (22:55) - An archive featurette that looks suspiciously like it was made in the 1980s judging by the mediocre picture quality. It includes an interview with screenwriter Michael Nankin. Teaser Trailer, theatrical Trailer & TV Spot. Storyboard Gallery (9:27). Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (10:20) - Some revealing stills that show how those inventive visual effects were achieved.
The Gate is released on Blu-ray by Lionsgate on 26th February 2018.