Gate, The (1987)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2008-04-15 13:18

Directed by: Tibor Takacs
Written by: Michael Nankin
Produced by: John Kemeny

Reviewed by: Brett H.

May the old devils depart! May they burn in the fires of their own damnation! May they freeze in the infinite golden darkness of their own hideous creation!Ē
ďIsn't that kind of insulting?Ē
ďI guess it's supposed to be. I mean, we're trying to get rid of them.Ē

Towards the latter part of horrorís grandest decade, the eighties, there was a sort of mini revolution of ďsafe horrorĒ. Films that maintained spooky atmosphere great monsters, but toned down the flesh and blood a bit to appease parents and allow horror films to be viewed by kids whose parental supervision was a bit tighter than my own. The Monster Squad is the film most revered as the greatest of its kind and the Canadian box office hit, The Gate also ranks high on this ladder. Many of these films were made in or around 1987, and rock/metal music romps such as Rock Ďn Roll Nightmare and Slumber Party Massacre II also became somewhat in demand at the this time. The Gate manages to cater to each unique crowd (although leans heavily to the adolescent horror side of things), but how does the film rate through the eyes of an adult?

Glen (Stephen Dorff) is your average suburban kid, he likes to launch off model rockets and hang out with his metal loving buddy, Terry (Louis Trip). Well, at least Glen used to like to launch rockets, things havenít been the same since he burned a hole in the roof of his parentís house and now is confined to launching them under the supervision of an adult. Glenís sister, Al (Christa Denton), is in charge of keeping an eye on Glen while their parents are out of town and Glen is grounded, so heís stuck up in his room with Terry. Theyíre good buds and Terry seems to know a lot about the occult, getting most of his information from Sacrifyxís, album, The Dark Book. Itís the kind of heavy metal album where the liner notes contain passages to summon and defeat demons, and this is of particular use to Glen and Terry as they are about to encounter some creatures that are out of this world.

A meteor (lightning?) knocks down a tree in Glenís backyard and Terry and him go out there to explore, collecting a geode in the process. With another one somewhere in the hole from which the tree is exhumed from, they dig in search of it. The tree had once kept the door to hell closed and now is the perfect opportunity for demons to try to take over the world again. Between the words from the metal album and the splintered bloody finger that Glen gets when re-digging the hole, the only thing the demons need to raise some hell is for a living thing to be placed in the hole. Enter Alís party buddies (they donít even offer the poor kids a few beer, bastards), one of which promises to take the family dog, Angus, to a proper place as itís passed on at the age of 97 (in dog years). Oblivious, the guy drops the dog into the gate... and hell on earth is now the special du jour.

The Gate is directed towards a younger audience and to that degree, it works on many levels. As an adult watching the film without any direct history with the film, it works on a few less. Yet, it proves to be a decent entry in the adolescence themed horror films that came quick and went quicker in the eighties. The idea the movie is based on is great. What viewer wouldnít be interested in a gateway to hell (in someoneís backyard, no less)? The kids in the movie are good fun and you cheer them on the whole way against these supernatural forces. Independence is a big part of this growing up saga, unlike The Monster Squad, the kids are in it alone with only a few 15 year old girls to help them out. In this respect, itís quite effective and overtakes even The Monster Squad, albeit nothing else in the film ever does. That doesnít take away anything from The Gate, though itís not as good as its vastly more popular American comparison, it tries really hard and has lots of heart. While the film lacks distinct Canadiana, looking at it this way makes it really captures the aura of Canadian filmmaking in a nutshell.

Other than the relationship between buds Glen and Terry, the stop motion demons are the best part. The effects are pretty good and make the movie a lot of fun, but a slight problem is one that the similar (although not one-hundredth as insane) Canadian romp, The Pit shares. The tra-la-log creatures in that film arenít on screen as much as they should be, and the same can be said in The Gate. But, the film benefits greatly when they are on the screen because the little six-inch bastards are cute, funny and a mean all rolled into one. Thereís also the head demon, which is a monstrous beast that stems up from underneath the family home. It looks a bit sillier and plain standing tall in what should be a very foreboding scene, but the detail isnít there on the creature. Itís still not bad and the demise of the giant demon is... interesting, if not completely off the wall and devoid of real explanation.

The demons take the form of childhood fears, be it made up fantasies from the mouth of Terry (who says thereís a dead construction worker contained in the walls of Glenís house) and they even take the form of the parents of the movie. The ďfatherĒ scolds Glen for being bad while heís away before Glen pokes his head and it bleeds a milky substance before turning to mush. The metal influence of the film is great, a cheap Iron Maiden-ish band, Sacrifyx instructs the boys on what to do and what is going on via their recordings and liner notes and itís fun to see the boys rocking out at a young age, something most guys can relate to. It fits the time and feel of the eighties well, thereís always shit flying everywhere and cool coloured lighting, shadows or light peering in through a window, which creates plenty atmosphere. Thereís a strong claustrophobic feel to it since so much weird shit happens; seemingly anything can happen at any moment. One scene has the kids locked in a closet, but itís really of no use, the demons can get them straight on or emerge through the wall in the form of the demon/zombie construction worker. The best effect of the movie involves the demon construction worker hitting the floor after being shot and morphing into a couple dozen of the scurrying demon minions.

The Gate was shot in Ontario and was a box office hit in Canada when it was released. I think it deserved the attention it got. Although it never proceeds to that next level, it remains effective, especially for a younger audience. Thereís not too many Canadian references, it takes place in Anywhere, North America and although Canadian steak staple, H.P. Sauce, is seen on the table and the Canadian kids show, Romper Room is noted, thatís about as far as it goes. One scene hit home with me, it featured moths flying madly out of the gateway to hell, something that I experienced as a kid at a provincial camping ground (sans the gateway to hell part). There was a small mini-house in the play park and when I set foot at the top of the stairs to go inside, a whole swarm of them flew into my face, there were hundreds. I have no idea why they were there and I have hated moths ever since even more than I did prior. I canít fully relate to these types horror films as I was watching any horror film the video store or Super Channel had to offer since I was three years old, but the appeal still hits home somewhere with me. Dig up The Gate, what the hell? Itís one of the finer eighties adolescent horror romps and one that can be appreciated by all, especially with a younger sibling. You may also want to check out The Gate 2: Return to the Nightmare while you're at it. Rent it!

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