I can never be objective when talking about The Gate. I’m reasonably certain it was the first real horror movie I saw as a child. The experience was extremely surreal (because my brother actually let me watch it) and frightening. The Gate may well be my origin story.
It’s a movie that works well for kids because it taps into the fear that children feel. Even now when I watch the movie (still woefully not on blu-ray because Lionsgate sucks) I remember that feeling of being a child, laying in bed at night with the covers pulled up to my nose and interpreting every shadow as some malefic entity coming to get me. And I don’t think that’s nostalgia because none of the other films that scared me as a kid do that, The Gate taps into some primal childhood fear lurking at the back of my mind.
The Gate is an understated masterpiece in mounting fear. It comes on strong, backs off, and then hits you once you’ve calmed down and it pulls this trick twice. Even though I know how the movie plays out, the trick still works. The kid actors are so-so, a nearly unrecognizably young Stephen Dorff heads up the cast of a trio of kids who unwittingly open a gate to some hell dimension causing little demon imps, and eventually a giant fuck-off demon monster to spill into their home. The movie is good for kids because, as no-holds-barred as it goes for most of its runtime, it ends on a pretty joyful note. The happy ending helps take a bit of the pressure off to acclimate a kid to horror without traumatizing them with a fucked up downer ending. It’s like Poltergeists’ cheaper, meaner cousin.
We pick up a few years after the first movie. Stephen Dorff’s family have moved away, leaving the burned out ruin of their home to be a neighborhood eyesore. But Dorff’s neighbor Terry (Louis Tripp) still lives next door and as life continues to shit on him he starts to remember the night of the demons as more exciting than scary. Seeing as Terry’s obsession with demonology was what got them into trouble in the first place, his deduction that their only error was that they didn’t summon the demons “the right way” is rather ominous.
Terry sneaks into the house one night to perform an elaborate ritual which is interrupted by a trio of ’80s movie punks who join in. Terry explains that they will all burn something personal so that the demons will grant them a wish. The summoning works and one of the little imps from the first movie appears and is shot by one of the punks. Terry takes the
Terry takes the imp home, where it returns to life and he soon realizes that the imp can grant wishes. But there’s a catch, all the wishes turn to shit after a few hours. And I’m not using colorful language, all the material objects of the wishes literally turn into goopy gobs of actual shit. Even worse the dark trinity, a trio of Lovecraftian demon gods, is using some of those who have wished to come to our plain of existence where they will be all-powerful.
Does It Hold Up?
For about the first 15 minutes or so, and then it turns into a pile of shit. I appreciate that writer Michael Nankin and Tibor Takacs (both returning from the first movie) decided to not simply rehash the first one, deepening the mythology and doing something new. But if there’s one thing about The Gate that I wanted to repeat for The Gate 2 it’s that childlike sense of terror. That isn’t here and no attempt is made to even make this movie scary at all. Arguably it doesn’t even try, this is more a gothic fantasy movie than a horror film.
I should mention that the acting is fine. Louis Tripp brings a sidekick character onto center stage and he gives a performance worthy of that promotion. There’s some real pathos with the character and his drunken deadbeat dad and I would argue that the drama aspect of this movie works quite well. But this is a horror movie and in that regard it’s a wash.
The other big thing I need to mention is the imp. The imps in the first movie are the highlight of the film. The blend of stop-motion, composite tricks, and people in suits on giant sets makes for some very effective and iconic monsters. And for the most part the one imp (yes, only one) in this movie works like the previous ones, I would bet it’s one of the suits from the first movie. But while the actor in the suit looks fine, the stop-motion one looks pretty awful and the number of sets for the actor are minimalized a lot. Worse still, the imp (which for looking so goofy are legitimately frightening in the first movie) is played as more goofy than terrifying.
I respect what The Gate 2 was going for but it was a pretty dull watch and I have no desire to ever watch it again.
Watch, Toss, Or Buy?
Watch if you’re really curious, but probably just toss it.
Where Can I Find It?
You can’t! Not unless you want to watch it on VHS, commit a crime, or pay $88+ for a vastly overvalued out-of-print DVD on Amazon. And since this movie is not terribly popular or good I wouldn’t bet on Lionsgate doing anything with it anytime soon.