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RUNNING TIME: 85 Minutes
- Special Effects Featurette
- More Dorff Than You Can Handle
There was a time where you could smoke onscreen, endanger children like nobody’s business, and have multitudes of demons spawning from the ground to fuck shit up.
It was called THE 80’s. And in small doses, it was beautiful.
The Gate was a sweet goodbye kiss from the 80’s before the horror genre got all cynical and seriously lacking in cute little old school subterranean demons with a bad attitude.
Director: Tibor Takács
Writer: Michael Nankin
Cast: Stephen Dorff. Louis Tripp. Christa Denton. Tiny Bastards from the Ground.
“May undead repairman borrow your boom box?”
A few kids accidentally open a portal to the dark depths and as is expected have to deal with tiny little demonic creepers in and around their house. Added bonus: Other nightmarish things attack them.
A young Stephen Dorff is involved. Nothing would ever be the same.
I was fifteen years old when The Gate was unleashed into movie theaters. My own changing body, political unrest in the world, and the fact that there hadn’t been a good Kiss album in some time left a hole in my soul that was decidedly Gate-shaped. For that reason, The Gate couldn’t have come at a better time. It filled my Gate-shaped hole and then some, if you get my drift.
When it comes to ‘Tiny Creatures Chasing Kids’ movies The Gate ranks right there between Gremlins and Al Pacino’s home movies. It’s surprisingly ambitious and though many of the really strong ideas are never followed through on, it’s a nice horror milestone and a film that still kinda works. As a young man I found the time between the monster moments to be excruciatingly long and boring but now as I realize the film is a seriously brief affair loaded with other non-creature scares it makes me wonder if this could have been a really effective film had it come out ten years later or been granted with more production value and slightly more ambitious filmmaking. There are no shortages of creepy possibilities here that would have been magic in the hands of a more aggressive filmmaker. Though the monster scenes are well staged, everything here is filmed and edited in a very generic manner and were it a little more artistically ambitious there’s no reason this couldn’t have the same cachet as a Poltergeist or Gremlins.
As it stands, it’s still fun.
“I thought you said Satan broke the mold after he made Glenn Danzig.”
When their parents leave young Glen (Stephen Dorff, before he realized that these people are his food) and his big sister Al (the cute and way out of the movie business Christa Denton) in charge of their house for the weekend, they undoubtedly fear that the kids may break some dishes or forget to feed their dog [Angus, no other known film work]. What they probably do not expect is that the tree trunk they have removed from their yard lies directly over a portal to nightmaretown and that their own son and his nerdy friend are going to go the extra mile towards summoning the beasts from beneath to potentially bring about an end to humanity’s tenuous reign on Earth. If they did fear that and STILL went out of town, then they are jerks.
But, since this is the 80’s they do leave the kids alone and after the expected things happen with the newfound freedom (partying, campfire tales, levitation), things get serious. Well, sorta.
I mean, a heavy metal record being played backwards is involved. And a beast that has survived thousands of years gets its ass kicked my a model rocket. And the aformentioned gigantic beast that surfaces to rule the world doesn’t skin little Steve Dorff alive when they meet but rather check him out, which is totally NOT what gigantic ancient beasts do. It’d have shot deep sperms from its inner furnace and bathed the boy in it, boiling him. Then a tentacle would have come out and slurped it up, getting the creature high on melted Dorff. Instead it checks him out and goes home. After he pisses it off again, only THEN does it want to treat him to punishment. I call bullshit.
And ancient demon history stuff skimmed from Lovecraft 101 doesn’t dovetail perfectly into a story about little kids in suburbia. Or does it?
Joe Camp’s FOR THE HATE OF BENJI, coming to IMAX in 2010.
The plot is not what makes a film like this crackle. This could have been treated with the grace of a Pan’s Labyrinth but this is a blue-collar horror movie made not by die-hard genre people but able craftsmen not trying to create a mythos but rather entertain folks and make a few bucks while doing it. Tibor Takács (A name that if spoken aloud seven times in a row summons Tony Todd. Not Candyman, but the actual Tony Todd. Use discretion) does have the distinction of having made Mansquito but was not a technical crasftman back in the late 80’s. There are times when the direction of the film prohibits it from being truly effective. Writer Michael Nankin, who has gone on to be a prolific TV director in his own right, dug deep into his own childhood nightmares and there are a lot of really creepy ideas here. As presented by Takács, they’re not fully realized and shot rather directly, but there are enough decent chills to keep audiences satiated until the real monsters surface.
There’s a great little scene where creepy faux versions of their parents show up and little Glen squashes his father’s face into oblivion. There are other little moments that work, though a creepy kid head in the closet is not one of them. Since the nightmares are meant to represent the worst fears of the children come to life, I suppose a lot of it deserves a pass. That, and the fact this is a horror movie aimed squarely at the 13-18 demographic.
There’s also a very great moment later in the film where an undead workman gets pegged with a boom box (as seen above) and then falls and explodes into a handful of little Gate minions. Not only is it a great moment and quite visionary for the time, but it’s also a very neat shot once you realize the technique involved. Plus, who ever tires of scenes where old men explode into monsters?
As a young pup I thought nearly everything in the film was done through stop-motion SFX but AU CONTRAIRE! There’s a ton of forced perspective and really good matte work here, and the creatures are for the most part people in costume. And it works! The little minions are the lasting signature of this movie and they’ve aged very well, especially because of the decision to choose the flexibility of people in suits over endearing but easily spotted stop-motion. They and their larger kin are just about wholly successful as film monsters and worthy in the pantheon established by the masters and kept alive in the 80’s by folks named Baker, Winston, and Bottin.
It makes the rather rushed and limited palette of the film easier to take. Kudos to Craig Reardon and Randall William Cook for their great technical work.
I can’t stop jerking off to this.
The acting is decent, especially considering the main cast is populated by children. Louis Tripp is a bit annoying and extremely unconvincing as the death metal nerd Terry. It doesn’t help to hear his prepubescent wails of fear, a sound that makes cat sex sound like sweet organ music. Surprisingly, he was the only cast member to return for the sequel. Stephen Dorff is rather bland, but so were you at his age.
When it all boils down, The Gate is worth watching for its fun little monsters, some bigger ideas, and the chance to see Stephen Dorff as an innocent, big-headed little moppet.
There’s a decent amount of affection bestowed upon the film here, with a couple of nice little featurettes about the film. Cook, Nankin, and Takács are all involved and provide plenty of fun anecdotal evidence. It’s nice to see folks like this given the chance to revisit their work after all those years. The Gate doesn’t have the sneaky fandom that The Monster Squad has nor the benefit of being the early work of a renown genre filmmaker. What it has is a nice unpretentious niche in the crowded and beloved 80’s horror scene. The gang does a nice job in these featurettes but it must be said that the commentary track is really not worth the time investment as it features long pauses, nothing too gripping that sticks out from the other special features, and a little too much seeming bitterness towards the lack of budget and what could have been rather than what is.
Still, it’s a film about little creatures beneath the house. I can’t hate that, CAN I?
6.5 out of 10
* – Baseball fans. Know that if I knew more of you were out there I’d have cracked my initial CHIN MUSIC joke.
“Whoa! Who lurks above to interrupt story hour?”
“Don’t worry about me, just supervising from upstairs!”
“Don’t be surprised if the menu involves crotch!” “Eeeeek!”
“Always omitted from the indoor shenanigans.”
“Mwah! I’m the tiniest Casanova in town.”
“Sir, welcome to Subterranean Foot Locker. What are you shopping for today?”
“I will be lodging a complaint at www.arbitrarylimbs.biz on this night!”
A rare glimpse at The Gate’s Happy Hour party.
“Still up here checkin’ shit out!”
“I’m afraid we’ll not be needing maid service at this moment, human-being.”
If The Gate craves your sock…