The Gate (1987)

...pray it's not too late!

Year of Release: 1987
Genre: Horror/Fantasy
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 85 minutes (1:25)
Director: Tibor Takacs


Stephen Dorff ... Glen
Christa Denton ... Al
Louis Tripp ... Terrence 'Terry' Chandler
Kelly Rowan ... Lori Lee
Jennifer Irwin ... Linda Lee
Deborah Grover ... Mom
Scot Denton ... Dad


Haunting visions fill a once-peaceful home as two teens discover an unholy evil that waits below. Best friends Glen and Terry stumble across a special rock with a beautiful crystalline center in Glen's backyard. The rock enthralls them and they dig up the family's newly sodded lawn in search for more of the precious stones. They find no stones... they find THE GATE - a hidden underground chamber that holds the secret of centuries and the vengeance of eternity. They've unlocked deadly demons and ghoulish fiends out to create a Hell on earth.

The kids' worst nightmares chase them through the haunted night. The GATE must be closed before it's too late...


The Gate, remindin' us that Satan ain't payin' to heat the whole goddamned planet. So if you plan on leavin' the front door to Hell hangin' wide open you're prolly gonna experience a little trans-dimensional blowback.

An speakin' of vulgar displays of power, you ever feel like some all powerful somethin' or other's out there sendin' you little cosmic "thank yous" for hangin' in there so diligently against all odds... just so they can watch you run a little farther down the path to success an yank back on the choke chain? Whoever it is's prolly got a buncha guys gathered around the edge of the clouds lookin' down atcha an sayin': "watch this you guys, he'll never see it comin'." Maybe it's just me. Anyway, Bondo FINALLY found me a decent engine for my '76 Dodge Coronet that I been meanin' to get runnin' the last 18 years only I never had the time, money, ambition, or the technical know-how all at the same moment, so I was pretty stoked when it showed up out in the lawn one afternoon next to that old bench pickup seat Apollo likes to sleep on. Particularly since the Topaz' been up on blocks the last coupla weeks while Billy Hilliard an I've been tryin' to figure out what's makin' that noise like a red digger bein' torn apart by a barn owl. But like I was sayin', I finally got this engine, an so I call up Billy to get his help liftin' the old one out, only right about the time we got everything disconnected an he's gettin' his arms down in there to haul it out (in retrospect I guess he wasn't so much helpin' as doin' pretty much everything), Amos Anderson pulls up in that putrid green Chevy Blazer the Forest Service issued 'im to ask if we've seen Buck McGurk around anywhere cause he'd gotten a report about Buck shootin' hawks offa telephone poles again.

So we tell 'im we hadn't seen Buck since last Tuesday when he was in the Make Love not Whargarbl Gun Shop inquirin' about some 220 grain .30-06 shells an he turns to leave, only when Billy gets his arms back around the engine this furry little face pokes its head up outta the radiator hose an puts such a scare into 'im that he drops it an whacks the back of his head on the underside of the hood hard enough to leave a bowlin' ball sized divot in it. Hood looks like it's got a giant metallic herpe now, it's kinda disgustin'. So of course, bein' incapable of mindin' his own business like everybody in government, Amos leans out the window of his rig an hollers "what's the trouble Billy?", an Billy not havin' shook all the little Looney Tunes tweety birds spinnin' around his head yet hollers back "thur'th thumpthin' in thur!" Amos never has been real big on doin' his job less'n it means givin' out lectures, so he climbs back outta his rig an comes to see what all the ruckus is about an discovers this freeloadin' family of black-footed ferrets livin' in my engine an immediately radios for backup. Apparently the little boogers ain't been seen around here since 1922, an now I got a half dozen federal agents takin' shifts in my back yard guardin' these glorified weasels. I tried remindin' 'em that Kathy Griffin's out there on the loose posin' a serious danger to President Trump while they're camped out in the middle of nowhere playin' bodyguard for a buncha rodent squatters, but that just made 'em cordon off a 25 square foot area around the Coronet an threaten to imminent domain my yard if I didn't "comply with Article 3476.2 of the Federal Endangered Species Act" so I pretty much gave up right then an there. If this's any indication of what the summer's gonna be like I may just go campin' til October.

Now that I think about it Apollo's been eatin' those things for years. Hopefully they don't figure out where he's been buryin' 'em or I ain't never gonna be able to raise the bail money to get 'im outta the pound. Maybe if I'm lucky some kids'll come along an open up a gate to Hell out there an suck those BLM guys into it so I can get back to work on the Coronet, but in the meantime, let's talk demons. Specifically, nekkid little bald-headed guys with foot fetishes who spend their evenins sneakin' into suburban bedroom neighborhoods to scare the crap outta middle-class families. These particular demons come from a family known as claymacious anklebitus, an can be frequently spotted flyin' through the air offa the receiving end of an L.A. Gear tennis shoe. They're kinda like the little guys in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, cept that they've got nudist tendencies an breathe through their mouths like they just stepped out of a southern trailer park community. Unfortunately, these little guys're currently on the brink of extinction due to the advent of computer generated special effects, so I think it's our responsibility... nay, our DUTY, to learn everything we can about 'em an the movies they agree to star in before they're gone, so I expect everybody to pay close attention to these frozen moments of cinematic history an spread the word about modelin' clay monstrosities before it's too late. First thing all you suburbanites'll prolly wanna be aware of - there's gonna be a little friction between you an the homeowners association when they find out you've been concealin' the gateway to the underworld beneath the surface of your immaculately groomed lawn. Second, always keep a blow dryer in case of claymation demon incursions. The people in this movie didn't have one, but if they had, they coulda turned those little suckers into Pottery Barn sculptures an avoided a whole lotta ugliness. An third, successfully fendin' off an army of midget minions from Hell means you can pretty much set your own hourly babysittin' rate.

But if I may be so bold, I'd like a moment to build a case against the Wizard of Oz for this whole attempted demonic takeover of Earth if that's alright with everybody, cause I'm startin' to wonder if the "Wicked" Witch of the West wasn't actually on the right side of history. Seriously, consider this: first of all, we know that the Wizard gives Dorothy the knowledge she needs to return home, AND she does this usin' a tornado, right? Well, in The Gate we learn that Earth once belonged to these demons (thus, it is their original *home*), an they too attempt a return, en masse, with the help of a giant tornado that emerges from The Gate. Additionally, we never see the Demon Lord's feet (so for all we know he's got ruby slippers on), the first inhabitants encountered by the heroes of both movies are midgets who aid both Dorothy an the Demon Lord in their respective quests to get home, an both flicks feature shaggy dogs in peril. In The Gate the hero's name is Glen (like, as in GLENDA, Good Witch of the North), an Glen's final conflict requires resourcefulness (brains), the selfless devotion necessary to save his world at great risk to himself (heart), an fortitude beyond his years to challenge a seemingly invincible foe (courage). A key distinction, though, is that Glen's adversary succumbs to fire, where Dorothy's melts when exposed to water. So basically we're talkin' polar opposite weaknesses, suggesting that if they were both evil, they'd have the SAME weakness. Therefore, I submit to you that the "Wicked" Witch was assigned to stand sentry against this Demon Lord, but was prematurely an unceremoniously turned into a pool of unsightly glopola, thus allowing the demon to breach the gates of the Emerald City an force the Wizard into providing the means for him and his army to return home, unchallenged. Bottom line: Judy Garland damn near caused the downfall of civilization through her own selfish desire to return home, AFTER wishing herself away from it in the first place. An people wonder why I'm cynical.

The movie begins with little Stephen Dorff (Glen) comin' home to find out his parents've moved while he was at school again, which makes 'im so depressed that he decides to climb up into his treehouse so he can tie his Stretch Armstrong around his ankles an go bungee jumpin', only about the time he gets up there lightnin' strikes the tree an next thing you know down comes baby, Play-Doh an all. Fortunately he wakes up in his bed an realizes it was just a dream, cept for the fact that the tree really did get slumberjacked while he was asleep, an so he an his buddy, who looks like the librarian from Married with Children (Terry), start screwin' around in the big smoldering hole where the tree used to be an find a thunder egg the size of a tetherball an figure they're gonna strike it rich once they find a trust fund hippy to unload it on. Then the kids' parents take off for their weekend-long key party in Santa Barbara an Glen's sister (Al) invites all 'er valley girl friends over to party hardly, while Glen an Terry hammer a railroad spike into their geode so they can watch it belch out smoke like teenagers in a vape shop an scrawl out weird Cthulhu voodoo incantations on their Etch-A-Sketch. Naturally, Glen tries soundin' the words out as best he can without the help of the Encyclopedia Satanica, an next thing you know their hole turns into the kinda thing you'd expect Johnny Cash to fall into. Meanwhile, the teenagers're tellin' scary stories about escaped mental patients, an runnin' outta spray-on mousse while gettin' ready for prom, when they spot Glen an Terry sneakin' outside an call 'em over to help recreate the levitation episode of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World. Much to everyone's surprise, the ritual actually works, an it ain't long before Glen's goin' dookular in his drawers an havin' to yank a light fixture outta the wall when gravity resumes so he won't splatter onto the floor like a bowl of butterscotch pudding. Then alla Al's friends go home an the kids turn in, but when Terry gets up in the middle of the night to water the bath mat, his dead mama comes in through the front door wearin' a nightgown with a white fog light shinin' behind 'er like Bonnie Tyler in the Total Eclipse of the Heart video, an their reunion ends kinda abruptly when Terry finds 'imself huggin' the family dog who's gone on that long car ride to eternity in the meantime. The next mornin', Terry goes home to find his Dad gone on business an heads up to this room that looks like a White Zombie album exploded all over the walls so he can listen to H.P. Lovecraft narrate a heavy metal album that just happens to have the same edgelord style lyrics that showed up on the Etch-A-Sketch printed in its liner notes.

Then he goes back over to Glen's place an they notice the hole's burpin' up smoke again like Humphrey Bogart, William B. Davis, James Bond, and Patty an Selma Bouvier're down there havin' a poker game, an Terry hasta break the bad news to Glen; he's got demons, an Zelda Rubinstein's off filmin' Poltergeist II. Fortunately things haven't gone completely to pot just yet, cause their "sacrifice" (Angus, the dog) was supposed to go in the hole to complete the summoning process, an so now the demons're kinda stuck in one night stand mode where they're not sure if it's okay to call the next day. Unfortunately, Al's greasy boyfriend ends up dumpin' the dog in the hole when he finds out the veterinarian's office ain't acceptin' anymore donations for their Korean "stamp out hunger" food drive. Then Al's friends come back over so they can do each other's hair an overhype how long their first times're gonna last when they finally decide to quit playin' hard to get, cept while that's goin' on the window in Glen's room shatters an he ends up gettin' attacked by a buncha devil moths that escaped Jame Gumb's basement. He runs down the hall to Al's room to tell 'er about the Mothman Gnawphecies an how 'er silk wardrobe is in grave danger, but when he brings 'er back to his room an tries nudgin' Terry awake he walks up behind 'em an they find Angus' corpse under the covers, an about that time Al gets grabbed around the ankles by these big gooey hands an everybody hasta beat 'em off like Melania Trump. Then everyone piles out the front door where they find the kids' parents, or so it seems, but pretty quick they turn zombie an we've got a Night of the Living Dad situation where Glen hasta rip the guy's face off an slop guacamole all over his Spiderman jammies. So now they decide to try the back way, but that path's blocked by a squadron of critters that look like the result of Arts & Crafts time at the Addams house, an when they run back inside they get a prank phone call from The Evil Dad who then melts the phone til it looks like an Avon cosmetics kit that got left sittin' too close to a campfire.

Then they head into the basement where Terry left his Catholicizer manual with "return to sender" incantation, only before he can beat the demons to a blood pulpit, the book ignites like a Samsung laptop battery an they end up havin' to hoof it out to the hole an improvise with a bible. Only when they try that the devil's fog machine starts makin' the whole neighborhood look like downtown Shanghai an Terry ends up fallin' down the hole an bein' attacked by P.O.'d Fraggles with mange who try chewin' his toes off an convertin' 'im to Cthulhucism, until Al an Glen can haul 'im outta there with an old rope swing an finish closin' The Gate with sufficient Jesus talk. Now the real fun begins, cause by this point the house looks like somebody's been operatin' an illegal Velociraptor fightin' ring in there, but before they even get started concealin' evidence of their demonic house party, a drywall zombie busts through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man up in Glen's room an drags Terry inside. Glen rushes to Al's bedroom to tell 'er the the Jesus jive must notta worked, cause, after all, there's still another prick in the wall. Too late though, cause now the guy's up in her room tryin' to dress 'er up in his blood, an she ends up havin' to lower the boom box on 'im an smash 'im into a hundred little devil golems. Then Glen runs downstairs to get his Dad's shotgun, cept while he's diggin' through dusty leisure suits an platform shoes Terry's disembodied zombie head shows up an starts eatin' his hand til Al comes runnin' down an rams a Malibu Barbie leg into Terry's eye socket an it ain't long before they end up surrounded by a horde of malignant mud pie minions an hafta hole up in the closet like Bruce Jenner. Unfortunately, now there's no escape route when ole putreface shows up an holds Al upside down like he's about to slingshot 'er into the top turnbuckle at Wrestlemania, an once he pulls her into the wall all the little demons start dancin' around like they're performin' a Zimbabwean fertility ritual an next thing you know this gigantic blue guy with more arms than a Hindu deity parade comes plowin' up outta the floor lookin' at Glen like he's about to be processed into demon dook. Gonna cut the description off here, cause even though the ending's a little anti-climactic it's still worth preservin' for the people who've never seen it.

Well, there ya go, The Gate. Kinda cutesy at times, and overflowing with the same fairy tale quality that make flicks like Dolls and Troll as much fun as they are. You can try blamin' the Canadians for all that sensitivity if you want to, but the fact of the matter is you really limit what the MPAA's gonna let you get away with when your central characters are children. I've gotta believe there was at least one dissenting vote when they slapped a PG-13 on this thing too, but nearly all the horror is psychological in nature, so I'm inclined to agree with the PG-13. The flick borrows heavily from Poltergeist in terms of tone and structure, but also takes a page from Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, with it's little dwarven creatures. The Gate is a little more epic in scale, in the sense that there's a whole lot more on the line than the displacement of one family, but it's also fundamentally different in that the kids are the main characters, and they're completely on their own. It does tend to get a little distracted at times, particularly where it concerns the supporting cast, cause none of these secondary characters contribute squat to the story, be those contributions simply moving the plot along, or being murdered for our entertainment. And do you think they devoted enough time to Stephen Dorff's fascination with launching toy rockets? I may not have mentioned it much (or possibly at all) in the summary, but that point is reiterated at least a half dozen times en route to the climax. Don't get me wrong, I recognize the need to foreshadow things so they'll make sense later, but the writers went a little overboard in their efforts to drill that point into the viewer's skull. There were also a coupla things that I feel were allowed to drop rather free of consequence, the first being the complete lack of aftermath proceeding Terry seeing/embracing his dead mother during the sleepover. By the next morning he's fine, like it never even happened. The second is Glen's complete, rational understanding about the dog dying the night before. He says something about how old the dog was and pretty much moves on immediately (other than when he's using it as leverage to try getting the sister to call the parents), which doesn't strike me as the way a 13-year-old kid is going to handle the death of the family pet. Particularly one that's been around for every day of his life up to that point. Still, the flick's got peak '80s fashion (including lime green windbreakers and spiked hair with enough gel in it to unclog the sink at a greasy spoon diner) and some great one-liners, including Terry's explanation of what they're doing in the backyard when the sister catches them trying to reseal the gate; "We accidentally summoned demons who used to rule the universe to come and take over the world. But they're gone now." Perfect matter-of-fact delivery, it's hilarious. Another thing I'll say for it - it looks like it cost more to make than it probably did. The IMDB estimates $2,500,000 on the budget, but I wouldn't at all be surprised if it was closer to $4,000,000 given how many elaborate special effects there are, and the director's willingness to completely trash the set. That generally doesn't happen when you're dealing with low budget flicks.

But anyhow, it's time to pick at the pieces and decide whether the movie inspires that elusive childlike sense of wonder, or whether it just makes you wonder what the heck these guys were smokin'. The plot, as I touched on earlier, is a little distracted. One could argue that the mind of a child is *more* than a little distracted, and that since this flick is presented from the perspective of two children, that this scatter-brained approach is intentional. But if you wanna hear that argument you'll hafta ask someone else because I'm not buying it. They also hammer on the same point over and over and even include unnecessary scenes that slow the movie down to reiterate foreshadowing that they've already thoroughly established. Truthfully, at the end of the day some of what goes on doesn't entirely make sense (particularly the ending), but despite its issues, it's *mostly* coherent, well paced, and entertaining enough that you're generally willing to let its minor issues slide. The acting is alright, but that's about it. The kids seem just a little bit too green to properly convey the appropriate level of terror, despite being the best performers in the movie. They come off just fine as average, ordinary kids, but this was the first movie for both actors, and when called upon to display more emotion, they're slightly wooden. I actually thought Louis Tripp was a little better than Stephen Dorff, though I'm probably in the minority on that. As far as the supporting cast, Christa Denton isn't bad as Al, but the parents, particularly the father, are a bit subpar. Fortunately they're in the movie for all of three minutes, so it's not really that large a detriment.

Here's who matters and why: Stephen Dorff (Blade, Alone in the Dark 2005, Cold Creek Manor, feardotcom, Space Truckers), Christa Denton (The Bad Seed 1985), Louis Tripp (The Gate II), Jennifer Irwin (Another Evil), Scot Denton (Murder in Space), Ingrid Veninger (Phil the Alien), Linda Goranson (The Possession of Michael D), Carl Kraines (The Gate II, The Slayer). Strangely, this flick proved to be quite the king/queen maker with regard to its cast, so here're the credits most of these poor souls would actually prefer to be known for: Stephen Dorff (Wade Porter in Felon, Homer Van Meter in Public Enemies), Kelly Rowan (Natalie Vincent on Perceptions, Kirsten Cohen on The O.C., Ellen Henry in One Eight Seven), Jennifer Irwin (Virginia Kremp on The Goldbergs, Creepy Carol on Breaking In, Linda Michaels on Still Standing), Deborah Grover (Elaine Jeffers on Night Heat). They really went indoor and small screen on us there didn't they? Always a shame to see that happen.

The special effects are pretty much the entire reason to watch this flick, because even though there's a lot of stop-motion, they interlace it well with forced perspective shots to minimize the effect of its jerkiness. Something else I'd point out - most stop-motion effects tend to take awhile to get to the point, but some of these move really quickly, which is both unusual and effective. They also make good use of miniatures, and manage to produce some fairly cohesive matte shots. Of course, the movie also has its share of conventional glopola effects, including the scene where Glen rips his zombie Dad's face off, those nasty arms trying to drag Christa Denton under the bed, and you've also got the zombie that's always tryin' to drag people into the walls, all of which look good. Ultimately, the movie lives and dies by the perception of its demon creatures, and I'd say the ones created with physical effects that utilize forced perspective are excellent, and that the ones made with stop-motion are about as good as can be expected. I know stop-motion is old and antiquated, but somehow it's rather fitting given the fairy tale atmosphere of the movie. The shooting locations aren't particularly significant or interesting, but then that's kinda the idea. Nice, middle-class suburban neighborhood where everything follows a predictable pattern gets turned upside down when Cthulhu moves in next door. There's really very little to say about this aspect, because the entire movie takes place in two houses and a backyard. They get the job done, but they're not all that interesting nor pivotal to the success or failure of the movie. The soundtrack's pretty decent, and has that twinkly fairy tale quality about it while still coming across as foreboding and suspenseful in all the right places. The Gate is very much about atmosphere, and while it does have a lot of special effects with which to wow the viewer, it spends a significant amount of time building up to them, and the soundtrack is integral to the success of said building process. It's not really what I'd consider "catchy," but it's very effective at setting the tone of each scene, and there're also some decent '80s tunes that add to the nostalgia factor for everyone who enjoys films from the decade of excess. Overall, The Gate is an excellent, if somewhat tame horror flick from the golden age, and one that most folks probably saw for the first time on late night cable. Reasonably well made, and highly enjoyable despite its minor problems, so be sure to grab a copy if you were out having a social life on Saturday nights and never managed to catch it on TV.

Rating: 78%