MOVIE REVIEW: The Gate (1987)

It was a dark and stormy night in Nameless Suburban Town. In the midst of some unsettling dreams, a bolt of lightning takes out the tree in the backyard of Glen’s (Stephen Dorff) home. The next day, the removal of the now-dead tree reveals a rather large hole in the ground. Well, dealing with it will have to wait. Glen’s parents are heading out of town for the weekend, leaving his older sister Alexandra “Al” (Christa Denton) in charge. A large panel of wood is placed over the hole, and strict instructions are given to NOT go in and poke around.

Well, try telling unsupervised teens that they can’t do something. Glen and his friend Terry (Louis Tripp) poke around in the hole. While digging out a large geode, Glen cuts himself on a splinter of wood. A few drops of blood fall into the hole – can’t be anything significant, right?

They crack open the geode, and strange vapors come out. Weird supernatural things start to happen, leading Terry to remember something in the liner notes of a rare album from a European heavy metal group that his father got for him. What do you know, those album notes describe just the sort of thing they’ve been experiencing. And it’s all the prelude to the demons of Hell being unleashed on the world. As long as they don’t complete the summoning ritual, they’ll be OK. Too bad no one told Al’s friends, who are having a party at the parent-free house….

Directed by Tibor Takács, The Gate has a reputation as a “cult” film. The creature effects – using both forced perspective and stop-motion animation (of the sort mastered by Ray Harryhausen), are still quite effective. The cast is more than capable of handling the demands of the script.

There are two things to note about the movie. First, there’s the role of “heavy metal” music. It came out during another one of those silly panics about how metal music was turning kids over to the side of Satan, what with all the demonic imagery and “backwards masking”. Here, it’s the other way around. While the album in the movie does have all the demonolgy, it is presented as the means to fight the demons and send them back to wherever they came from.

Finally, there’s what I think makes it a “cult” film. I strongly suspect that the reviewers describing it that way first saw the movie when they were the same age as the protagonists, Glen and Terry. Yes, this is a horror movie. But it is a horror movie targeted at pre-teens. There’s zero gore, and other than the small cut that starts the whole plot moving, not even any blood. Nothing at all to gross out the viewer or cause nightmares. Heck, other than the parents (who don’t even rate names!) and a workman, there aren’t any adults in the movie at all. So they saw this movie that was made pretty much just for kids – and upon rewatching it as an adult, they remember how much they enjoyed it the first time, and see that it still holds up.

And you know what?

It does.


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