The Gate (1987)
“They’re Here and They Want to Meet the Neighbors”
Director: Tibor Takacs
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Christa Denton, Louis Tripp
Synopsis: Two young boys accidentally release a horde of nasty, pint-sized demons from a hole in a suburban backyard.
Back in the 1980s, horror movies Like The Gate, which was released with a PG-13 certificate in the United States, were produced primarily for young teens. Today’s horror flicks with a PG-13 rating seem to be produced mostly for adults, but with the horror scaled back in order to widen the audience net and maximise profits. Such is progress, and doesn’t that tell us something about the film companies’ opinion of its customers? To my mind, a movie designed to appeal to the adult (or at least late teen market) which has a 13 certificate simply can’t be a horror movie — it’s at best a tame fantasy film disguised as a horror.
Anyway, The Gate makes no attempt to hide the fact that it is aimed primarily at teens, and it made a killing at the box office as a result. The three key characters are all kids, and apart from a couple of parents, fully-grown adults barely make an appearance – although that’s partly because most of the action takes place in or around the neat suburban home of pre-teen Glen (Stephen Dorff, long before he had to shave) and his coltish older sister, Al (Christa Denton). If the fashions and haircuts didn’t give the game away, we’d know we’re back in the 1980s by the relative ease with which fifteen-year-old Al convinces their parents that she’s old enough to babysit Glen while they go away for the weekend. Even Mom (Deborah Grover) and Dad (Scot Denton) couldn’t have envisaged their little darlings causing as much havoc as they ultimately do.
When a bunch of workmen uproot a tree in the family’s garden which has been damaged in a storm, they inadvertently open up a Lovecraftian gateway between hell and earth, which Glen and his weird friend Terry (Louis Tripp) inadvertently make worse when they dig up some large eggs. Quite what purpose these eggs perform, other than providing a reason for Glen and his mate to go poking around in that hole, is never really explained, but the The Gate is fairly casual about maintaining any semblance of reality. Considering the mayhem that occurs in the second half of the movie, you’d think at least one neighbour, or even the police, might wander by to see if the kids are ok, but everything seems to take place in this kind of alternate reality inhabited only by the three protagonists and a few of their teen friends who pop in and out at mostly inopportune moments.
Hell, it seems, is inhabited by tiny demons called Minions who are no more than about five inches tall, and although they prove to be rather vicious, they pose only limited danger to the kids, and when Terry realises that the key to returning them to hell is contained within the lyrics of one of his favourite heavy metal LPs they seem to have the solution to how to return the Minions to their underworld domain. However, there’s still half-an-hour of The Gate to go by the time they succeed in doing this, so you just know the fun and games isn’t over.
The Gate seems to cater as much to young kids’ love of noisy destruction and screaming loudly as it does to their fear of the bogeyman, and its second half might prove tough going for some adults. But the film does boast some terrific pre-CGI special effects which still hold up pretty well more than 25 years later. Even though the Minions are mostly men in rubber suits, they look like particularly well-realised stop-motion figures, which is a neat touch. You can see the joins in some of the other effects, but when a movie reaches the age of The Gate that just contributes to their charm. It’s just a shame screenwriter Michael Nankin deemed it unnecessary to explain much of what was going on in the later stages of the movie (what’s with that eye, for example?), and was unable to dream up a more convincing method of killing off the giant demon.
(Reviewed 6th March 2014)