Friday, April 8, 2022

Gate, The (1987)

... aka: Gate - Die Unterirdischen (Gate - The Subterraneans)
... aka: La fissure (The Crack)
... aka: La puerta (The Door)
... aka: Non aprite quel cancello (Don't Open That Gate)
... aka: Paholaisen portti (Gate of the Devil)

Directed by:
Tibor Takács

Looking back, this was a very clever project. Supernatural horror films were big and, thanks to the likes of Ghostbusters and the Spielberg productions Poltergeist and Gremlins (three huge box office hits), PG and PG-13 supernatural genre films were big in particular. This one even carries over the upper middle class suburban setting of both Spielberg films plus the diminutive creatures from Gremlins. But, most importantly perhaps, was the emergence in the popularity of heavy metal music with children and teenagers of the day, which got moralist parents worked into a frenzy due to the frequent allusions to demons, Satanism and other dark stuffz in both the lyrics (which was mostly metaphorical or simply used for shock value) and the artwork (basically just "edgy" imagery). Were the vast majority of these bands actually worshiping Satan or encouraging their fans to worship Satan? Nope. I'd even be willing to bet most of them didn't even believe in Satan nor were they the least bit religious. Were the vast majority of the kids listening to this music going out and conjuring up demons, engaging in blood rituals and committing human sacrifices? Also nope.

This was simply kids doing what kids do best: Gravitating toward something knowing damn well their parents don't approve of it, don't understand it and don't like it. Young fans of Elvis and the Beatles had parents who didn't get it either and that just led to hippies and 80s metal kids and 90s grunge kids and 2000s gangster rap kids. All generations want their own thing and they want that thing to annoy and royally piss their parents off and thus drive a wedge in between them. It's one of the fun parts of being a kid! And I'd imagine part of the fun of being an 80s metal kid was laughing at how easy it was to shock and disturb your stupid, hyper-reactionary parents with images of hellfire, devils and pentagrams.

So The Gate did everything right to appeal to the youth audience of the day by incorporating metal music and demons galore into the plot, featuring relatable young leads instead of dumb adults and wrapping itself in a tidy PG-13 package so not even parents (or ticket counter workers who actually did their jobs) could keep them from seeing it. Critics at the time were shocked that The Gate opened at #2 at the box office, but it really makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Somewhere in suburbia, Glen (12-year-old Stephen Dorff in his film debut) has a nightmare involving his tree house and wakes to find a crew removing an old dead tree from his yard. Yes, even the tree house has to go. After the uproot, Glen finds a large geode. He and his friend Terry (Louis Tripp) then decide to look for an even larger crystal. While they find exactly what they're looking for, they also manage to open up a small, deep hole, which releases some noxious gas. Dad (Scot Denton), of course, is not too thrilled about his yard being destroyed. He grounds Glen for the entire weekend and orders him to fill in the hole.

Dad and mom (Deborah Grover) are planning on going out of town for three days. Wanting to prove her maturity and responsibility, 15-year-old daughter Alexandra (Christa Denton) talks them out of getting a babysitter and convinces them she's perfectly capable of watching over her kid brother, their dog Angus and the house while they're away. And, in teen speak, that translates to "I'm going drink, smoke and invite all my friends over for a party!" As they're doing that, Glen and Terry are upstairs cracking open the geode. It puts off smoke, glows and then writes out a strange message, which Glen then recites. Strange things happen immediately afterward, with scary nightmares, an insect infestation, a party game of light as a feather, stiff as a board working out better than anticipated and poor Angus being found dead on the living room floor.

The next day, the hole has opened back up all on its own. Terry, a heavy metal fan, thinks he's got it figured out. An album from a European band called Sacrifyx contains lyrics swiped from something called "The Dark Book," which Terry points out is "like the bible for demons." Included in those lyrics are conjuration spells, which must be played when the constellations are perfectly aligned. And they are. Other things all seem to click perfectly into place per the album cover's instructions, including the levitation, the geode and the sacrifice (the dog). The only piece missing is the sacrifice needing to be fed into the hole. Well, wouldn't ya know it, Alexandra's would-be boyfriend Eric (Sean Fagan) is tasked with disposing of Angus' body, finds the animal shelter closed and then decides to just chuck the dead dog into the hole in the backyard.

While Terry and Alex's vapid, shopaholic friends Lori (Kelly Rowan) and Linda (Jennifer Irwin) are spending the night all hell finally breaks loose. Moths break through a window, the telephone erupts into flames and melts, slimy hands emerge from underneath a bed, the evil forces cause hallucinations, demons impersonate the parents, a face is ripped off, an eye is gouged with a Barbie Doll leg, an eyeball grows on a palm, a zombie (the corpse of a man built into the home's foundation) comes out of the wall, a legion of miniature demon "minions" start running around everywhere, the gates of hell start spewing darkness into the morning sky and a giant, multi-armed, tentacled "demon lord" creature emerges from underneath the living room floor.

This is basically just one big grab bag of fantasy-horror gobbledygook, complete with amazingly convoluted coincidences and 'make it up as you go along' style plotting involving playing records backwards to reveal the remedy to the demon infestation (this may very well be an intended swipe at dumb parent's groups trying to blame subliminal messages hidden in rock music for crimes committed by certain teens) and the demons needing two human sacrifices to create a hell on Earth.

The young actors have an enjoyable rapport but the stereotyped portrayals of Glen and Terry are a bit disappointing. Because he's growing up in a single parent household (his mom's dead and his dad's a workaholic), Terry is "strange" and "confused" and this is why he loves heavy metal, wears a studded pentagram jacket and has his unkempt room plastered with posters of rock bands and devils (though those rainbow bed sheets kind of threw me for a loop). Meanwhile, Glen lives in a nice, clean, two parent household and thus dresses like a wholesome suburban kid who likes wholesome activities like launching model rockets. This is how it's usually portrayed in movies, as if there's some kind of correlation between maladjustment and enjoying rock music instead of it just being garden variety teen rebellion that even kids from "good" households indulge in. It's kind of a lazy, predictable way to go about handling these two characters. The portrayal of the conflicted teen sister, who's torn between familial loyalty and being seen favorably by her friends / would-be boyfriend, actually rings a lot truer.

I've seen some comparisons drawn between this and the works of Stephen King, which have me scratching my head to be honest. Just because its a horror movie centered around kids doesn't merit a comparison to King. This is actually far more Spielberg, right down to the upper middle class suburban setting, the heavy focus on family dynamics and values and the slightly cloying, feel good ending complete with pretty, shimmering visuals. The film's true ace in the hole is the special effects, notably the great stop motion and visual effects work provided by Randall William Cook. There are also effective make-ups from Craig Reardon and his crew. Most of these come into play during the second half of the film.

After this film's box office success, The Gate enjoyed a wide video release from Vestron (there was also the 22-minute The Making of the Gate promotional video release), frequent cable bookings due to its teen-friendly rating (it was the rare non-R-rated horror film that could be played before 8am on pay movie channels plus required minimal edits for TV and cable, so they ran it all the time) and has been given numerous DVD and Blu-ray releases from Lionsgate, which come with the expected commentary tracks and 'making of' featurettes.

Takács (who was born in Hungary but raised in Canada) made the very good I, MADMAN (1989) as his follow-up feature but then fell backwards right after with the subpar sequel Gate 2: Trespassers (1990) before settling mostly into TV work. His career trajectory has followed an almost identical path as Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau as of late and now he's making mostly family-friendly holiday movies for channels like Lifetime and Hallmark.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...