Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Gate II (1990)

... aka: A túlvilág kapuja (Gate to the Afterlife)
... aka: Gate II: Return to the Nightmare
... aka: Gate 2: Trespassers, The
... aka: La puerta II (The Door II)
... aka: Non aprite quel cancello 2 (Don't Open the Gate 2)

Directed by:
Tibor Takács

You'd think almost helping to facilitate the end of mankind would make one swear off Satanism for life. Not if you're Terry Chandler (Louis Tripp). "It's the most exciting thing that ever happened to me!" he says in the opening voice-over staring at his former neighbor's wrecked home and reflecting on summoning hellish miniature creatures called "minions" and a giant "demon lord" and thus nearly destroying us all in the process. But hey, man, it was all just... So. Damn. Exciting. "It's hard to believe the world almost ended right here on our own block!," he continues with a chuckle. This kid is trying my patience already.

In case you'd forgotten about the original THE GATE, let's briefly catch up. It featured a boy named Glenn (played by Stephen Dorff) discovering the gateway to hell in his own backyard and, along with his aforementioned friend Terry, doing about twenty or so really dumb things that resulted in the conjuration of evil creatures and almost brought about the apocalypse. Now Glen's former home is abandoned and the yard where the gateway was discovered is overgrown with brush and has a chain length fence around it. One may consider that inadequate security all things considered.

Despite the horrors that have already befallen him, Terry's even more into the devil stuff now, except he insists it's not devil stuff ("Satanism's for pussies!"), but instead demonology. Potato, potahto, but sounds so much more scientific and academic, eh? He's convinced that he and his buddy simply went about things the wrong way the first time but, now that he's studied up on it more, he knows exactly what he's doing. Terry does not, in fact, know what he's doing. Yet again. While his depressed, unemployed, alcoholic father (Neil Munro) is asleep, Terry sneaks over to Glen's former home. There, he has everything he needs to call forth "the unholy trinity," including a switchboard, computer, candles, a headset, a sacred dagger, a hamster sacrifice, some lasers and other gadgets. However, he's merely hoping to "touch the infinity" to ask for a special favor, not conjure up demons.

Mid-ceremony, Terry is interrupted by a trio of punk teens from the neighborhood; sadistic ringleader John (James Villemaire), his cute girlfriend Liz (Pamela "Segall" / Adlon) and goofball pothead Moe (Simon Reynolds). The three reluctantly join in and contribute a personal belonging to the pot so they can each make a wish. The ceremony goes off without a hitch, unless you count things randomly exploding, them briefly traveling to "the other side", black ooze pouring out of the walls and a minion demon appearing, which John promptly shoots along with all of Terry's fancy equipment, a hitch. Terry takes the temporarily "dead" minion home and puts it in a liquid-filled glass jar.

As for the wishes... Moe suffers from a potentially deadly "hole in his heart" that requires daily, life-saving meds yet decides he'd rather be visited by aliens in a UFO and "get picked up, go into space, man." Liz, the only one of the three punks who believes the ceremony was "totally legit," wants true love, a cute sports car and to go on a shopping spree because obviously these are the primary concerns of all women. Being the insufferable cretin he is, John wishes to become the "King of the World." Terry, on the other hand, just wants to help out his failing dad by getting him a job.

The following day, everyone's dreams start coming true, except not in the way they imagined. Once an esteemed pilot for a major airline, Terry's father instead gets a job as a baggage expediter and continues drinking. The day after, he throws his liquor bottles out and claims he's flying to London. Something's obviously not quite right here. Terry and Liz then discover that they can wish for more than one thing since Terry is in possession of one of the minions, which has regenerated itself and is now being kept in a hamster cage. All one has to do is make the wish and burn a personal possession and, voila!

Naturally, there's a catch. The wishes only last temporarily and soon turn to shit. Literal shit. For instance, a cherry '62 Corvette is good for a night out on the town but the following day will be a car-sized pile of feces. Terry's dreams for his father come down in flames when dad doesn't turn into a dad-sized pile of feces and instead crashes a plane and ends up in a coma. Meanwhile, John and Moe ransack Terry's place, kidnap the minion and use it to get money, which ends up backfiring when the minion attacks and infects them. The two slowly transform into demon monsters (one normal-sized, scaly, purple and latex-y and the other huge, brown, bumpy and stop motion-y) that plot to sacrifice Liz and eventually do battle with Terry (who also transforms into some lumpy-faced latex creature just cuz) in the alternate dimension.

There's a real war going on here with trying to stay true to the tone of the original while also appealing to a wider adult audience, I think. The first Gate was able to stay relatively family friendly with its PG-13 horrors to appeal to kids and young teens. This R rated sequel tries to have it both ways by alternating sentimentality with more graphic gross-out fx and cruder, much more childish humor. It doesn't really work and, ironically, the tamer original film will probably play better to most adults.

Flinging around shit, someone erupting in puss-squirting zits, lots of over-the-top shouting / histrionics and the highly annoying John and Moe characters (who get far too much screen time) doing things like trying to get the minion high and making asses of themselves at a fancy restaurant really clash with some of the other, more serious content. There's the lead's family problems, mourning his deceased mother, etc. and also a promising romance developing between the unpopular, virginal suburban boy and the bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks with a heart of gold that has some genuine charm but ultimately gets short-changed to make room for the more juvenile content.

On the plus side, this was not quite as bad as I remember it being either. I went in thinking it was going to be way worse than the (somewhat overrated) original but it's actually on par as far as entertainment value is concerned. Both films are watchable, technically well-shot / produced, feature mostly passable performances and have some neat special effects work, this time from Craig Reardon, Randall William Cook and Frank Carere, but are otherwise bogged down by silly plotting and subpar writing. Not surprisingly, the same guy (Michael Nankin, who went on to a much more prolific career as a TV director) wrote both films.

Production began in Canada in late 1988, the copyright is 1989 and it was released to theaters in certain European countries in 1990 but was not given a U.S. theatrical release until 1992. A very strange release history indeed, considering they needed to push this out as soon as possible to capitalize on the surprise success of the first. That delay, caused by New Century Entertainment going under and the film having to be passed on to another distributor, resulted in the film bombing at the box office. It cost over twice as much to produce as the original but grossed less than a third of its budget in U.S. theaters.

After its brief theatrical run, it was then quietly ushered out onto home video in 1992 by SVS / Triumph and no one seemed to care by that point. Since then it's been the recipient or several DVD releases and then a Scream Factory Blu-ray in 2018. Does anyone care now?

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