Greetings from the Edge!
Just in time for it’s Blu-Ray release, we’ll be taking a look at some classic canuxploitation with the 1987 horror for kids, The Gate. With the success of Gremlins in 1984, a wave of little creature horror films aimed more for the younger audience seemed to sprout up everywhere with the likes of Munchies in 1987, Ghoulies in 1984, Critters in 1986, and Troll in 1986, appearing on video shelves across America. Each trying to get a piece of that sweet Gremlins pie. Well, our neighbors to the north took an interest as well and Tibor Takács was tasked with directing Canada’s own entry in the kids versus mini-monsters craze.
Unfortunately for the sweet dreams of children all over the world, Takács didn’t seem to get the memo about it being “For Kids” and instead of a cute little film about plucky tweens versus tiny aliens or alchemical ghoulies, we got a balls to the wall horror flick about a trio of kids battling Lovecraftian “Elder Gods” and filled with enough gore, disturbing imagery, and demonic summoning to put many of its contemporaries in the “Adult” horror genre to shame.
Starring a very young Stephen Dorff as Glen, a backyard rocketry enthusiast and all around pretty good kid, Louis Tripp as Terry Chandler, tween heavy metal fan and not such an all around good kid, and Christa Denton as Al “My name is Alexandra!” Glen’s sister, and a pretty nice one at that. It’s good to see an older sibling in a horror film that is neither a saccharin martyr or an completely unlikable tool.
We open up with a sepia-tinted scene of suburban Canadian splendor with Glen winding his way up a deserted street on his bike. Soon he enters his house to find it strangely empty except for disembodied laughter wafting down from the second story. He continues to wander through the house, confronted with a mysteriously turned on television and a meal seemingly abandoned on the kitchen table.
Soon he is drawn into the back yard by lights and an inexplicable wind and into a treehouse with a baby doll crying for its “Mama” over and over again, when suddenly the tree is struck by lightning, collapsing the treehouse with Glen inside it.
Next thing we know, Glen is being awoken by the sounds of chainsaws as a crew removes the burnt out remains of the tree and treehouse from the back yard.
Investigating the ground left behind by the removed tree, Glen finds a geode and a strangely smoking hole leading deep into the bowels of the earth. Soon he and his friend Terry will investigate the mysterious hole and discover an even bigger geode that will soon lead to demonic forces, pet abuse, 80’s style backmasking, a really tame teen party, and melting parents.
Will Glen, his sister Al, and friend Terry be able to combat the forces of the Elder Gods and save all of humanity from a literal hell on earth, or will darkness illimitable rule over all?
While the effects in The Gate may not be top tier by today’s standards, damn they are impressive! It has everything, from stop motion and truly disturbing makeup effects to excellent use of forced perspective and full body monster suits.
One of my favorite effects are the little demonic minions of the Elder Gods that, at first, might appear to be stop motion, but are in fact full-sized actors in monster suits shot on oversized sets to make them seem tiny compared to our already pint-sized cast.
Even better, the effects team sped up and slowed down the frame rate when they are on screen to give a very uncanny valley, not right feel to them. Then they mixed them with miniature effects, stop motion, and green screening to fill the gaps.
There are some excellent atmospheric touches with bending walls, transforming pictures, lurking shadows, and of course, the creature under the bed, a perennial childhood favorite.
Add in a gigantic Lovecraftian looking beastie done fully in stop motion for the finale and a whole host of scares aimed directly at childhood fears and anxieties, and The Gate is a custom made child traumatizing machine!
I’m pretty sure that director Tibor Takács looked at all the most disturbing scenes of Gremlins and went, “Pffh, I can do way better than that. I mean, they didn’t even actually kill the dog!” I, for one, salute his child-hating sadistic zeal!
I’m not sure who the intended audience for The Gate was, but it’d never fly as a theatrical movie nowadays. Sadly, better material is being made for kids today by cable and streaming services than ever reaches theatrical release. Which is sad because getting to see something on the big screen was always an event for me when I was a kid. Sitting in a cavernous darkened theatre really adds something to the fright factor when you’re but a wee lad or lassie.
Certainly I’d say that The Gate was the best ( or at least beast! ) of the movies released following the success of Gremlins. I seem to remember Critters fondly, but that was more humorous than anything. The Gate ratchets the scares of Gremlins up to eleven and throws in well done heroes and much higher stakes into the bargain.
I’d recommend The Gate to anyone who enjoyed Stranger Things on Netflix. In fact, The Gate feels like it could have been one of the major influences on that show. At the same time… for the love of God, don’t subject anyone under the age of thirteen to this movie. Unless, of course, you want them to have nightmares or ask if Mommy’s face is going to melt into a disgusting mass of gristle and maggots.
So just your nieces and nephews or grandkids, is what I’m saying here. I always prefer to traumatize and run: “Here ya’ go Sis, I brought the kids back. Why no, I didn’t notice the thousand yard stare and near constant bed wetting… bye!”
The Gate is a strange beast, way too scary for little kids but probably not sophisticated enough for a lot of adult horror fans. I’m going to give it the Edge recommendation with the proviso that you know what you’re getting into. If you like the ’80s, horror, or just want a movie to watch with some friends, The Gate is going to be a winner for you.
If you’d prefer something for the kiddos, I’d recommend Gremlins, Return to Oz, The Dark Crystal, Watership Down, The Neverending Story, or the original animated Transformers: the Movie. At least, as long as you won’t have to be around to deal with the fallout… bye!
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
I would like to point out that The Gate may have the only instance of “Positive” backmasking I’ve ever seen in a movie. The in movie heavy metal band Sacrofix hides the abjuring ( that’s unsummoning, kids! ) ritual backmasked into their album, “The Dark Book.” It’s even funnier when you realize that the demonic imagery on and throughout the album is right upfront. I guess they included the abjuring ritual backmasked on the album just in case anyone was actually stupid enough to try and summon the Elder Gods!
At least Glen and company didn’t actually try to summon the Elder Gods, they just read aloud the words that the demonic forces scrawled on a dollar store Etch-A-Sketch… it could happen!
It’s kinda sad that Glen would probably get put on some kind of watch list for messing around with all that gunpowder and amateur rocketry nowadays. Y’never know when you might need to thwart the forces of darkness with a homemade rocket, is all I’m saying. Tsk, what are we teaching the youth of today if they’re not constantly ready to battle Cthulhu with improvised explosives, is what I’m saying.
Oh wow, is the ’80s on full display in the wardrobe and fashions in this flick. One of the sisters that are friends of Alexandra has a hairstyle that combines bangs and what appears to be a slow motion hair explosion stuck in the middle of her forehead. I kept expecting the fashion police to come busting in and brutally taze her before dragging her off for a mandatory makeover and spa day.
I also noticed that Quest for Fire from 1981 is playing in the background of The Gate. I really need to do a review of that piece of cinematic weirdness someday, and it has Ron Perlman!
And since I talked about them, here’s a little glimpse of the minions ( so much better than those little yellow polyps! ) on one of the giant forced perspective sets.
Oh, and I’d be remiss unless I pointed out that,yes, Terry does get his shoe back at the end of the film. Continuity, friends!
Next, we’ll be following up The Gate with its sequel, Gate II: The Trespassers. Will Terry succumb to his desire to exploit his knowledge of the Elder Gods for his own ends and let in an evil that lurks beyond time and space to overthrow the puny reign of man? Wouldn’t be much of a movie if he didn’t at least try! See ya’ there, next week on the Edge!