Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Gate
Demons aren’t gonna ring the doorbell!
Jarv’s Rating: 2.5 Changs- enjoyable 80’s fun.
This is one that I watched a bit ago and for one reason or another never got round to reviewing properly. Seeing as I’ve watched nothing for a while, I thought I’d dig this discarded review out of the pile, polish it up a wee bit and post it for today’s vault entry. I was prompted to do this by the frankly inexplicable news that this little gem is being remade, and not only that, but the man at the helm is none other than Alex Winter: Bill S. Preston, Esquire himself. Don’t fuck this up, “dude”.
The Gate has an interesting history. It’s one of the first PG13 horror films, and was also one of the “hardest”, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable at that level. It was helped by the fact that PG13 was a relatively new rating, and by cleverly going for this level, they managed to attract a larger audience than they would otherwise, and quite easily thrashed notorious star studded mega turkey Ishtar at the Box Office. Since then, though, it’s been shunted around distributors and is actually amazingly difficult to get hold of. Without resorting to piracy, that is.
The Gate is basically about Glenn, his sister “Al” and his best mate, Terry. They’re pretty unremarkable kids, really, being interested in shit like bottle rockets, crap music, digging holes looking for meteorites, the supernatural and in Al’s case, hormone driven teenage encounters. Unfortunately for them, their garden happens to be over a hellmouth, and through a series of unfortunate events they accidentally complete the ritual to release Lovecraftian “old ones” to wreak havoc on the world. Terry knows this, because a shitty European LP tells him, but only because (in a nod to the notorious subliminal “backmasking” nonsense at the time) he played the record backwards.
The acting in this film is surprisingly good. Stephen Dorff puts in arguably his lifetime’s performance as Glenn, and the other child actors hold up their end reasonably well. There’s a frankly hilarious scene with nerdy Terry playing air guitar to the unspeakable Euro-rock (could have been worse, he could have got hold of a Scorpions album- then the world would have been fucked) and he’s also able to convincingly portray a hurt and confused kid with serious parental problems. It’s a good effort.
The writing is also reasonably sharp. I can’t help but wonder if the backmasking reference in this film wasn’t inspired by the idiocy aimed at Led Zeppelin by fundamentalists- which would fit considering the LP is “from Europe”, because it’s cleverly done and amusing that the instructions to save the world would be only available if you play it backwards. As opposed to the accusations that Stairway has “It’s my sweet Satan … Oh I will sing because I live with Satan” on it. Which is clearly bollocks. Incidentally, this nonsense reached a peak in 1990 when Judas Priest were sued by 2 Nevada families over the allegedly subliminal message in one of their songs that caused the two sons to off themselves. If you can ever find the footage of the trial, it’s absolutely fucking hilarious. The singer tries to demonstrate in court and it sounds like “Chewing gum” before he breaks down and asserts that if they were going to plant a message it would be “buy more records”.
Anyhow, I digress. The other cleverness in the writing is that the childhood trauma suffered by the kids is handled deftly and sympathetically. Terry in particular has serious problems, and Glenn’s father tries to explain it as gently as he can to Glenn. This is a great touch, and there’s plenty of them in the film.
The real show stopper of the Gate though is that it has absolutely superb effects. They were great at the time, and the blend of stop-motion and other work hasn’t aged badly at all. Whereas CGI tends to look out of date by the time you’ve left the theatre, the effects in these older films usually manage to last a lot longer than the shiny superficial computer driven nonsense.
However, there’s just one thing to point out about The Gate that stops it gettnig a higher rating: it isn’t scary. It wasn’t scary in the 80’s and it isn’t scary now. Unfortunately, they didn’t realise that they didn’t have the juice to scare the crap out of the audience, and as a result, The Gate is played as a straight horror. If there had been a few more intentional laughs in it, or even accidental ones, then the film would be much, much better. Either that or the gore and terror should have been ramped up, if they were aiming for horror, as what we are left with is neither one thing or the other. A shame.
Overall, would I recommend it? Yup, unquestionably. The demons are great fun, and it’s an enjoyable kiddie-aimed romp. There’s nothing in it that would scare a nervous Twilight fan, but there is plenty that can be enjoyed. It’s a funny thing to say about a horror film, but this is as close as the genre ever got to good gentle fun. It’s the horror Goonies.
And Bill, dude, I really mean this: don’t fuck this up.
Until next time,
About JarvWorkshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.
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