When a 10-year-old boy, his best friend, and older sister are left at home for the weekend, they accidentally open the gateway to hell which is unexpectedly underneath their house and garden. Hallucinatory episodes turn into nightmare realities though as evil little minions, a dead guy who lives in the walls and a big bad demon surface to take over the world. Can the kids’ force them all back to their hellish domain in time for Mum and Dad to get home?
There’s a lot to like about The Gate. Made in 1987, it’s like a cross between Poltergeist and Gremlins, but with a quarter of the budget and half the charm. Like both of those films, it takes its time to establish its characters before things go monster shaped and it’s actually some of those earlier scenes which work best. Even so, the nostalgia evoked if you saw the film on its original release is what gives it a warmth which you may not feel if you’re coming to it anew.
Stephen Dorff is a likeable presence in the main role and both Louis Tripp as his heavy metal loving friend and Christa Denton as the older sister impress enough to create a trio we root for as they face more and more PG horrors. Whilst the latter part of the film suffers slightly from things that make no sense at all, (such as why the mythical man in the wall is real after all, or why the dog comes back to life at the end), it’s easy to be distracted by the visual effects, some of which still amaze.
Given the film’s $2.5m budget it’s incredible what was achieved here. As we learn from the disc’s extensive extras, the minions were a combination of stop-motion animation and men in suits and, when it was the latter, large sets and forced perspectives using foreground and background performers were used to create a believable, authentic effect.
As for the extras, there’s plenty to get your teeth into with three separate commentaries including from director Tibor Takács chatting to writer Michael Nankin (who would go on to produce and write for shows like The Exorcist and Battlestar Galactica), another concentrating on the visual effects and one accompanying the isolated score for the film. Sadly the main commentary is a little rambling and chatty providing an easy 85 minutes but not really offering much depth or insight. There are several shorts of the ‘making of’ variety which are fun, a stills gallery and a behind the scenes film from 1987 which is so dated it looks like a parody.
Fun, but no classic.
THE GATE (1987) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: TIBOR TAKÁCS / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL NANKIN / STARRING: STEPHEN DORFF, CHRISTA DENTON, LOUIS TRIPP / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 26TH