The Gate (1987) (85 minutes)
Directed by Tibor Takács.
Written by Michael Nankin.
Starring Stephen Dorff, Christa Denton and Louis Tripp.
Followed by Gate II: Return to the Nightmare (1990)
No one can dispute that Tibor Takács’ 1987 Canadian horror film The Gate is a cult – kid-friendly – horror classic. Growing up during the late 1980s and 90s, a fair amount of my spare time was spent watching the countless movies my parents had recorded off cable TV onto long play VHS tapes. We had stacks of them – mostly horror – which I would work my way through each one every weekend; discovering what would become all-time favourites, such as The Evil Dead (1981), and more obscure cinema that left a lasting impression, like Curse II: The Bite (1989). It was through these tapes that I discovered The Gate.
“We accidentally summoned demons who used to rule the universe, to come and take over the world.”
Glen (Stephen Dorff) is your average twelve-year-old living in a typical suburban neighborhood. He spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend Terry (Louis Trip), launching model rockets that almost set fire to his parents roof. Nothing much happens in middle-class suburbia… Well, nothing much used to happen… Not until an old, dead tree was hoisted out of Glen’s backyard, revealing a gateway to hell!
With Glen’s parents away for a few days – leaving the house in the care of his sixteen-year-old sister Alexandra (Christa Denton) – both Glen and Terry decide to investigate the bottomless pit left behind where the tree once stood. Discovering a large geode, but not before Glen’s splintered finger spills blood into the pit, they return to the house to examine the crystalised rock; and break it open! Smoke engulfs the two boys. Glen’s dog looks on in bewilderment, and before you know it “weird” marking have appeared next to the glowing, split geode. “Those are words. What does it say?” Take it away, Glen. I’m sure reciting those words won’t open The Gate!
Terry sleeps over at Glen’s that night but is beckoned downstairs by the ghost of his dead mother. As he embraces her, Terry realises that he is actually holding Glen’s dead dog in his arms. He was 97 (in dog years). R.I.P. Angus (1971-1987) Unsure what to do with the dog, ‘Al’ asks her friend to take him to the animal shelter. When the shelter is closed, the canine’s corpse in thrown down the pit in the backyard, because why not? Meanwhile, Terry throws on an LP called ‘The Dark Book’ by heavy metal band Sacrifyx and plays air guitar.
“In a time before the Earth, before the sun and before the light of the stars, when all was darkness and chaos… The old gods, the forgotten gods ruled the darkness! What was theirs now belongs to the world of light and substance. And the old gods – the rightful masters – are jealous! Watching mankind with a hatred that is as boundless as the stars, with plans for the destruction of man that are beyond imagining. There is a passageway between our physical world of light and pleasure, and their spiritual world of madness and pain. A gate behind which the demons wait, for the chance to take back what is theirs…”
The lyrics speak of the old gods – demons who used to rule the universe – but it is in the liner notes that this demonology proves particularly useful; especially considering Glen and Terry may have just opened a gateway to hell.
“I think I know what this means… You got demons.”
The hole, the geode… It proves they are in big trouble! But the most important part of the ritual? The sacrifice… But they haven’t killed anybody? Unless… Oh, no! Poor Angus!
Ghosts, zombies, minions of hell… The Gate has been blown wide open! Just like Gremlins (1984) and The Monster Squad (1987), The Gate is a wonderful example of kid-friendly 1980s horror. Who wouldn’t be interested in a gateway to hell…and in someone’s backyard? Directed at a younger audience, The Gate isn’t too scary or violent – it was rated PG-13 in the US after all (15 here in the UK because… Gore! Oh No!) – but there are a few scenes that are unnerving. If you have seen The Gate already, you will know what I am talking about. Everything from the reflection of the workman in the mirror, to the scurrying hell minions have left a lasting impression on me. Which is what makes The Gate so special: the SFX!
The Gate is presented – restored and remastered – on Blu-ray; courtesy of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series, with an AVC encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfer from the original film elements, along with a 2.0 Stereo Audio soundtrack and English subtitles for the deaf or hard-of-hearing, which is always appreciated. Distributors take notice! English SDH subtitles should be standard, even on a vanilla release.
Included are two audio commentary tracks: one featuring director Tibor Takács, writer Michael Nankin and special effects supervisor Randall William Cook discussing The Gate’s creation, and various memories from production; and another track featuring Cook and special make-up effects artist Craig Reardon, special effects artist Frank Carere, and matte photographer Bill Taylor reminiscing on the various challenges they faced in creating The Gate. A third audio track is also included: an isolated score and audio interview with composers Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson.
If that wasn’t enough to convince you to pre-order The Gate, the blu-ray also includes various featurettes: From The Gate: Unlocked, a discussion between Tibor Takács and Randall William Cook, to Minion Maker, an interview with Craig Reardon, the special effect artist responsible for the creature design and for supervising the stop-motion effects.
Also included on this Vestron Video Collector’s Series blu-ray is From Hell It Came, an interview with producer Andras Hamori, The Workman Speaks! an interview with actor Carl Kraines (The Slayer); Made in Canada, a collection of short interviews with Robert Wertheimer, Jonathan Llyr, Scott Denton, H. Gordon Woodside, Trysha Bakker, and Kathleen Meade; From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate, a discussion on the special effects and enthusiasm for developing a horror film for kids; The Gatekeepers, a look at the genesis of the screenplay with Michael Nankin and Tibor Takács; and a vintage EPK behind-the-scenes featurette entitled Making of The Gate. Finally theatrical trailers, a TV spot, and a still gallery are also included.
The Gate has a relatable sense of discovery, adventure and is genuinely scary for kid-friendly horror. Director Tibor Takács, and cinematographer Thomas Vámos, display confidence in in their nightmare-inducing visuals; created during a time when movies targeted at younger audiences didn’t shy away from graphic violence. Now, if only Lionsgate would add Gate II: Return to the Nightmare to their Vestron Video Collector’s Series.