Review Date: October 12, 2009
Released by: Lionsgate
Release date: 10/6/2009
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Youíd think having a kid dealing with demonic creatures congregating in a giant hole in the ground would be an odd, one off concept, but there were actually a couple of those movies in the eighties, and both from Canada, no less. The Pit
came first, and if you havenít seen it yet you ought to pick up the cheap Anchor Bay double feature with it and Hellgate
. Itís one of the most bizarre horror films out there, with one of the most off-putting, uncomfortable and inexplicable child performances this world has ever seen. Another world was unleashed from a backyard hole six years later with the more universally known The Gate
. Featuring a cavalcade of special effects, backwards records and a lot of little children getting into big trouble, it became a surprising hit at the box office in 1987, trumping Ishtar
upon initial release. Itís lead a quiet life on digital, being long out of print on DVD. Finally, though, Lionsgate has dug this one up once more, giving it a similar redesign and supplemental upgrade to match their other big kiddie horror movie, The Monster Squad
was a huge success for them a couple years ago Ė does this gate open similar success?
Tipping the viewer off right fro the get go that surreal scares will take the place of calculated logic, the film begins with a dream sequence as little Glen (Stephen Dorff
, Alone in the Dark
) walks through his house at midnight, floors creaking and lightning striking. The backdoor is open, and as he crosses through a lightning bolt strikes down the treehouse in their sole backyard tree. He wakes up in a cold sweat, but upon looking outside his dream seems to have become a reality. City workers are cutting the fallen tree into segments and shipping it out of the yard. The ground is quickly all covered and back to normal, but Glen suspects something mysterious about the whole thing, and along with his buddy Terry (Louis Tripp
whoíd reprise his role for the sequel) he digs down where the stump was previously buried. A few shovels in, Terry ends up revealing a giant gaping hole that appears to go far down into the Earthís core. Glen gets a sliver in his hand, and upon dropping the bloodied shard into the pit, a roar can be heard. What could possibly be lurking beneath this quiet, suburban back yard?
Doing as kids do, the two forget about the hole in the ground and go about their separate ways. Glen dines with his parents and sister, Al (Christa Denton
, The Bad Seed
remake, 8 Million Ways to Die
), and learns that his parents will be away for the weekend. Since Al is on the brink of sixteen, she feels she can handle the responsibility of looking after herself and Glen. Little does she know, though, that sheíll be looking after a lot of other creatures as well. The first creatures on her plate are the party goers who come to crash her house, including her two best friends, sisters Linda (Jennifer Irwin
, TVís Are You Afraid of the Dark
) and Lori (Kelly Rowan
, a baaaad haircut away from TVís The OC
). Another friend, Paula (Ingrid Veninger
, the ugly sister in William Fruetís standout Friday the 13th: The Series
episode ďVanityís MirrorĒ) decides to stage a levitation session, and Glen gets volunteered as the specimen. They successfully will him off the ground, he breaks a light and cries. Thatís the end of that, right?
Wrong. Bad things start to happen, as creepy illusions start becoming tragic realities. The first nightmare manifest is a premonition of Terryís dead mother suddenly becoming Glenís old shaggy dog, Angus, dead on the floor. The kids donít call home, and instead have the dog buried in their back yard to retain their independence. Bad idea. Terry discovers while listening to one of his death metal records backwards that the levitation, an animal sacrifice and this weird crystal orb that theyíve found all add up to a formula to unleash hell on earth. A deceased construction worker breaks out from within the walls, and a bunch of bald, pint-sized Creature from the Black Lagoon looking goblins start infiltrating the house. Itís going to take a lot of ingenuity and one of Glenís coveted toy rockets, to send these beasts back to hell where they belong.
Wow. This movie really holds up. If you grew up in the eighties, this was likely a childhood staple along with 1987ís other kiddie horror flick, The Monster Squad
. The fear with these, or any movie featuring children in the lead roles, is that they will appeal to young audiences, but looked at years later will only feel tame. Like The Monster Squad
, though, The Gate
is a special effects showcase that goes beyond any age demographic. The creatures and set design are above and beyond, and even if they terrified you as a kid (and if you saw it then they certainly did!) they still manage a spectacle and whimsy today. I was amazed at just how cutting edge and convincing the blue screen, force perspective, stop motion and matte effects appeared still today. The scene with the zombie construction worker hitting the ground and turning into a barrage of little creatures is still standout today. The creature design is really wonderful, too. I always wanted one of those little goblin dudes growing up. Forget gremlins, ghoulies or trolls, these creatures reign supreme!
Itís no surprise that the effects hold up so well, given they are conceived of and orchestrated by a whoís who of effects talent. Randall William Cook, who spearheaded the 2nd unit team and designed all the creatures, had previously done the same for Fright Night and would later go on to Oscar glory for all his work on The Lord of the Rings films. Craig Reardon executed all the makeup demands (from the zombie to the creatures in suits) and heíd already been around the block designing Sloth from The Goonies
, Chucky in Childís Play 3
and the cellar dweller in The Unseen
(which he spoke on last year for the Code Red DVD). The other Code Red connection is the work by Mark Sawicki, who had orchestrated all the stop motion effects for The Strangeness
. The few bits of stop motion in the film, where the hand in the door morphs into a bunch of worms, looks like it has his stamp, but he may have instead done optical work. Regardless, there was a crew of amazing effects artists here, and the director gave them an open canvass to really run wild. The result is certainly one of the most elaborate and effective demonstrations of pre-computer effects work ever committed to film. Not only are the effects always amazing, but there are just so many on display, from so many different processes and styles, that itís just a neverending Pandoraís box of wonder. Like The Thing
or Day of the Dead
, itís one of those grand demonstrations of how the genius of the mind is always more powerful than the processors of a computer.
Where The Gate
trumps The Monster Squad
and all other kiddie horror flicks, is the dark, dark menace at root within. Writer Michael Nankin wrote it during a rough patch in his life, and had always intended the film to be an R with little redemption for the tyke leads. The film ended up being PG-13 and much more sympathetic to the teen triptych, but still the images on display here are quite provocative. Throughout the film these kids have to deal with the reality of a mother lost to cancer, a family dog dropping dead, a dad strangling his son before his face melts into a hole of goo, a zombie, stabbing themselves to rid the evil and even watching another kid being eaten and converted to the dead. There is a lot of really risky stuff, and itís very surprising all the terrible things in this film were able to secure a PG-13 when the only months away Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood
was getting cut to all hell just to secure an R. The Gate
treads a fine line where the effects are fantastical enough to be suitable for kids, but perverse enough to still leave a lasting impact on adults.
As spectacle, The Gate
is a wonderful display of cinematography, set design and effects, but part of the enduring appeal is no doubt the kid cast that director Tibor Takacs is able to harness. Stephen Dorff is incredibly natural in the role, and the range of emotion he has to demonstrate, often on a dime, secures him a spot as one of the finest child performances in all of horror. He really makes an endearing lead, and the equally organic performances of his friend and sister, Louis Tripp and Christa Denton, respectively, certainly make the acting in The Gate
a cut above. These three are on screen virtually every scene in the film, and carry it as if they had been doing this for years. Itís not surprising that Dorff went on to a lot of big parts afterwards Ė even at 13 (and a small 13, at that!) he proves himself a compelling leading man. For these kids to be noticed with all the elaborate effects constantly on display around them goes to show the strength of performance at the heart of this little movie.
is one of those perfect kitchen sink movies, a movie that throws it all out there and surprisingly it all holds weight. The set pieces are out of this world, but the acting, writing and direction match it every step of the way. Its appeal is as broad as the internal success, too, with timeless fears and quality kids for the young audience and galvanizing gore effects and darker themes for the adults. Iím sure thereís some potent subtext buried within, what with all the fixation on firing rockets into the sky when the evil lurks below. Having the primitive French Canadian classic, Quest for Fire
, on the television in the background introduces all other kinds of themes linking humanity with the quest for propagation by these little demons, too. The Gate
is a creepy, timeless classic, no nostalgia required. Itís time to open this baby up to a new audience, or rediscover it anew for the old.
Lionsgate presents The Gate
in a restored 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and from the start I had reservations. The opening, which is supposed to be morning, looked too dark and not convincingly orange enough to sell sunrise. Had they got the color timing wrong? Before I had a chance to criticize, though, the next scene was up and from that point on this movie looked like a dream. Reds and blues are thrown around throughout once the portal is open, and they come through with the kind of vibrancy that would make Argento proud. Edges are mostly sharp but never enhanced to the point of haloing. It looks crisp yet organic, and even all the blue screen and stop-motion effect work still possess significant detail. I have seen the film a number of times over the years, but this new transfer was most eye opening of all Ė I never realized what a beautiful film The Gate
was until all those lush colors were unleashed.
The audio gets less of an upgrade here, presented in the original Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Directionality is not there, but the track does have a little bit of a low end to make up for it. The sound is crisp and without hiss, and certainly holds up well today. Considering all the spectacle, though, this could have been a perfect candidate for a 5.1 remix.
Lionsgate hit it out of the park with their special edition of The Monster Squad
. Initially, this looked to be as promising, considering they changed the artwork to something completely alien to any of the art used before. I mean this time around they donít even try to make the kid model they shrouded in shadow for the cover look even remotely like Stephen Dorff. Who cares, though, the back of the box promises new cast and crew interviews. Uh, well, where is the cast? I doubt the controlling arms of effects men Randall William Cook or Craig Reardon qualify as actors, so what gives? As good as the effects are, the core of this movie is with the three impressive leads, and considering Louis Tripp and Christa Denton have hardly gone on to anything since, youíd think at the very least they would have interviewed on this new DVD. Even Stephen Dorff should be embracing this, his first big breakout as a lead actor. Unfortunately, though, the cover lies, and instead we get insight only from the folks behind the camera.
Getting the initial disappointment of not having the actors aboard out of the way, there are still a couple well produced featurettes from who else than Red Shirt Pictures. ďFrom Hell: The Creatures and Demons of The Gate
Ē is a 14-minute featurette with key makeup artist Craig Reardon and special visual effects designer and supervisor Randall William Cook. The two talk about the various approaches they had to take to the effects, and the key sequence where the zombie construction worker falls to the ground and morphs into a sea of minions is nicely broken down with visual representation. While it could have gone into greater depth Ė the lack of any sketches or behind the scenes photos or video is disappointing, it still is nice to hear the two reflect. They both look back very fondly on their work on The Gate
, and praise the open canvass they were given for creating all their amazing stylings.
The other featurette is ďThe Gatekeepers with Tibor Takacs and Michael NankinĒ, which runs 15-minutes. It deconstructs the genesis of the production, starting first with Nankin on how he came to write the film, how he was originally slated to direct and how the finished product became much more tame than his more depressing vision. Takacs talks about his intentions as director, both in being faithful to Nankinís story and in working hard to get the proper cast of actors. Both are well spoken and the piece is well shot, but again, the lack of any extra behind the scenes material makes the proceedings feel a bit hollow.
There is also a commentary with Nankin, Takacs and Cook, but really, if youíve watched the two featurettes that should be good enough. Takacs and Cook are both in LA and Nankin calls in from Vancouver. Perhaps itís that disconnect with the speakers, or the fact that theyíve already discussed all this in the featurettes, but the end result is sort of stilted and at times even uncomfortable as the three seem to struggle to find things to talk about. They donít really go into greater depth than what they said on the featurettes, so really this can easily be overlooked and forgotten. Lionsgate should have done what Paramount did with Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood
in assembling key cast members truncated in the featurettes to provide a fresh perspective.
The only other extra included is the trailer, and like what Takacs noted in his featurette, itís much darker and more adult oriented than even the film itself. It has the feel of those early eighties slasher trailers, where the dread is continually poured on to guarantee a dreary time. Still, itís effective and itís nice to see not every company has given up on trailers these days.
is a tour de force of effects work, featuring some of the most creative set pieces and most memorable creature designs the genre over. It has performances, direction and story to match, and as a result itís one of those rare horror movies that has it all and that appeals to everyone. The beautiful visual upgrade here should appeal to everyone too, and the audio, while still only 2.0 has been nicely preserved. Sadly the special features are a letdown, with the promised cast interviews on the back of the casing nowhere to be found on the disc. Still, there is a decent spattering of extras that are well made with the effects and above the line crew, but this disc still feels lacking because the cast was such an integral part to the enduring appeal. Nevertheless, The Gate
is a wild, wondrous ride that deserves to be dug up by old fans and opened to audiences anew. Highly recommended.
Movie - A
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour 25 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2.0
- English subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Audio commentary with writer Michael Nankin, director Tibor Takacs and special effects supervisor Randall William Cook
- ďFrom Hell: The Creatures and Demons of The GateĒ featurette
- "The Gatekeepers" featurette
- Theatrical trailer