Suburban horror (that is to say, horror movies set in the suburbs) have a certain appeal to me, as I grew up in a typical suburban neighborhood. Well, actually, my house was located in a rather creepy nook in the suburbs, at the end of an obscure dead end street, surrounded by woods and, despite the proximity of multiple next door neighbors, still felt oddly isolated after dark. Given that environment I grew up in, I have something of a nostalgic fondness for flicks with similar settings. Films such as Phantasm, Fright Night, Poltergeist and The Gate. In regards to that last one…
The Gate (1987)
After a dead old tree is hoisted out of his backyard, suburban preteen Glen (Stephen Dorff) discovers something ain’t quite right about the bottomless pit it’s left behind. His metal-loving buddy, Terry (Louis Tripp), realizes instantaneously what’s so weird about it: it’s a gate to Hell. A string of unlikely coincidences eventually shove the gate wide open, allowing hundreds of tiny monsters, as well as things like ghosts and zombies, to come flooding out. Naturally, Glen’s parents choose this time to go on vacation, leaving him in the care of his New Wave teenage sister, Al (Christa Denton). Now trapped inside their own house, with monsters crawling out of every crack, they have to find some way to close the gate before it can unleash Hell on Earth and all that jazz.
The Gate is a very fun and largely inoffensive horror flick (you can thank the PG-13 rating for that). Outside of perhaps the one-time utterance of the word “fag”, there really isn’t anything to offend most viewers, save for maybe some creepy and violent (but not too violent) imagery. The Gate may be suitable for younger audiences, but it’s certainly not as “kiddy” as, say, The Monster Squad (but I love The Monster Squad!). It manages to tread that razor’s edge between “kiddy” and “adult”, balancing out to, as I said before, simply a fun movie.
The main protagonists of the film may be children, but don’t let it put you off. I know that with most of these horror flicks from the 80s where little kids star in the lead, their acting is so wretched it makes the film practically unwatchable. The Gate escapes such a fate by having… decent child actors! You may recognize the name Stephen Dorff, but I think the only other thing I’ve ever seen him in was Blade. He’s alright, and so is Louis Tripp as his nerdy metalhead buddy, Terry. Outside of some of the goofy New Wave teenagers, there’s really nothing to complain about on the acting side of things.
Director Tibor Takacs appears to have become the God of Awful TV Movies. Anybody who’d curse the Earth with Mansquito deserves to suffer their way through life with the name “Tibor”. Despite his later efforts, his direction in The Gate is actually pretty impressive. The film is, admittedly, extremely special effects driven, so it’s hard to say how much of the excitement is his doing or the special effects department’s. Regardless, the end result is pretty cool, so hey, Tibor gets a gold star.
The special effects are one of the better things about The Gate and there are a whole lot of ‘em. The tiny little monsters are brought to life through puppets and stop-motion effects. For stop-motion, they’re actually surprisingly well done, looking very natural and smooth. I think what helps is that the monsters are shown via brief cuts, low to the ground angles or partially shrouded in darkness. I’m sure if it was ten straight minutes of all-stop-motion action all the time, ala RoboCop 2, I’d be singing a different tune. The giant monster who appears at the end is a little silly, and the way he’s defeated is even sillier, but who cares? I love stop-motion.
The horror angle is what keeps The Gate from being too much of a children’s film, and it can get rather intense. Dead dogs, giant hands reaching out from under the bed, zombies bursting out of the walls, melting heads and a really sweet moment where Stephen Dorff finds something horrible growing out of the palm of his hand. There’s just no blood and, aside from the aforementioned dog, no death. It’s far less violent than other PG-13 horror films of its day, such as Critters, but makes up for it with some excellent atmosphere and eerie moments.
The Gate is too scary for kids, yet can seem too childish for adults, at least on first glance. For what it’s worth, I think it’s an excellent if inoffensive horror film with some great special effects and stand-out moments. Pick up the DVD. It’s only, like, $10 bucks.