Guts and Grog Tooned Up

Friday, November 16, 2012

Full Moon Reviews.....The Gate

What drew me to Fred's writing was how in depth, and entertaining it was. That is a hard balance for some. I have been following him for a couple years now, and always feel the need to stop by Full Moon to see whats happening.

After I thought I was done with themes for a while, Guts and Grog suck me back in with their
Look Back On Horror With Training Wheels - otherwise G or PG rated horror that was marketed
to a younger, more innocent audience. I've been burnt out on these themes, which is why I
haven't been reviewing much late. But when Eric Martin asked me to contribute, I couldn't say

While I do like my share of horror aimed for children and young teens, I personally watch
more mature, cerebral, gory, and/or violent horror - even when I was part of the younger
demographic. But there are some good-to-great horror aimed for kids and teens that I still find
some enjoyment in even today. Films like THE MONSTER SQUAD. Films like POLTERGEIST. Films
like LITTLE MONSTERS. Or the one I'm reviewing for the theme - the 1987 Canadian production
known as THE GATE.

Ah yes, THE GATE - a film I remember quite fondly from the VHS rental days of the late 1980s.
Hell, I still remember when I watched the advertisements for it on television, thinking the special
effects were freakin' cool as hell! THE GATE was a smash in its native Canada, although a
modest hit here - even though it did launch the career of Stephen Dorff [who starred in his first
film here] and Kelly Rowan [who would later become the mom on TV's The O.C.]. For the past
25 years, THE GATE has had a pretty big cult following, to the point where it even got its own
sequel in 1990. But is THE GATE still as awesome today as it was back when I watched it as a
child? Well...yes and no. Let's see why THE GATE may be still worth playing your vinyl backwards

Young Glen (Stephen Dorff) has a weird dream about his treehouse being struck by a lightning
bolt, leaving a strange hole where the tree once stood. After waking up frightened, he's shocked
to see that his dream may have been real. City workers are cutting down and gathering what's
left to Glen's treehouse, which has left a strange hole in the backyard. The workers cover the
hole up as best as they could, but Glen suspects that there's something wrong about the entire
situation. His best friend, Terry (Louis Tripp), goes along with Glen's suspicions, investigating
the hole. The two kids dig through it, revealing a pit that seems to go so far down, it may hit the
Earth's core. Glen and Terry find a sliver, but it ends up breaking - with a shard going down the
pit. A scary growl is heard after Glen and Terry leave the scene.

Like normal kids, Glen and Terry forget about the hole for a few and go on their separate ways.
Glen and his older sister, Al (Christa Denton), learn that their parents are going away for the
weekend. Both protest the need for a babysitter, as Al is sixteen and feels she can take care of
Glen and herself while they're gone. In other words, Al wants to throw a party for her friends,
including the Lee sisters (Jennifer Irwin and Kelly Rowan).

During the night of the party, weird things start to happen. A friend of Al's decided to perform
a levitation trick on Glen, which creeps him out when it works. Later that night, Terry's dead
mom appears to him. But when reality sets in, the mother becomes Glen's dog, Angus, who
is now a corpse. Glen wants to call his parents, but Al refuses to and deal with Angus herself.
Unfortunately, one of Al's friends dumps the dog inside of the mysterious hole, activating it
somewhat. Terry realizes through his death metal records [by playing them backwards] that all
evidence they have encountered implies a demon invasion coming out of the hole, which leads
straight to Hell. A group of tiny demon creatures begin to pest Glen, Terry, and Al and infiltrate
the house. Realizing they need to stop these creatures from causing more damage and releasing
their leader, the kids decide to put their heads together and close this gate from Hell.


Whenever I think about horror films I clearly remember from my youth in the 1980s, THE GATE
will usually be one of the first films to pop up in my mind. It's one of those movies that stuck
with me due to its visual presentation and cool special effects for the time. I find it weird that
two horror films involving some sort of demonic hole in the 1980s, THE PIT from 1981 and THE
GATE, were both made in Canada. I don't know what's going up in the Great White North but I'll
be bypassing any strange potholes, thank you very much. But I won't be bypassing THE GATE
whenever the mood for some childhood nostalgia hits anytime soon.

When I think about what keeps THE GATE memorable today as it did for me 25 years ago, it has
to be the special effects. Sure, CGI is all the rage these days. But nothing beats practical effects
and stop motion animation for me, especially when it's done well. And THE GATE does it really
well - so well that the effects hold up extremely great today. Hell, it still looks pretty cutting edge
today and puts many CGI inflicted films to shame.

The little demon creatures are well designed and choreographed so well with the human actors,
thanks to Randall William Cook - who had also worked on 1985's FRIGHT NIGHT and later on
THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, which he won an Academy Award for. My favorite scene is still
the zombie guy falling to the floor, only breaking apart into a large group of these demons. That
moment used to be shown during all the television advertisements for the film, making me want
to watch this sooner than later at the time. I also love the giant demon creature who appears
at the end, trying to take Glen down to Hell with him. The blue screen effects aren't as evident
as other films who used these type of matte effects back in the day. You'd think they were real
people interacting with the actors instead of something added in during post-production. Just
really great stuff visually in THE GATE.

I also think the makeup work by Craig Reardon, who designed Sloth in THE GOONIES, is real
cool too. The zombie construction worker and the zombie parents look pretty eerie, adding to the
surrealism of the film. I also dig the eye on the palm of Glen's hand and a cut off hand turning
into maggots as it disinegrates. Just really awesome stuff that proves that imagination will always
be superior to clicking a mouse on a computer screen to make cool looking things happen. We
need more practical effects in modern movies. Today's generation of moviegoers have been
spoiled by lazy effects.

These visuals wouldn't be able to happen if it wasn't for director Tibor Takacs given them the
freedom to bring his vision perfectly to life. In fact, Takacs really makes THE GATE stand out
from other kid horror films of the time. The film never feels upbeat, creating a gloomy, bleak
atmosphere right from the start. Nothing ever seems to feel right in THE GATE, as there's always
something lurking in the background that's full of menace and terror. The action set pieces with
the effects are shot fantasically, really elevating the mood of the film from its much slower first
half. The use of shadows and editing put you on the edge of your seat. The use of people living
within the walls, the presence of ghosts, and all the dream sequences are presented with a ton of
surrealism due to the way they're lit and edited within the film. The cinematography is also pretty
good as well. It's just a really good visually presented film.

I also think THE GATE appealed to me back in 1987 because of the cast of children and/or
teenagers in the lead roles, as opposed to twenty-somethings dealing with a psychotic killer
wearing a scary mask. As a six-year-old, I could identify with Glen and/or Terry due to our
similar ages, putting myself in their shoes as they deal with a demon invasion. I don't have that
identification now that I'm older, but I do understand why so many people my age still have a
lot of love for THE GATE. The characters are likeable enough [besides the Lee sisters, who are
meant to be annoying so it's okay] and come across as vulnerable, yet active and intelligent to
their situation. They don't let things happen to them. They research ways to stop these demons.
They gather weapons to protect themselves. They communicate with each other in their own

way. Glen, Al, and Terry aren't stupid kids and you respect them for that. They never dealt with
this kind of situation, but they refuse to play the victim. That was encouraging as a kid and I find
it a bit encouraging today.

It helps that the actors portray the characters well enough. Stephen Dorff, in his first film role,
is very good as the lead Glen. He gives the character a ton of personality, whether he's giving
other people a ton of attitude, or crying when he starts feeling helpless. You believe every bit
Dorff portrays on film, making him one of the more natural and favorable child actors ever in the
industry. It's no surprise he's still acting today, as he definitely has leading man written all over

The others are good too. Christa Denton is very credible as Al, but she doesn't have the best
dialogue to convey. Still, her performance is very natural. Louis Tripp, who would reprise Terry in
THE GATE II: TRESPASSERS, is the metal kid I always identified with the most. He's great in the
role and plays the best friend perfectly well. I think all three leads have tremendous chemistry
with each other, which makes THE GATE work more than it should. We also get Jennifer Irwin
and Kelly Rowan being annoying as the Lee sisters. Just a great cast of younger actors here.

As for the narrative, that's where the flaws I never noticed as a child begin to spring up as
an adult. I think the characters are well written. I think the situation itself is great and works
from beginning to end. There's not much depth to it or substance, but it's entertaining as a
straightforward horror demon movie. But there are things about THE GATE that bug me now that
never did when I was a kid.

For example, how does Glen dream about this invasion before it even happens? How does he
even sense this is happening, while no one else in his family does? Why is he the target of the

Also, how come characters act normal when strange things happen? There's a levitation scene
that shocks the teens at first, but they brush it off after Glen is freaked out by it. Also, the Lee
sisters are traumatized by the demons attacking them and the others in one scene, while in
the next scene they act normal and want Al to go out and party with them like nothing surreal
happened. Do none of these characters react like real people? Does this sort of thing happen
every other day? It doesn't seem natural to me.

There are a couple of other issues I have with THE GATE. But even after 25 years, it still
manages to be really entertaining and a lot of fun to watch. It's got everything you would want
in a demon film besides a ton of gore, which is understandable since this is a PG-13 rated film
[which was originally written as an R rated film - that would have been interesting to see]. And
while the story doesn't make sense in the traditional sense, the fact that it gives you nightmares,
ghosts, heavy metal, demons, zombies, melting telephones, and eyeballs in hands makes it one
of my horror highlights of the 1980s. THE GATE still holds up extremely well and I won't wait too
long to sit down and watch it again.

Now if you'll excuse me, I plan to play some of my vinyl records backwards. Maybe they'll tell me
how to stop Justin Beiber. One can only hope...

My name is Fred, but they call me the Wolf. Love writing, watching films [especially horror], playing video games, listening to music, and just hanging out. Always been fascinated by films and pop culture for as long as I can remember. I want to be a screenwriter so I can help create a better Hollywood and stop this remake/spoof trend that the scene seems to be so involved in lately. Hopefully I can make it happen. But for now, I'm reviewing films and enjoying preaching the word on good and bad films.
Make sure to check out Full Moon Reviews for more of Fred's writing. 

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