VESTRON VIDEO COLLECTOR’S SERIES: The Gate (1987) Blu-ray

This is a weird thing to say about the acquisition of a review copy, but I feel privileged to be reviewing this film and that’s because it’s a massive “memory movie” of when I first heard about it and saw it.

The Gate came out mere weeks before I graduated from high school, and on the day I learned about it, I had come home from school and began work on building some form of hut or cabin in the woods behind my house. In my mind it looked awesome, the end result, however, was a major fuckin’ letdown. But I didn’t know that yet. The only wood I had was under the porch and it was old and ant infested from a fence we used to have up when I was a little kid. Again I didn’t know it was ant infested until much later. It was hot this day, and as I was hauling it out from under the porch to the woods, unbeknownst to me my best friend at the time, Gerry, called to see what I was up to. And for reasons I still don’t know, because I have no idea how the conversation went between my mother and him, she jumped into the car and went down to his house to pick him up and bring him up to the house. This was not like my mother. Not at all.

While I was up there in the woods, I heard this voice behind me on the path and when I looked Gerry was standing there. He told me how he called and how he got up here. Needless to say I was happy to see him and we got to work building this thing. This is when he told me about this commercial he had seen on TV when he got home from school about these two kids finding this rock in their backyard and these monsters or demons coming after them. This movie was right up our alleys. When you’re kids you seek out movies focusing on characters your age and the fact that these kids were also facing down monsters made it even cooler. Of course these kids were younger than we were, but we still identified with them. At least I did.

 

I told him I hadn’t come across that commercial at all during the week. It wasn’t until later that day, or that evening, it could have been the next day, that I finally saw the commercial. They were airing it during that prime time after school when Transformers, G.I. Joe and toons like that were on. I saw it and thought, ‘shit, yeah, this movie looks awesome!’ I may have even placed a call to him right after I saw it. I can’t be sure of that however. Though it wasn’t above either of us to do that when we saw something cool on TV like a new toon, or a particularly interesting movie on Elvira’s Movie Macabre (1981-1993) show.

There was a group of us that ended up seeing the movie this one Friday night: Me, Chris (who was driving), Gerry, Tony (Gerry’s brother) and Aaron. We saw it in a theater a couple of towns away, which at the time wasn’t unusual, since we always liked to make a trip when we saw a flick, or hung out. But with The Gate, I think, only this one theater was running it. I seem to think that theater went out of business decades later and it wasn’t one we normally frequented because it was deep into Pittsfield, but as I said I think this was the only place who had acquired The Gate.

What made this night special, aside from all of us being together, was that we were the only ones in that theater, which always gave me the impression the movie bombed at the box office. I don’t think it did. I wish I could remember what the general reviews said about it, but according to IMDB the flick cost $2,500,000, and it made $13,539,458, so it was technically profitable.

When we got there we were the only ones in the theater, and as the movie started we were still the only ones in the theater. By the time the movie entered its final act I looked behind me (we all sat up near the screen) and we were still the only ones in the theater. It was great! We joked a lot, quieted down at the more intense scenes and marveled at how the hell they did those minion scenes where they all looked convincingly small without stop motion animation. There was stop motion in the movie, but 99% of the minion scenes are in-camera forced perspective shots and when those first scenes pop up with them running after the kids I was amazed at how real it all looked! The shot that really amazed us, however, was the one where Louis Tripps’ character falls into the hole and is attacked by them, and we get a close up of them tugging at his leg!

I can’t remember what we did after the movie. We may have all stopped for a pizza.

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I love many things about this movie and will try to count the ways, one of them is where the characters learn about the demonic menace they’re combating, which just so happens to come from the only album released by fictional heavy metal band, Sacrifyx! For the 80s this makes a lot of sense, it probably still is, since more “conservative people” always insist rock music is the Devil’s work. The Gate’s Sacrifyx were hardcore black magic practitioners but they all died in a mysterious plane crash after releasing their debut album that conveniently came with a “spellbook” called The Dark Book. No idea how many albums were pressed but the father of one the movie’s main characters managed to snag a copy over in Europe and give it to his metal loving son. It’s here in the music lyrics between verses, and pictured in the accompanying book, where we learn about the movie’s Evil forces, lore that would have H.P. Lovecraft banging his head in acceptance! Apparently when the Earth was young Dark Gods ruled the planet, but not anymore and they wait behind the gate for the opportunity to return and rule once again. We also learn they need two human sacrifices to stake their claim once they come back and only a being wielding the power of love and light can defeat them. The Dark Book even foreshadows, in creepy wood cutting art, the appearance of the Dark Master, his minions (seen carving up what I always took to a settler) and the gate itself, a portal in the ground where the dark forces spill out.

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The movie’s supernatural elements build rather well and in extremely creepy fashion right up to what a first time viewer will think is the film’s climax. It’s not. Things get worse with a final act that is surprisingly apocalyptic, but with a happy ending that at the time me and my friends hated.

All the main characters are kids and the movie starts off with a four minute dream sequence that at first glance doesn’t appear to be a dream. Twelve-year-old Glen (Stephen Dorff) returns home on his bike one afternoon to find no one in the house, he then goes out back to his treehouse where it’s suddenly become night (now we can assume we’re looking at something dream-related). He ventures up and feels compelled to pick up this doll. Lightning strikes the tree and down it comes Glen and all. Glen wakes up and looks out his window to find his treehouse has toppled down and a bunch of men are cutting it up. Could his dream have been precognitive? Clearly this is the start of the Old Gods working their way back into our world and Glen just so happens to have their gate right in his own backyard! Right where that tree used to be!

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The Gate was covered in Fangoria #62

He finds a broken geode out there in the dirt, but by the time he calls his best friend Terry (Louis Tripp) to come over and search for more, the workmen have already covered up the hole. The kids decide to uncover it in the hopes of finding a fully intact one for they believe it’ll be worth a lot of money. In the process Glen gets a bloody sliver, pulls it out and drops it into the hole, weird sounds are heard below, sounds that demonic minions make! There are a series of “weird, coincidental events” like this that happen in the first act that eventually get put together by Terry who insinuates this is what the demons need to get their gate open. Later on Glen’s big sister, Alexandra (Christa Denton), will throw a party in which the kids play stiff-as-a-board-light-as-a-feather, and this levitation is another component to the summoning of the Dark Gods. The movie shows these events as something the kids accidentally did, but if you look at the movie again you can make a case that the kids were being subtly “manipulated,” or “influenced” to do these things. It’s even stated by Terry at one point that the gate is only open a crack, so all these Lovecraftian forces can do right now is influence them to a minor degree, but the final component in their summoning is a sacrifice, which will blow the gate wide open, and it doesn’t have to be a human sacrifice either.

Enter Angus, Glen and Alexandra’s old dog. I’m not a fan of animals in horror movies because they almost always end up meeting a gruesome end, but since this is a PG-13 horror flick aimed at kids and starring kids Angus’ end is very tame. It happens after the party and Terry is sleeping over. On his way back from the bathroom he looks downstairs and sees his dead mother (she died the year before) wearing an angelic gown and beckoning him to come to her. Is this a dream? No, it’s the demons knowing they need a sacrifice and giving the kids an opportunity to give them one. That’s my theory. While Terry is hugging his mother it’s suddenly revealed he’s hugging the corpse of Angus, who just died. Old age, I suspect. Glen did say he was 97 in dog years. The next day Al tasks one of her male friends with dropping the body off at the animal shelter, but it’s closed so he returns not knowing what to do until he sees the hole in the backyard and tosses it down. Sacrifice done, now the horror ramps up.

All of the action takes place either inside the house, in the backyard over “the gate,” or within the gate itself. At one point the kids try to flee the house but are suddenly greeted by Glen and Al’s parents looking as if they came home early, but Glen’s “father” grabs him by the throat and says in a demonic voice, “you’ve been bad,” to which Glen reacts by grabbing at his father’s face and literally tears into it. The “mother” cackles as the “father’s” head falls off and goes splat on the walk. But it was all a demonic illusion.

A damn good one, too.

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Once it’s clear the gate is now fully open, the minions appear and begin terrorizing the kids. For a short time Al’s friends, the Lee sisters, Linda (Jennifer Irwin) and Lori (Kelly Rowan), are with them, providing us with comic relief, but they take off eventually leaving Al, Glen and Terry to contend with the demons. The deceptive anti-climax happens when Terry, Glen and Al stand over the gate, while Terry reads from the bible in hopes of sealing it up, but is standing way to close for his own good. He falls in and is attacked by minions when it hits the bottom. He manages to crawl out, though, and administers a desperate and unplanned “coup de gras” of just throwing the entire bible into it. Gate blows, and it closes up! Miller time.

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With scant hours before daybreak the real horror begins. Terry vows he’ll never sleep again. I don’t blame him. In the beginning of the movie Glen had trouble getting to sleep with the light off and tells his father that Terry told him when they were building their house a workman died and the other workmen were afraid to call the police so they buried him in the walls. Of course that tale was bullshit and Terry admits it was later, but he admits it at a moment when a workman’s body suddenly falls out of one the walls. It’s definitely a “holy shit” moment. It gets worse when it comes alive, grabs him and disappears back into the wall.

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Terry is now the one of the human sacrifices the demons need to stay on Earth!

When Al and Glen come face-to-face with this walking dead workman again, they prevail, but only for a moment before its revealed it was the minions in disguise. It falls flat on its face after being hit in the face with a boom box Al threw at it, and when the body hits the floor it transforms into a bunch of tumbling and rolling minions!

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Al becomes the second human sacrifice when she and Glen try to hole up in a closet downstairs and the workman appears again from behind the clothes. Al does manage to blow the side of its face off with a shotgun blast before she’s dragged deeper into the closet. Glen is now the sole survivor, and he’s about to meet the Dark Master!

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As he races upstairs the floor collapses revealing an infinite chasm with “something” churning at the bottom. Once he makes it into his room, the minions appear on the banister and chant in unison as this immense Lovecraftain monster rises up! What astonished me the most about FX artist Randall William Cook’s stop-motion creation was he spent the time to actually make it look like it was breathing. At that time I had never seen that kind of detail paid to a stop-motion monster. Decades later, though, I realized Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir from 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957) had a scene where it was unconscious and it’s chest was going up and down. I remember pointing out the breathing chest to Gerry at the theater.

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The Dark Master grabs Glen by the arm and picks him up. When he’s let go he looks at his hand and sees a human eyeball in the center of his palm. Perhaps a way to keep tabs on him? But things are about to get worse, if that’s even possible, when he gazes out the window and sees all this evil energy pouring out of the gate. It looks like a black tornado, reaching into the sky and spreading. An effect that reminded me of something I had seen in Ghostbusters (1984). It’s an impressive effect and the only time we get to see Evil beginning to effect the outside world. How Glen dispatches the Dark Master was the only time I had a problem suspending my disbelief, but obviously decades later I’ve accepted it and it does kind if fit in with the PG-13 kids-horror-movie tone.

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There’s a subplot of Glen collecting model rockets, but he burned the corner of the house once and since then he’s been banned from launching them without supervision. There was this one huge rocket he had he thought was thrown out, but Al kept it, hidden in the closet, and with Al’s birthday coming up he bought her one. Thinking that he might have an idea what that “prophecy” meant of a being wielding the power of love and light he gets it into his head he’ll launch that rocket at the Dark Master the next time he sees him.

But how do you get the attention of a Dark Master?

Simple, you pop the eyeball in the palm of your hand that it cursed you with.

Glen does this with a shard of glass, and up pops the Dark Master. Glen launches the rocket hollering, “Happy birthday, Al!” and I’ll be damned that rocket goes right into the thing! Understandably pissed, the Dark Master tosses Glen around a bit, before he makes it out of the house as he explodes into fireworks!

Now the happy ending… from out of the closet comes, Terry, Al and Angus, alive and well! Well, at least, it didn’t all go back to normal. The house was seriously fucked up in this whole Good Vs Evil battle and it stayed that way too.

Aside from all the creature eye candy the demonic phenomena that takes place earlier in the film is eerie and it ranges from moths taking their revenge, rocks rolling behind the walls, an effect that had me thinking of Fred Krueger pressing his face through the wall over Heather’s bed in A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), an especially hair raising moment that has the reality of a family photo remade to look like Glen’s parents and sister were bloodily murdered while Glen in the photo is still smiling, and when their father came out to take a look at the hole Glen and Terry dug up we see something creepy going on with the dirt. There are little patches “dripping” into the hole, which at first glance look natural, but there’s one unsteady “drip of dirt” that looks like there’s something behind it pushing it in. It’s an effectively done moment of creepiness; one I immediately registered it at the theater when I first saw it.

The Gate was released by Lionsgate back in 2009 in a special edition, and come February 28th it finally gets the blu-ray treatment through Liongate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series banner! You can buy it here on Amazon! Their DVD is still in print for those who haven’t gone blu-ray.


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Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio—Spanish and English SDH subs only

I was very, very impressed with the remaster they did for this! I noticed color palettes I hadn’t seen before like slashes of colors, like purple in one scene in the background, or off to the side, and for some reason the curtain at the end when Glen looks out the window to see Evil pouring out of the gate drew my attention. It’s color just stood out for me. In a nutshell colors popped! Detail was very vivid too!

Extras included . . .

  • Audio Commentary With Director Tibor Takacs, Writer Michael Nankin, and Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook
  • Audio Commentary With Special Effects Designer & Supervisor Randall William Cook, Special Make-Up Effects Artist Craig Reardon, Special Effects Artist Frank Carere, and Matte Photographer Bill Taylor
  • Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composers Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson
  • “The Gate: Unlocked” (27:54)
  • “Minion Maker” (22:36)
  • “From Hell It Came” (13:13)
  • “The Workman Speaks!” (12:22)
  • “Made in Canada” (28:28)
  • “From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate” (14:53)
  • “The Gatekeepers” (15:46)
  • “Making of The Gate” (22:55)
  • Storyboard Gallery (9:27)
  • Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (10:20)
  • Teaser Trailer
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spot

The extra features on the old DVD (i.e. commentary, The Gatekeepers and From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate featurettes) have been ported over. Red Pictures owner Michael Felsher mentioned in a recent Facebook Live Chat the old DVD was rushed and he couldn’t do everything he wanted to do for it, which is why we now have a lot more bang for our buck on this blu!

The first thing that caught my eye and the first thing I watched was the TV spot. Goddamn, that brought me back in time! That’s the exact spot I saw back in 1987! The teaser trailer was brand new to me. If I had seen that back in ’87 in a theater I would have been hooked. The period ‘making-of’ was excellent too, though it showed a lot of the movie between interviews. Most of the extras focus on the effects, with only “Made In Canada” and “The Workman Speaks” giving us interviews with actors. The former Scot Denton (the father and real life father of Christa Denton), and an actor who played one of the minions, and the latter Carl Kraines.

We also get a new second commentary with the FX artists and one with the composer! Also check out the Behind-The-Scenes gallery, it’s loaded with a lot of FX shots I’ve never seen before. Before I end this review co-producer Andras Hamori is interviewed in “From Hell It Came ” and he reveals they are working on a remake!

If you’re a horror movie fan/collector and have kids who are starting to reach that age where you’re feeling they might be able to share in your hobby, I can think of two movies which would be great in breaking them in, before your inadvertently cripple them with the hardcore stuff like The Exorcist (1973) and The Thing (1982) and they would be The Monster Squad (1987) and The Gate!

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About Shawn Francis

Movie collector and horror writer.
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