Saturday, December 19, 2020

Open the Door and Let 'em In

Film: The Gate
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

It’s always a mixed bag when you’re watching films based on a list. That’s especially true when the list (like the They Shoot Zombies list) is a very big one. You’re going to get some good stuff, some bad stuff, and a lot of stuff that falls in between. I can’t say that the first 15-20 minutes of The Gate had me very excited, and that was an opinion I had a good half hour or so into the movie as well. But once things start going, this turns into exactly the sort of mid-late 1980s horror movie that I grew up on.

This is going to be a “we summoned a horde of demons on accident” movie, and it’s going to involve some pretty good stop-motion Claymation effects in the second half. We start with young Glen (Stephen Dorff, yes really, in his first big role, and his only theatrical role pre-1992), whose treehouse is torn down in the family back yard. When the tree is torn up, Glen discovers a geode. Exploring the hole with his friend Terry (Louis Tripp), Glen finds an even larger geode. Extracting it gives Glen a splinter, and he puts a drop of blood or two into the dirt surrounding the hole.

Glen’s parents go on a three-day vacation, leaving Glen’s sister Alexandra (Christa Denton) in charge. Al naturally throws a party. During this, Glen and Terry manage to crack open the larger geode, which comes with some purple light and creates a series of letters on a scratch pad that Glen naturally reads out loud. At the party, Alexandra’s friends levitate Glen. Later that night, Terry has a vision of his dead mother, which turns out to be Glen’s dog Angus, who is suddenly dead on the floor. Through a series of events, Angus the dog gets buried in the hole in the yard, which effectively completes the summoning ritual to open the gate in the yard. And this is where the fun really begins.

This is the biggest issue I have with The Gate. It’s very slow to start. Things don’t get fun until the gate is actually opened and Glen, Al, and Terry become the targets of the demons that come crawling out of the hole. Angus’s body opened the gate, but the demons require the sacrifice of two humans to actually open the gate fully. And so the second half of the film consists of the kids being pursued around their house by little Claymation demons and the decaying corpse of a workman (Carl Kraines) that Glen is convinced was walled up inside the house during construction.

Leading up to the point when the fun begins is a slog, and that means that a lot of people are going to find The Gate dead boring until it starts to pay off. It took me a long time to get through the first half of the film because I found myself getting distracted very easily. Once we have demons and things happening, it’s a lot more fun.

One of the things The Gate does is very well is crib from other, better movies. There’s a lot of Poltergeist in this movie, for instance. The entire idea of the house being built on some sort of hellmouth is a part of that, but so is the home invasion of the demons, the attacks on the occupants, and even the fact that our protagonists are pulled into some other realm through the house itself, disappearing in the walls much like Carol Ann vanished in the television. The attack on the occupants of a house has similarities to a lot of movies, of course, but reminded me in a lot of ways of Gremlins, and I mean that in a positive way.

In also has similarities to Poltergeist and other movies in the sense that there are multiple endings. The kids deal with the demon invasion, but not really. They deal with it again, but not really. They just keep coming back until the final confrontation, which, to be honest, ends up a bit cheesy, but still fun.

The Gate is a movie of two halves. The first half is one that I could have lived without and left me with zero expectations for the rest of the movie. The second half, though, is exactly what I was hoping the whole thing would be.

Why to watch The Gate: The second half pays off.
Why not to watch: It’s a slow starter.


  1. I have seen this film. I can't believe that was Stephen Dorff before his prime years in the 1990s. The only other thing I remembered that he did before this film and going back to films was being one of Bud Bundy's friends in Married... with Children (great fucking show).

    I haven't seen the film in years but I remember that I thought it was OK. Maybe I would enjoy it more for its silliness.

    1. It is a bit goofy at first, but for the time it was made, the last half is pretty good.

      Stephen Dorff was a pudgy little dork as a kid.