Friday, 2 March 2018

THE GATE BLU-RAY review

The latest batch of Vestron Video titles have had their upgraded blu-ray releases this week, and first up for review is the unfairly forgotten Stephen Dorff horror, The Gate.


Left to look after the house for the weekend when their parents are away, 13 year old Glen (a ridiculously young Stephen Dorff) and his older sister Al (Christa Denton) are forced to fend off otherworldly spirits summoned by a broken orb dug up at the bottom of the garden by Glen and his best friend Terry. Manifesting themselves as all manner of creatures, Glen, Terry and Al must put their petty squabbles aside to avoid having the house, and maybe the entire world, destroyed.

When I think of Stephen Dorff, I think of the 90s heart-throb who was the villain in the first Blade film and the washed up movie star in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere. What I don't think of is the teeny, tiny, teenage poppet who appears in The Gate, a munchkin not dissimilar to a young Leonardo DiCaprio in Critters 3 or River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke in Explorers. Filmed in Canada when Dorff was just 13 years old, this was his debut movie role but still manages to show some of the laid back performance style that would define him as a movie star later on. Glen is perpetually blindsided by the events in his house, which given the believability of the effects work does make sense.

First things first, The Gate is almost objectionably 1980s. The odd "fag" insults here and there, horrendous clothing on literally everyone, and one poor girl who seems to have been the model for Cameron Diaz’s There’s Something About Mary jizz hair, presented without explanation. It’s a portrait of suburbia as a barren wasteland of fun; with identikit houses with huge lawns and nothing for the kids to do except play in the dirt, which of course is what leads the kids into trouble when they uncover a pit from hell.
It’s a bit of a slow starter, and the first couple of scares aren’t especially ground breaking (pun intended), but when it kicks into gear and shows off its effects work, The Gate is great bordering on fantastic. In a blatant pilfering of The Evil Dead’s Necronomicon incantation recordings, the film features a goofy subplot about playing a record backwards to find out how to banish the demons; but in classic The Evil Dead fashion all they manage to do is piss off some demons and speed up their ascent from hell.

One of the canniest moves this film plays is the gradual ramping up of the effects work, beginning with some dry ice and back lighting and then shifting up a gear as mini Dorff put his fingers through the eye sockets of a demon, allowing for a horrible soupy substance to flow out. Yes, this is a real treat for gore hounds who appreciate the artistry of a good effects shot, and the originality and execution of the special effects is worth commending.

The story of a young boy and his sister battling monsters from beneath is simple enough, but this film is still able to wrong foot you and provide a number of pleasant surprises. When it feels like The Gate has reached its natural end you then realise the story hasn’t even hit the hour mark yet, and then the teens head into the basement to retrieve the spell they need to close the gate (hello again, The Evil Dead) leading to a solid 40 minutes of absolute bedlam; with zombies, demonic children, even more mini orc beasties and one of the most jaw dropping special effects shots I’ve seen in a long time. It's perhaps sacrilegious to say you can afford to sacrifice a cleverly nuanced script when the entirety of your budget is up there to see in the tremendous VFX work, but this is definitely a perfect example of that happening. There are numerous moments where you’ll find yourself wanting to rewind it and watch a VFX shot again. And now you can.

The title is unremarkable, the acting is never beyond what you’d expect from a bunch of kids, there’s not much way in plot and what there is has been taken from other films; but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Gate to anyone with a fondness for slightly naff 80s horrors. Seriously, this is a special effects bonanza that deserves to have a bigger midnight movie following. Buy this, invite your friends around and watch their jaws hit the floor.

Verdict
3.5/5

Special Features
- Two commentaries from the director, writer and special effects crew
- Isolated score and interview with the composers
- Modern featurettes about the making of the film
- Creature workshop
- Teaser trailer
- Theatrical trailer
- Storyboards
- behind the scenes gallery

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