31 Days of Horror: Day 14 – The Gate (1987)

I am doing the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Every day in October, I will watch a different horror film I have never seen before and write about it here on the blog.

We all have those films from our childhood that we love. They are films about which we are so nostalgic and associate so strongly with good memories that we forgive their obvious flaws and are aghast when others suggest they might actually be terrible. I have those films, but I’m not going to admit to any of them here because I really don’t need to get pounded with criticism about my taste in movies when I was ten-years-old. I say all this because I missed out on seeing The Gate when it was first released. At the time of its theatrical debut, I was twelve-years-old. That would have been a perfect age for me to see the movie and I am willing to bet I would have warm fuzzies for it to this day if I had. As it is, watching the film for the first time as a 39-year-old jaded horror fan, I expected the film to be mediocre at best, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Glen (Stephen Dorff) is a suburban adolescent, living an average kid’s life. He is obsessed with launching model rockets and used to do this quite often with his older sister Al (Christa Denton) before she became a teenager and grew more interested in boys and hanging out with her friends at the mall. When a tree in his backyard is hit by lightning and removed, a gaping hole is left behind. While poking around the hole with his awkward friend Terry (Louis Tripp), Glenn gets a splinter in his hand which he pulls out and drops into the hole. Before you can say “blood sacrifice,” weird things start happening around the house. Conveniently, it’s at this point that Glen’s parents leave town for the weekend.

As Al throws a party and tries to keep Glen from interfering too much with her socializing, the weirdness ramps up. A juvenile levitation trick works way too well, Terry has a hallucination about his dead mother that takes a morbidly funny turn, and then miniature demons come scrambling out of the hole and attack the house. It’s enough to make most anyone get the police, or a doctor, or a priest, or call their parents, or just get the hell out of the house, but Glen and Al do none of these things because then there wouldn’t be a movie.

There is a charm to The Gate that I didn’t expect. It takes note of the rift growing between Glen and Al and shows how it affects both of them without hitting the audience over the head with too much sappiness. It has fun with Terry and his obsession with supposedly satanic metal bands, but he never quite becomes the butt of the joke, even as he is played broadly by Tripp. And there is a pleasant, hand-crafted feel to the stop-motion effects and puppetry used to bring the demons to life.

At the same time, the difference in what was considered okay in a PG-13 horror film for kids in 1987 and now threw me a little. A certain gay slur gets tossed around with abandon—even by the sympathetic characters—and was probably the most shocking thing to me about the film. There is also a heartless subplot about the family dog dying—possibly from old age and possibly caused by the evil forces—that is played for black comedy when no one is sure of how to dispose of the body.

But this feeling of the filmmakers not really playing fair actually helps the film. One effects sequence is fairly grisly, given the rating and tone. And the nutty third act with a zombie bursting through a wall to attack the kids and a literal gate to Hell opening under the house is so over-the-top, it becomes clear that a more “tasteful” movie wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

That is what eventually counts with The Gate: it’s a fun movie. It fails to make complete sense and the sappy ending is far too sweet for some of the nastiness that came before it, but it always entertains. Even at my advanced age, it allowed me to connect just enough with my inner-twelve-year-old and have a good time.

You can contact me at obsessivemovienerd@gmail.com and read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.

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