director Tibor Takács
Oddly, all I think I could have told you about The Gate before this last weekend was that I remembered seeing it and remembered liking it. Little sometimes stop-motion/sometimes live-action demons? Okay… Maybe I remembered that. Nothing else, just positive vibes.
After recently watching Tibor Takács’s later film, I, Madman (1988) and enjoying it, it seemed like a prime time to re-visit this one, especially since many others I know and admire also liked it. And being a PG-13 1980’s classic, it seemed like a good one to use to kick off our Halloween season with the kids.
It begins with a strange dream sequence in which a young boy (none other than a very young Stephen Dorff!) dreams of a big tree falling over in his backyard (along with a bunch of other freaky stuff.) Turns out the resultant hole is a gateway to another dimension, which between him and his best buddy Terry (a terrific Louis Tripp), they accidentally help open up (while digging for geodes in the hole.)
What’s really one of the great things about The Gate is that it’s a film about kids that actually uses real kids to star in. It’s an almost lost art these days, populating films about teenagers with twentysomethings. Dorff is good, but Tripp is just like a kid you would have known growing up, nerdy, a little angry, and into a devil-worshiping metal band that died together in a plane crash. And then there is Dorff’s older sister, Al (Christa Denton — also great), looking after her little brother while trying to navigate the world of teendom, boys, and giving up model rockets and kid stuff. The dynamic is beautifully toned and gives the action a grounding in sincerity.
Which is good because the story is nutty. A bunch of little demons start breaking through, leading eventually to a resurrected corpse of a handyman, and a gigantic stop-motion demon from the pit.
While it’s not a masterpiece, it is a remarkable and fun late Eighties dollop of PG-13 adventure, sparkling throughout with unusual elements and nods at those hot topics of the day, like demonic metal bands and playing LP’s backwards to understand how to dispel said demons.
The kids both enjoyed it pretty well. I think they thought it would be scarier. I didn’t bother telling them that this was PG-13 and that probably nobody would end up dying. Not even the family dog.