31 Days of Hell: The Gate

Chris Jordan reviews The Gate, where haunted houses, tiny monsters, and satanic heavy metal collide.

"If you play the record backwards, it sounds like
a producer trying to talk you into signing on for
at least two sequels."
One of the most fun, deliciously cheesy subgenres of '80s horror was the heavy metal fright flick: movies themed around the idea that listening to metal will literally summon the forces of hell to consume its hapless victims. This of course originated with the rampant, senseless fears among parents of this era that this type of music was corrupting their kids, as best exemplified by the famous lawsuit brought against Ozzy Osbourne by parents who claimed his music incited their child to commit suicide. Some of the films of the Metal-Is-Evil subgenre made fun of this outbreak of paranoia, while others played on the fears, but either way, this minor movement in horror created some highly entertaining films that are all the more fun because of how dated their cultural sensibilities now seem. There is one movie that stands out quite distinctly from the formula; one that blended this narrative format into a larger, highly unlikely horror cocktail with insane results. The Gate is a hybrid of heavy metal horror, post-Poltergeist surreal haunted house thrills, and Gremlins-style tiny monster action. And it's for kids, too; at least in the same PG-13 way that The Monster Squad is for kids. If you want to feel nostalgic watching the sort of genre flick that you might have loved as a youth in the '80s or early-'90s, this odd little gem is definitely one to add to your Halloween watch list.

"Do you have a moment to talk
 about our lord 
and destroyer, 
The Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep?"'
The mix of genre archetypes listed above really tells you everything you need to know about the premise of The Gate. Some kids open a portal to hell in their suburban back yard, and must tame the occult powers of satanic heavy metal in order to fight off tiny monsters and a barrage of strange supernatural manifestations. The film really doesn't care about the hows and whys, it basically just boils down to “portal to hell; crazy stuff happens for no reason, because special effects are fun.” Honestly, what more do you need? It's all pretty ridiculous, but it knows it's ridiculous and has just enough sense of humor to make the viewer forgive the willful absence of internal logic. Remember, this movie is basically for late-1980s 13-year-olds who wanted more of the just-barely-safe-for-kids craziness that Poltergeist gave them; it's a target audience that honestly won't care why everything is happening, as long as it's a lot of fun. And oh yes, it is a lot of fun.

As with many films like this, the special effects steal the show, with a great mix of nostalgic and honestly quite impressive. There is some very strong effects work present in The Gate – particularly the excellent claymation used to bring the movie's monsters to life. The off-the-wall nature of the story's supernatural threat allows it to take pretty much any form, and we get an eclectic variety of monsters, ghouls, and hallucinatory craziness that keeps things interesting and unexpected. Writer Michael Nankin and director Tibor Takacs brought some great imagination to this film, and Takacs did an excellent job of realizing its ambitious visuals on what was clearly a very well-utilized low budget. As little sense as its supernatural twists and turns sometimes make, The Gate thoroughly sweeps viewers along for the ride once it builds up momentum. The expect-anything style is not unlike that of our earlier 31 Days of Hell selection Spookies, and the results are just about as entertaining. Spookies has the stronger and more varied effects work of the two, but it must be said that The Gate has the more cohesive and satisfying story; though that isn't Spookies' fault so much as the unfortunate narrative fallout of its notoriously troubled production. Either way, fans of either of these two films should definitely check out the other.

"No one should have to see 
the things I've had to..."
The child stars of The Gate do a solid job with the material, giving us believable kid protagonists who the film's target audience could relate to. Films like this are often made or undone by whether their young stars can provide a convincing vision of what children would do when faced with monsters they have to fight, and these kids carry the script well. The main character is none other than a young Stephen Dorff in his first theatrical film role, and he actually gives a performance with more emotion and sincerity than a few he would give as an adult. It's not too surprising that this film would help launch his career as a child actor.

The Gate is a silly movie; there's no denying it. It's not trying to be Poltergeist as we view it as adults, it's trying to be like Poltergeist as we first experienced it as kids. It isn't concerned about narrative logic, just having a good time with supernatural craziness and cool special effects. It's the sort of film that is best viewed with nostalgia – either nostalgia for this specific movie if it's one you grew up with, or for this era in horror cinema in general. If you can watch it with that nostalgic mind-set, and put aside more cynical grown-up viewing methods to enjoy the sheer fun of it, The Gate is an awesome time-capsule; the kind of movie that could only have been made in the 1980s.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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