Friday, April 23, 2010

THE GATE

Somehow, I missed this one. Last Halloween, Lionsgate dusted off another 80's horror favorite from their acquired film library and released it on DVD in a new special edition. And they did a very nice job of it, too. The favorite in question is 1987's THE GATE, a pay-cable perennial that was seared into the subconscious of an entire generation of young horror fans.

A 12 year-old suburban boy (Stephen Dorff, BLADE) and his best friend (Louis Tripp) inadvertently open the gate to Hell at the bottom of a hole in his backyard. Soon, a number of evil entities emerge from the smoking portal, including tiny demonic "minions," a zombie, and a gigantic hellbeast, all which proceed to terrorize and torment the boys and the other teens in the house until a means to close the Gate can be found... maybe in the lyrics of a heavy metal album?

Modestly budgeted and shot in Canada, THE GATE is rated PG-13, and is really kind of an EVIL DEAD for kids. The script plays off a lot of universal childhood fears and anxieties, and the whole story is told from a kid's perspective. There are almost no adults in the cast, and those that are only appear for a couple of minutes, leaving it to the (mostly) likable young stars to carry the film. Well, the extraordinary, old school special effects by Randall Cook help, too. In fact, it's those jaw-dropping effects - and not the routine, predictable plot - that really make the movie so memorable.

Using a variety of classic methods including puppetry, masterful stop-motion animation, and - most astonishingly - forced-perspective sets and "trick" photography, Cook and make-up artist Craig Reardon unleash a horde of surprisingly convincing horrors onto the screen. In fact, despite the PG-13 rating, some of their creations are pretty strong stuff, and I'm not sure they'd have gotten away with it all even just a few years later.

Lionsgate brings THE GATE: MONSTROUS SPECIAL EDITION to DVD in a new, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Vastly better than the old VHS tape or the previous, full-screen DVD edition from budget label Platinum some years ago, which was apparently just a straight port from that VHS master, the newly-remastered image still has a distinctive 80's softness which is actually rather pleasing and nostalgic. The audio is a clear, if unspectacular, Dolby Digital 2.0.

The extra features are also quite satisfying. First, there's an engaging audio commentary by director Tibor Tikacs, writer Michael Nankin and FX maestros Cook and Reardon. Then, there's a featurette by the guys at Red Shirt Pictures about the special effects, and another documentary which focuses on the story. Unfortunately, none of the kids from the film show up in the special features, which is a bit disappointing. The package is rounded out with the original theatrical trailer.

Somehow this one flew under my radar last Fall, but I'm glad I finally found it. As an aficionado of traditional special effects, I find THE GATE to be extremely enjoyable. No soulless CGI pixels here, and except for one or two dodgy process shots, I consider Cook's effects to be vastly more convincing than anything I've seen on screen in recent years. If you're one of the millions of kids who enjoyed the movie over and over again on cable and tape, or a fan of "analog" special effects like I am, THE GATE comes highly recommended.

BUY: The Gate