Friday, October 5, 2012

The Gate

The Gate (1987)
Dir. Tibor Takacs
Written by: Michael Nankin
Starring a very young Stephen Dorff, others, claymation

This is an early and surprisingly assured work from noted I, MADMAN and MANSQUITO director Tibor Takacs, who has made a career out of directing crappy, brainless genre movies which end up being much better made than they have any right to be, like a crazy reverse Larry Cohen. THE GATE is a little better written than things like, say, ICE SPIDERS or NYC: TORNADO TERROR, but it’s really the confident, Spielbergian direction that makes it worth remembering today. Well, that, and some always-enjoyable 80s stop-motion fun.

The plot concerns a young brother and sister, left alone for the weekend, who encounter some trouble with a particularly aggressive sinkhole in their backyard. It’s the kind of sinkhole which is constantly spewing dry ice fumes, and possibly connects to an alternate dimension from which a master demon can emerge to destroy the Earth. So there’s that. The kids have to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it or the world will end and their parents are gonna be pissed.  

Stepehen Dorff would go on to be in BLADE and the best I'd do is "nerdy kid" [uncredited] in DETROIT ROCK CITY?

Takacs wisely keeps the tone light, but is also wisely unafraid to put his kids through the wringer by the end of the film. It’s gentler than the also PG-rated POLTERGEIST, but successfully conveys the long odds against the protagonists surviving this encounter with the supernatural. The film’s confidence seems to come from a clear sense of what it wants to be: a kinetic creature feature which is fun enough for kids but not interested in coddling them. At one point our prepubescent protagonist has to gouge a creepy demon eyeball out of the palm of his hand. Probably won’t see that in a Hannah Montana movie (unless she follows my advice and does right by God and this great nation by making I KNOW WHO KILLED ME AGAIN*). It also has the guts to take its characters and their relationships seriously while still having fun with them. Main kid Stephen Dorff has a friend named Terry who seems a little off -- we learn it’s because his mom recently died and his father is gone most of the time. It makes it both sadder and funnier when we later encounter him rocking out to 80s hair metal... while wearing a rainbow blanket as a cape.

But who gives a fuck about the kids’ feelings when there are a couple awesome stop-motion monsters running around? Glad you asked that question, the answer is nobody. So we’re lucky to have a few memorable creatures to keep our fancy from wandering to the question of whether it’s OK that we’re wondering if the older sister is gonna have sex scene at some point. There is an army of little minions that look kind of like tiny versions of the demigod memorably voiced by Craig T. Nelson in the that classic porno/science fiction masterpiece FLESH GORDON. Some demonic bed-lurkers who never show their faces. And a massive multi-limbed elder demon which looks bizarre and impressive even by today’s jaded, CG saturated standards. Beyond that, you’ve got a few fun ideas bouncing around: I love that when they can’t find the proper magic words to close the titular gate, they try reading the bible, and when it’s too smoky to read they just throw it down the hole, where it explodes like grenade. That’s the kind of old tyme religion they don’t teach in seminary school.

It’s probably better to see this as an actual kid if you have any hope of getting scared by it and remembering it fondly as an adult and then getting arrogant and deciding to ruin everything you love by making a clueless remake instead of getting your act together and forcing Keanu Reeves to help you make a third BILL AND TED, which unlike a new GATE movie would actually honor your roots instead of needlessly perverting them with enormously misguided remake attempts, Alex Winter. But even if you’re not a kid or one or more of the stars of BILL AND TED, I think you’ve got to admire the craftsmanship, clarity of vision, and innocent fun which can be found here in spades.** I don’t know if Takacs is still putting the same amount of effort into his filmmaking (his next one is the unimaginatively but informatively named SPIDERS 3D) but at least back here at the start of his career, he made a truly top-tier fun horror movie which delivers the good without going too far for kid or talking down to them, and thus probably inspired a whole generation of new genre fans. The gate, indeed.     


BOOBIES: No, you pervert.
> or = HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS LEVEL GORE: Nah, that eyeball stabbing thing is gnarly though.
SEQUEL: No, but it has one: THE GATE 2.
OBSCURITY LEVEL: Mid. Sort of beloved amongst a certain set, but little known elsewhere.
MONSTERS: Oh yeah, some great ones.
SATANISTS: Using the Bible seems to work against the Gate, but no specific Satanists.
ZOMBIES: Yeah! They throw one in there for the last act. A nice gesture.


**Not a pun on the fact that this movie is about a big hole.


  1. You forgot the "bad things happen to good dogs" tag

  2. Yeah, but doesn't the dog (spoiler) turn out to be OK at the end? Oh, who am I kidding, I can't resist that tag. Duly corrected.