When I was a kid, I would have loved it if a Gate to Hell opened up in my yard. Especially under a spooky tree. That’s the premise of The Gate, a late 80’s horror film starring a very young Stephen Dorff. One weekend when his parents are away, with only his dog, his older sister Al, and his metal-head buddy Terry for company, Glen will have to battle a horde of demons infesting his yard, and find a way to send them… back to Hell!
The story begins when akes up from a nightmare about his treehouse falling down in a freak lightning storm, and finds that the tree really has fallen. His father has already gotten some workers to start filling in the hole, but they find a geode full of purple crystals and give it to little Glen; this leads he and Terry to dig up the hole looking for more, and they find an even bigger one that they can’t split open. When his sister is having a party against her parents’ wishes, he and Terry manage to crack it, and it releases spooky vapors. And of course, creepy stuff starts happening. At first, it’s pretty innocuous.
The party’s over when they play “light as a feather, stiff as a board” with Glen, and he actually levitates into the air and breaks a lamp. But of course, that’s just the beginning. His aging dog disappears… Terry sees his dead mother walking out of the mist, in a frightening hallucination. Moths they caught flying out of the creepy hole keep coming back to life. The movie doesn’t always make sense; it’s like a child’s dream. a mirage of Glen’s parents appears, and the worst thing they can say is “You’ve been BAD!” as if the demons are plumbing the kid’s thoughts.
It takes a long time for the little demons to show up, but when they do, they are surreal and creepy. They first appear in that childhood staple, Under the Bed. Drooling monsters were segregated into three neighborhoods in my child: Under the Bed, In the Closet, or worst, The Cellar. There was always the chance that Something Under the Bed might grab your foot if you weren’t properly covered. There’s a great scare here when a huge arm comes after Al, but sadly, the giant hands only have one scene. They burst into a horde of little baby-sized demons, which are even creepier.
Their job is to catch you and take you back down the hole, but luckily they make it through the first night. Terry, the nerdy pal, lives in a room full of metal posters, including a bedsheet with “metal” spray-painted in red. At first it seems hilarious, but then I remember pinning up Iron Maiden albums with “Eddie” on them, and a “metal” bedsheet would have been the piece d’resistance of my shrine to Ronny James Dio in 1983. One of Terry’s metal albums, by Sacrifyx (great name), tells him all about how to deal with demons, so they have a fighting chance. But just when they think they’ve closed the gate to hell, hell really breaks loose.
I wish my metal albums were by bands who disappeared after printing knowledge from The Dark Book. Sadly, my adventures with Satan began and ending with prank calls to 666-EVIL, or ringing the doorbell of 668, the Neighbor of the Beast. The movie does a great job of combining so many childhood fantasies- the creepy rock album with backwards messages, a hole in the yard being a gateway to adventure, silly party games turning real, and having scary stories you made up turn out to be true.
In Terry’s case, he made up a story about a workman on Glen’s house dying on the worksite, and being buried in the walls; after closes the Gate by reciting Bible verses, and a harrowing adventure down the rabbit hole, the scares begin anew when the wall bursts open to reveal a zombie workman conjured from his fears. In the end it is up to Glen to defeat the huge demon who bursts from the floor of the house after his friends are captured. One of the most memorable scenes is when the demon touches him and puts an eye on his hand, which he stabs with a pencil.
The story takes a long time to build, and feels a lot longer than its 85 minutes, but it’s pretty entertaining along the way. The actors aren’t great, but they are very natural and become endearing. The movie is a lot of fun at points, and but it has very dated effects, and sometimes just gets a little too silly. I would have loved this as a kid, though. Apparently they are making a sequel or a remake; it’ll never be an American Pan’s Labyrinth but it could be great PG movie if done right. But we’re not allowed to scare kids anymore no matter how much they might like it. That’s a damn shame, because the most memorable movies to me have always been the ones that scared the living shit out of me. The chestburster from Alien; the clown, and the tree from Poltergeist, and every damn scene in The Thing. Well, there’s always this: