Ah, kids in peril. Is there a more pointless genre of movie for adults to watch? With the advent of multiplexes and kids getting serious disposable income, scumbag movie producers (who would make literally anything if they thought they could turn a quick buck) saw there was yet another untapped market and swooped in. There’s the occasional diamond in the rough (“The Goonies”, er….) but by and large it’s pandering nonsense where kids have to save the day thanks to absent / disbelieving parents. And by the construction of this paragraph, you should have an inkling of what I thought about “The Gate”.
Stephen Dorff was an odd-looking kid (plus, someone should really update his IMDB profile – it describes him as “one of the most respected young actors in Hollywood” despite him being 43). He’s got an older sister who’s just leaving behind childish excitement and is trying to be cool, a best friend who’s seriously into heavy metal, and an old dog. One day, his parents decide to get rid of the tree from their back garden, and underneath the roots are a couple of geodes. Well, geodes and a seemingly bottomless pit, but the pit’s existence or otherwise seems to be a matter of some debate. Splitting open the geodes causes a bunch of mini-demons to come streaming out, and then it’s on!
DOES THE DOG DIE? Yes and no. He appears to die early on, to provide the sacrifice that the demons need to push the gate open, but then is fine again at the end.
Thanks to the exceptionally thorough booklet provided with a heavy metal LP by the band “Sacrifyx”, our heroes know what they need to do, sort of – stop the demons doing two human sacrifices in order to turn Earth into Hell. The sister having a party provides the movie with some cannon fodder (although no-one dies, because it’s a kids movie), an array of the most awesome 80s fashions and a ghost story section (seriously, the dancing and the music stops and they all sit around telling campfire tales in the middle of the living room. Odd).
The mini-demons, and all the special effects really, are excellent for the budget they had. The creatures themselves are just people in rubber suits, but shot with such perspective that they look tiny compared to the humans – a clever touch. There’s a smidgeon of stop-motion in there too, I think, and the chief demon, when he shows up, is decent too. We even get a couple of zombies towards the end who are way better-looking than they have any right to be, and the makeup job on the “parents” gave some smaller children nightmares for weeks, I’d imagine.
There are a few decent touches, too, that show someone bothered paying attention. The altered family photo, the way the kids are smart, but not too smart, the bonding of the feuding brother and sister…there’s things that work well here.
And I think that’s quite enough of being nice to this movie. After a totally decent opening, it suddenly stops having anything interesting happen til about the halfway point, and even a casual ponder of it will leave you scratching your head. Why is there a demon-infested pit in the suburbs? Why does no-one notice the thousand-foot tall column of smoke which comes out of the pit towards the end? Why is it called “The Gate” when there’s no real gate in it? Why is everyone so obsessed with rockets? And, of course, some good old fashioned 80s insults – “retarded” and “fag” are used by people we’re supposed to be cheering on.
We appear to be wandering dangerously close to being Tibor Takacs completists here at the ISCFC. We’ve covered “Sabotage”, “Mansquito”, and “Ice Spiders”, and the weird thing is this would appear to be one of his most beloved movies. He also directed the sequel a few years later, featuring a young Pamela Adlon; but I’m not sure I can be bothered with that one. Life’s too short for the aggressively mediocre.
Rating: thumbs down