This October, we’re challenging ourselves to watch at least one horror movie a day. Today’s pick is somewhat of an also-ran in the late 80s kid horror boom, but those who know it tend to love it.
Similar to Critters, The Gate is another one of those post-Gremlins gateway horror movies that popped up to cash in on the new PG-13 rating. It was marketed at the time as kids horror, but due to some surprising moments of gore and genuine scares, it comes off as an odd combination of Goosebumps and Army of Darkness. Nightmare fuel, indeed, for 80s kids, but when viewed today The Gate still holds up.
The plot: there’s a hole in your backyard. It keeps getting bigger. Your quirky best friend’s obscure metal record might have played a secret message calling forth pint-sized demons to rise out of the hole and conquer the Earth. Worse yet, your parents are out of town, and they left your older sister in charge. All she wants to do is throw parties!
Welcome to little Glen’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, very scary day. Couple of days, really. It all happens in Tibor Takács’ cult classic The Gate, which haunted the children of 1987 with its confirmation that, yep, having an eyeball suddenly show up in the middle of your hand is pretty pants-shitting horrifying. Not that we necessarily needed such a thing confirmed, of course, but why let a good scare go unrealized, right?
Yes, that is Stephen Dorff playing Glen. Over a decade before taking on Wesley Snipes in Blade, Dorff was just a kid actor making his film debut. He traveled from his home in Los Angeles to The Gate’s Toronto-based production to make it happen, and delivers a performance which feels like he must have also read for Goonies and Monster Squad as well. He’s got that Amblin, Spielberg just-be-a-real-kid thing down but without any real quirky attribute to make him memorable beyond his famous name.
The standout, really, is Louis Tripp as Terry, Glen’s slightly older friend who is geeky, uber-confident, and somewhat overcompensating for what we later learn is a sad life as an only child to absentee parents. He’s the one in the trailer who takes it all in stride and nonchalantly declares: “You got demons.” As good of a tailor-made “movie trailer line” as I’ve ever heard.
According to my extensive research – meaning, I looked at Wikipedia and a YouTube listicle – The Gate began its life when a recently divorced, unemployed screenwriter named Michael Nankin vomited all of his rage into a script about the perfect storm of childhood fear. In his original draft, the demons dragged Glen’s neighbors out into the streets and murdered them. They even took over the entire town. The producers clearly toned that down. Also, entire city? Are you crazy! You get a cul-de-sac and that’s it!
Thus, we have a little kid protagonist who is left alone with his older sister for a weekend. He makes an innocent mistake that spirals out of control, is attacked by something under his bed, is never allowed to call his parents for help, has to bury his own dog, ends up with an eye stuck in the middle of his hand and ultimately has to face down a giant monster by himself. Throw in acne and how to talk to girls and Nankin, who has since become a TV director, would have covered all of the angles on preteen angst.
Absent that, I’ll settle for the fun of watching young Stephen Dorff frantically tearing his demon father’s face off while sister and best friend scream with horror, unable to help him. That scene probably requires further explanation, but if you’ve somehow never seen The Gate I’ve already spoiled too much.
Ok. I’ll at least show you a picture from the scene:
What PG-13 looked like in 1987, ladies and gentlemen. So gross. So cool. So wonderfully weird. So entirely The Gate.
Watching through 2018 eyes:
-Oh, wow, 1987 was not a good time for fashion. Those poor, poor girls and their Full House clothes.
-Why must so many of these old movies from our youth turn out to be so casually homophobic?
-I want, nay, need (!) that house with its insanely vaulted ceiling, spacious backyard, walk-in closet, dining room, and finished basement. If it comes with little demons sporadically marching out of a pesky hole in the backyard, so be it. The ceiling would make it all worth it.
-No wonder I loved this back in the day: It’s ultimately about a boy [spoiler] using fireworks to kill monsters!
-Sigh. Yes, The Gate, most dogs don’t live longer than 14 years. Heartbreak awaits [he says while looking over at his 14-year-old pug].
The Gate is currently available to stream on Shudder.
Here’s What Else We’ve Watched So Far:
- Day 1: Hold the Dark
- Day 2: Hell House, LLC and Hell House, LLC II
- Day 3: Critters
- Day 4: Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn
Tomorrow: The Fly