It was 1987 and Satan was back in vogue. Following a 10-year period of relative seclusion, a sudden increase in reports of Satanic ritual abuse allowed the Dark Lord to come roaring back to the scene. It didn’t take long for Hollywood to pop a monster rod for demons, eagerly pumping R-rated Satan fare like Witchboard, Witchcraft, Night of the Demons, and 976-EVIL into movie theaters.
But hey, man, what about the children of 1987? Don’t they deserve a demon movie that they can relate to?
Director Tibor Takacs—the man behind Mansquito, Mega Snake, and two of the more popular Sabrina the Teenage Witch TV movies—proudly answered the call with The Gate, one of the rare PG-13 rated horror films from the late 80s, a period when studios were still tentatively test-driving the new MPAA rating.
Stephen “The Dorff” Dorff plays Glen, a 10-year-old boy who inadvertently opens a gate to hell while digging for pretty rocks in his backyard. With the help of his nerdy friend Terry and his big sis Alexandra, Dorff must find a way to close the gate before his absent parents return to town or the demons take over the universe, whichever comes first.
More than anything else, The Gate is a product of its own time. From the quaint 80s hobbies (model rockets were the shit, yo), to the well-lacquered cloud bangs (updated to meticulous crimp jobs for the big party scene), to the use of a Barbie doll as a stabbing weapon, it’s a movie that evokes wave after wave of soothing nostalgia.
The home-spun special effects were considered impressive at the time, but it’s important to remember that the horror cinema of the late 80s took place in a pre-digital no-man’s-land that vanished when films like 1990’sThe Abyss took the world by storm. Rather than relying on the lazy green-screen of its predecessors, The Gate’s special effects consist primarily of forced perspective shots (in the DVD Extras, Darby O’Gill and The Little People is cited as an influence), which work to fantastic effect in the scenes featuring the devil’s minions, little rubbery-bald creatures that bust out of hell to terrorize The Dorff and his posse. This attention to detail may explain why the minion scenes are frequently considered the most memorable of the film.
Vaguely exploring tweener issues such as grief, peer pressure, and social embarrassment, it’s clear that The Gate intends to be more than just a forgettable kiddie horror flick. In fact, there are some moments early on, before the haunted tone gives way to screeching mayhem, that manage to tap directly into the fears of pre-adolescence. It’s a kid’s movie that somehow manages to be both raw and cheesy.
DVD Extras: A Creatures/Effects doc, a Writer/Director doc, and a blurry trailer that gives away every single money shot from the movie.