Anyone who used to hunt through the shelves of the old video rental stores in the 80’s will no doubt remember the label and the logo that was Vestron Video. It was their horror films that if you are reading this you have fond memories of rather than the likes of Dirty Dancing and it’s great to see many of these getting a hi-def Blu ray treatment courtesy of the brand reactivated by Lionsgate. Several titles such as Chopping Mall, Blood Diner, Waxwork and Return Of The Living Dead 3 (the latter I grabbed at the first opportunity) have already hit the shelves and now a new batch have been sent in for review, including an old favourite starring Hugh Grant (yes I actually said that). I will get to that later but am kicking off with something a lot fluffier as it was a Sunday night and a movie you may well have fond memories of yourself; The Gate originally released in 1987.

This is essentially a (big) kids film and with the recent Stranger Things mania its resurrection could be seen as very timely. It’s also a bit of a heavy metal horror so you can feel free to bang your head too as things go bump in the night. This was the very first film role for young actor Stephen Dorff who plays whiny little rug-rat Glen left home alone with 15 year old sister Al (Christa Denton) and best mate and metal fan Terry (Louis Tripp). Recently a tree in his backyard has been struck by lightning and been torn down leaving a sinister looking hole oozing smoke.  Things start happening, a big meteor like geode is found and cracked open, electricity goes wild (very Poltergeist) and apparitions appear. Big sis friends gather at a party and have the fun idea of making Glen levitate which he does practically peeing his pants in the process. The combined actions seem to open the Gate itself and you can guess where it goes, straight to hell and things within it are obviously going to want to come up and take over the earth itself. Luckily Terry has a secret weapon an album by Sacrifyx called The Dark Book which foretold all this happening. The band were killed in an air-crash after its release but left details on summonings and rituals, including hopefully instructions on how to close the gate. There’s even a hidden backmasked message on the album the music of which was apparently really done by members of bands called Station Twang and Cardboard Brains “May the old devils depart! May they burn in the fires of their own damnation! May they freeze in the infinite golden darkness of their own hideous creation! Begone! Begone! Begone! Thou art hideous, filthy, unspeakable!” Said devils and demons when they do put in an appearance are, well a little on the short side making them fun, mischievous and a bit on the bitey side. It’s all very Charles Band but this is not meant to be a gross out blood and guts film and one designed for a younger audience. The youngsters band together and jobs a good un all on the hour mark… but is it?

Watching this for the first time in years memories were very quick to come flooding back. The minimal cast of teens and kids are good and take to their parts with conviction obviously having a great deal of fun. For Dorff it was obviously a launch-pad for a huge career. The other two main leads only seem to have made a few films since then and disappeared in the 90’s. That did not however prevent director getting Terry back for sequel The Gate 2 The Trespassers in 1990 a film I won’t rush to watch to be honest. Takács obviously liked working with young people and the supernatural himself and went on to do episodes of Sabrina The Teenage Witch and My Babysitters a Vampire. Effects and stop animation all work fine even though the main monster looks completely daft. The soundtrack by Michael Hoenig & J. Peter Robinson is creepy in the right places, loud and jarring in others and the film sounds and looks excellent on the Blu-ray release. There’s also an absolute slab of extras included.

Before you even get to the features you can, if you have the time, check out 2 commentary tracks and an isolated score selection and interview with the composers. First up after these is a documentary, ‘The Gate Unlocked.’ This is a chat between director Takács and special effects / design supervisor Randall William Cook talking about the fun aspects of making the film, their memories of the time and the sheer “excitement” of what they were doing at the time. It’s enthusiastic and hard not to be drawn into their vision of the film as they talk about the planning stages and development of everything from storyboards to the effects. Going on to work as animation director on The Lord Of The Rings films with Peter Jackson, Cook’s early work on this, The Thing, Ghostbusters and Fright Night obviously opened the Gate for him. I think it’s fair to say they achieved what they set out to do, an enchanted dark fairy-tale designed for kids (and one that appeals to big ones like us now). “This is a film that we would have liked to have seen as kids” Craig Reardon the ‘Minion Maker’ is next in the chair talking about his involvement creating the ‘workman’ monster based on preserved bog people and the wee minion monsters themselves. There’s lots of details here, anecdotes and substance to these pieces making them very interesting.

There are plenty of ties to be found within these features to one David Cronenberg. This is partly as The Gate was filmed in Canada under their tax relief system and actually on the same set as the Fly and next up is ‘From Hell It Came’ a chat with producer Andras Hamori who worked on The Gate as his first feature long before moving onto films such as Crash and eXitenZ. He gives us insight into the much darker original script and building of the house on a shithole of a site outside of Toronto. He also remembers Stephen Dorff turning up aged 12-13 wanting chicks and a Winnebago; how could you forget that? 30 years later the film is still fondly remembered and making money, what more could a start-up producer wish for?  Carl Kraines was drafted in by the director as a friend to work on various aspects of the film and it’s no surprise he was ideal to play The Workman having starred in the title role of J.S. Cardone’s video nasty The Slayer in 1982. He remembers the 3AM starts and 5 hours in make up for the part. Pretty impressive he is too in my opinion and one of the most effective shock scares of the movie.

6 of the local cast and crew are up next in half an hour piece on making the film in Canada. The tax shelter and incentives for filming there attracted foreign makers and this is something that anyone watching various early Cronenberg films via Arrow will have heard all about. It was an emerging and growing market and all new and exciting for those involved in their 20’s. Experience was very much gained on the job. There’s plenty of tales here from the horror stories of wearing sweaty rubber costumes, wrangling kids and hoping they didn’t get electrocuted and the director falling through 3 floors on the set and landing on an electrician and a couch. As Cook states and nobody will disagree “there will only ever be one Ray Harryhausen.” “From Hell: The Creatures & Demons of The Gate” is pretty self-explanatory as he and Craig Reardon go further into the creative stages of the film. ‘The Gatekeepers is a segment discussing the script with Takács and Michael Nankin. “A lot of people died in really nasty ways on the first draft,” states scriptwriter Nankin who was not having the best of times in life and career right then. Obviously this is not the way things panned out but interestingly the author had a best friend called Terry and many of his childhood fears were included in the film. If you want to relive the original grainy VHS experience there’s an archive making of feature. Everyone is younger and memories a bit sharper and after this there is still various trailers and galleries to keep you entertained if you still want more. This is certainly an exhaustive package lacking only in interviews and memories of the 3 main cast. Why they were not involved remains a mystery, perhaps they fell down a big hole.

If you ever “accidentally summon demons who used to rule the universe to come and take over the world.” The Gate is essential viewing, if you don’t, well it’s still a lot of fun!

(Pete Woods)

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