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First-time Dorff. A dead dog. Dead moms. Puppet monsters. What does your hand see? Punching dad in the face.
Home alone with little monsters, The Gate is one of those 80’s horror movies that traumatized a generation of junior horror fans thanks to some excellent stop-motion effects and a tightly-packed scenario.
You’ve been baaaaaaaaaaaaad if you haven’t seen this horror classic from director Tibor Takács and writer Michael Nankin.
After construction workers unearth a mysterious geode in his backyard, young Glen (Stephen Dorff, Blade, Somewhere) and Terry (Louis Tripp) find their worlds tumbling into strange, monster-filled supernatural horror over the span of a weekend with Glen’s parents out of town. In that time, Glen and Terry will nearly awaken the Old Gods, be visited by spooky specters, and encounter the those memorable stop-motion goblins before blowing them right back to hell with the power and light of love.
What connects so well with The Gate is young Dorff’s (youngDorff!) innocent but not too precocious performance as Glen and Tripp as that kid next door who means well but always seems to have the inside scoop on something terrible and possibly life-threatening. But more importantly, The Gate is part of that proud tradition of 80’s movies that earned PG-13s that would be R’s today while being smart and thematically resonant for its young audience. At its core, this is a movie about a kid’s first brush with death and dealing with it, and this theme permeates the movie, from an early scene where Glen sees a spectral version of his mom (who’s still alive, by the way) to the unexpected death of his elderly dog, Angus. It’s not a perfect fit–Angus’ death gets reversed by the end of the movie and I’m not sure there’s a central “thing” that Glen learns by the end of the story, but it’s maybe more important that it’s about his experience with mortality.
The film’s distinctive effects were coordinated by Frank C. Carere, who later worked with David Cronenberg on Videodrome while providing more low-budget scares in the Canadian syndicated show, Friday the 13th: The Series (it’s not terrible!). Maybe the most memorable thing about The Gate are its scrambling little demons, climbing, clambering, and finally forming one giant monster in the film’s final act. And let’s not forget the scene where a body crashes to the floor, exploding into the little imps–The Gate is packed with these kinds of moments.
Hungarian director Takács has spent most of his career directing a lot of things you probably didn’t see on either the big or small screen (minus a handful of episodes of Sabrina: The Teenage Witch and the short-lived Crow series). Writer Michael Nankin has been busier in the 25 years since The Gate writing and producing a slew of high-profile TV series like Life Goes On and the excellent, gone-too-soon American Gothic.
Three years later, Nankin wrote a sequel to The Gate, directed again by Takács, which featured Tripp reprising his role from the first film, this time as a teen who helps some bad kids summon their own pint-sized demon with the expected unfortunate results. I remember almost nothing about the sequel but am heartened to see that my celebrity crush, the pint-sized, foul-mouthed actress and producer Pamela Adlon was in the cast.
Stephen Dorff, meanwhile, hit a career high point pestering the Daywalker in Blade along with a live-action adaptation of the French comic XIII (he’s done a lot more, sure, but I’m picking the highlights here).
A 3D remake has been brewing since 2009, with principal production planned for the end of 2010 under Bill & Ted star Alex Winter from “international independent” outfit H20 Pictures, but nothing has materialized in the years since the initial announcement. It’s more likely that we’ll see that Bill & Ted sequel before we see The Gate 3D.
This is the second entry in our series involving backward masking (the 80’s had a brief panic around rock musicians hiding Satanic or otherwise sinister content in their LPs, culminating in a civil suit against Judas Priest).