Were you ever a 12-year old that fantasized about defeating demons with an Estes rocket? Have I got the movie for you! When landscapers remove a tree stump opening an actual pit to hell in the backyard, preteens Glen and Terry enlist the aid of a heavy metal album, model rockets, and the Bible to defeat the demons and close the pit in…The Gate.
Wisely dropped at the beginning of the busy summer 1987 movie schedule alongside Ishtar on May 15, the film ranked second that opening weekend. In the following weeks, the kids had something edgy they could watch at the cinema while parents and older teens flocked to Beverly Hills Cop II, Creepshow 2, and The Untouchables.
The Gate served as one of those rare horror films kids could watch, as it avoided the R rating. The Monster Squad released later that summer also effectively did this, however, it’s following came from home video and not theatrical attendance, as it was inexplicably pulled from release after two weeks. One wonders if Squad had been released at the beginning of the summer it would have been a modest hit instead of being utterly buried in August by Dirty Dancing, The Lost Boys, La Bamba, even James Bond and Superman returning in their latest installments.
This early release strategy to 1150 screens earned The Gate a respectable $13.5 million during its five-week run, a decent return on its $2.5 million budget.
It was the year, in my opinion, that the PG-13 rating came into its own as a marketing ploy. Initially a response to films like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which both seemed just a little too violent for a PG film, studios soon realized the new rating could be a marketing tool and played around with what content they could get away with in these films. In 1985/86 you might have had a fairly good chance of seeing some nudity, as confirmed by Just One of the Guys, Gotcha!, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, and Back To School. However, this soon fizzled out and the practice of simply dropping one or two F-bombs into the script became standard-and in 1987 some 65 films were released with the rating, many of them comedies that would have otherwise gotten a PG were it not for a well-placed profanity.
The Gate, however, was originally envisioned as an even darker, larger-scale horror film, involving the whole town being terrorized by the minions, instead of just Glen and his friends. The studio decided to scale it back and tone down the gore, skirting under the R rating. Yet it featured genuinely creepy pre-CGI effects and convincing performances by young Stephen Dorff and Louis Tripp as the apprehensive, model-rocket loving Glen and his precocious metalhead friend Terry. Christa Denton completes the trio of main characters as Glen’s sister Alexandra.
The trio of kids are left home alone for the weekend soon after a tree struck by lightning was removed by workers. The boys had dug up geodes in the newly exposed hole, but it later becomes evident something more may be dwelling inside it when a party game results in levitation, the boys have visions of a dead parent, see movement inside walls, and the dog dies. Terry is convinced by the liner notes of his heavy metal album the hole is an opened portal to another dimension where creatures older than humanity live, and it’s minions have begun to leak out. Fortunately, his record also tells of how to close the gate when played backward (because of course.) And those model rockets come into play in the movie’s climax.
Outstanding makeup effects by Craig Reardon (Dick Tracy, Twilight Zone: The Movie) and visual effects by Randall William Cook-who cut his teeth on low budget fare like Laserblast and Full Moon Entertainment films and later worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy-are featured.
The minions may remind viewers of the homunculi from 1973’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, as they are played by actors in rubber suits, effectively using forced perspective, stop motion, and other practical effects.
The voiceover for the trailer was done by the legendary Percy Rodrigues, who also voiced trailers for The Exorcist, Jaws, and The Omen-priming the pop culture collective consciousness of the time for something dark and creepy. Written by Michael Nankin who brought to life his real-life childhood nightmares in the film and also wrote Russkies before writing and producing for TV. Relative unknown Tibor Takács directed, who later made a name for himself directing those outrageous Sci-Fi Channel movies Mansquito, Ice Spiders, Mega Snake, and so on.
In 1990, a barely released sequel was released also directed by Takács called Gate 2: The Trespassers (or The Gate II-Trespassers, or simply Gate II-depending on which version you saw) which brought back the now-teenage character of Terry played by Louis Tripp. Terry didn’t learn his lesson in the first outing and this time uses a home computer to intentionally re-open the gate. Things do not end well for Terry.
The 1987 Canadian production The Gate was given a great treatment on Bluray by Vestron Video with a number of new commentary tracks and features; and is now showing free on YouTube!
Socially Distant Cinema is a column that will regularly point you to content from the 70s/80s currently available on various platforms that may bring you some entertainment during these periods of physical distancing.