Combustible Celluloid
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With: Stephen Dorff, Christa Denton, Louis Tripp, Kelly Rowan, Jennifer Irwin, Deborah Grover, Scot Denton, Ingrid Veninger, Sean Fagan, Linda Goranson, Carl Kraines, Andrew Gunn
Written by: Michael Nankin
Directed by: Tibor Takács
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 85
Date: 05/15/1987

The Gate (1987)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Door to Bore

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Don't you hate it when your parents go away for the weekend and you accidentally open up a portal to hell in the backyard? But it's always good when your best friend has a special heavy metal album (imported from Europe, of course), complete with liner notes filled with helpful information and spells. And when all else fails, it's good to have a model rocket to launch at the bad guys.

If only The Gate knew how silly it really is, but as directed by Tibor Takács, it plows straight through its ridiculous story and dialogue as if it were an "After School Special." It seems vaguely interested in following in the footsteps of hits like Poltergeist (1982) and Gremlins (1984) -- focusing on kids and families rather than sexually exploratory teens -- but instead it comes across as unsatisfyingly tame. The movie's most interesting character, the older sister "Al" (Christa Denton), must eventually decide between the love of her pesky younger brother or the teenage hunk she wants to make out with, but the movie fumbles this potentially emotional situation.

Young Stephen Dorff (who grew up to appear in such movies as Blade and Cecil B. DeMented) plays Glen, who, along with his nerdy headbanger friend Terry (Louis Tripp) goes digging around in a big hole after a dead tree stump is removed from his yard. They find some rock crystals, but they inadvertently unleash some demons as well. Glen's older sister "Al" is just trying to have some parties, wear lots of hairspray and day-glo colors, and hang out with her friends, but she eventually decides to help save the world (though she refuses to call mom and dad to let them know what's going on).

I saw this movie in the theater in 1987 and thought it was pretty bad back then; it's still pretty bad, but the visual effects hold up pretty well. The creatures, ranging from an army of scrambling, biting pint-sized beasties to a huge one, look great. There's also great use of backdrops and light, as well as oversized moths and a misplaced eyeball. Lionsgate has re-issued a 2009 "Monstrous Special Edition" DVD for no apparent reason; it comes with a new commentary track and a couple of pretty dull little featurettes (all talking heads and no clips). Director Takács went on to direct the much more interesting I, Madman (1989) next, as well as The Gate II (1990), which nobody asked for. Amazingly, he's still working today, and his new Lies and Illusions was just released on DVD.

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