The Gate (1987) — Kids dig up a portal to hell

“We accidently summoned demons who used to rule the universe to come and take over the world.” “Yeah, we feel bad about it.”

Justin’s rating: Strangler Things

Justin’s review: Whenever you go back to kids’ movies from the 1980s, you might be startled to discover that they have the capacity to throw in genuine scares and even gory bits to mess with the minds of impressionable children. It was kind of a rite of passage to have seen at least one or two movies that messed with your head, such as “Large Marge” from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or the corpse in the freezer in Goonies. Even movies like E.T. could be scary under the right conditions, and carrying those mental scars forward in life built character.

Yeah. “Builds character.” I’m going with that.

For children that took in the PG13-rated The Gate back in 1987, they got a lifetime full of freaky moments and recurring nightmares (but less so than anyone who got sucked into viewing Poltergeist). This was like diving into the deep end of kid scares, made all the worse by the fact that it looks very much like a Goonies-style kid movie. It is, in part, but it’s also a horror movie with training wheels. Kind of a mid-core film that youth could break out during the Halloween season.

Best buds Glen (an incredibly young Stephen Dorff) and Terry (who lost his mother recently) dig up a literal portal to hell in their back yard after lightning strikes their treehouse. This couldn’t happen at a worse time, because Glen’s parents have decided to take off for the weekend, leaving Glen’s 16-year-old sister Alexandra in charge. This was the ’80s, so parents abandoning their kids for a long weekend without a single adult to check in was no big deal? I guess?

As the neighborhood kids come over to party and certain dead dogs are buried in dark holes, hell starts to break loose in Glen and Alexandra’s house. We’re talking a Costco-sized family pack of pint-sized demons running rampant everywhere. But these kids aren’t backing down, putting the battle for earth’s survival into the hands of some brave youngsters who outright defy hell itself.

If you were ever thrown off by the heavy metal-looking poster for The Gate, just know that it’s best thought of as Monster Squad meets Gremlins (and a dash of Evil Dead). It’s also a far more enjoyable movie than I first assumed. It’s lean (under 90 minutes), keeping most of the movie’s focus on this single house while gleefully throwing dark spirits all over the place.

What I loved the most is how much of that ’80s brand of “kid power!” is present here. So many retro-modern movies and TV shows attempt to replicate that special blend, but for my money, you have to go to the actual decade to get the real stuff. The kid actors do a great job and show a genuine comradery, and that goes a long way.

I guess it’s just such a strange mixture that wasn’t ever going to have a broad appeal. I can see this being too kiddie for grown-ups and too freaky for the younger set, so maybe it was just for those sleepovers where children wanted a good ghost story without anything too frightening that’d keep them awake for the next four years.

Didja notice?

  • Nothing like being in a treehouse when lightning hits it!
  • Teens at an ’80s house party is very fascinating to me. Lotta smoking going on. Great outfits, too.
  • The giant bug shadows are creepy
  • Seeing your dead mom show up and then turn into a real dead dog is going to scar you for life
  • Terry’s lip-synching the horror movie
  • Dead dog delivery! Ding dong!
  • Playing record albums backward for satanic messages was something I guess we did a lot of, back in the day
  • She bought him a rocket? Best big sister ever!
  • “Suck my nose until my head caves in!”
  • Hand under the bed!
  • And then the face melting starts
  • And the phone melting
  • The family portrait changing so that everyone is slaughtered is a nice touch
  • Terry’s trip down the hole
  • Lots of kids carrying candles around. That’s a fire hazard.
  • Giant wall zombie!
  • The wall zombie turning into a bunch of little demons is a great special effect
  • Barbie in the eye
  • The floor falling out
  • The boss demon and the eye in the hand
  • And this was the day that model rockets saved the world
  • Glen being flipped out of the front door by the explosion was hilarious

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