Two kids fight off pint-sized goblins that come from a hole in the ground.
The Gate has no patience for a soft entry into the story. When little Glen (Stephen Dorff) bikes home, he finds the house deserted. The place looks abandoned in all haste. He walks around a bit, exploring the rooms, and it is all damn creepy. He climbs the old treehouse in the backyard, but when he is on top, thunder breaks loose and the whole tree falls over with him inside. Spoiler, sorry, it is a dream, but a prophetic one. When he wakes up, Glen’s parents are having the old tree removed, leaving a big darn hole in the ground.
Then, Glen’s parents are going on a holiday and stupidly leaving the hole in the ground in the backyard. This is obviously really dangerous and nobody is putting a fence around it or anything. Not to mention that the hole is bottomless and fog and strange noises come out of it. But never mind. Glen’s older sister Al (Christa Denton) stayed behind too to babysit Glen, but after she throws a big high-school party at their parent’s house, whatever is living in that hole is getting agitated.
This is a low-budget horror film from the 80s – at least I hope it is, otherwise the producers threw away a lot of money on bad actors. The kid is alright, but the parents are played by terrible actors. The special effects are occasionally laughable, such as when they drive around a plastic dog that is supposed to be sick, or when you see sand moving but you are not supposed to see the hands that move the sand around. But after watching the whole thing, I understand it: all the money was put into the effects in the second half.
Luckily, all the strange events are explained by a leaflet that comes from a metal album that Glen’s friend Terrence (Louis Tripp) listens to. The moral seems to be that you shouldn’t listen to metal, and especially shouldn’t listen to the record backwards, otherwise you might just summon demons. Things don’t end well for our metal-listening teenager.
But then, in the second hour, the movie goes completely nuts. It goes from zero to Mach 10. Every few seconds something supernatural happens while the kids run around the house. The pressure that the demons put on the kids is relentless. The Gate really surprises you with its sudden change of direction. The effects look a lot better too. Little goblins walk around, shot in stop-motion technique and forced perspective utilized on a real professional level, and the whole house gets trashed.
The Gate is a far more effective horror film than the first hour lets you think. It’s old and it’s goofy, but just give it a chance. A lot of time and energy is spent on the action and effects in the second half. The pacing is relentless and the action is quite inventive. Lots of effects still look silly, but the movie is so full of them that some stand out much more than others. The story plays on a lot of childhood terrors, like the darkness of night, being alone, your parents betraying you and the safety of home being gone.