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A Boy and his Demons: ‘The Gate’ (1987) Turns 30

Can a 12 year old boy’s life collapse into Hell? Yes, indeed — at least if the demons of The Gate have anything to do with it!

Released thirty years ago on May 15, 1987, The Gate walks a fine line between kid’s movie and really sinister, adult-themed horror. Thinking about it now, it’s not the easiest thing to accomplish. Still, director Tibor Takács and writer Michael Nankin manage that balance pretty impressively. The movie largely centers around a boy named Glen (Stephen Dorff), his buddy Terry (Louis Tripp), and Glen’s sister, Alexandra (Christa Denton).

While most children face strange things growing up, Glen has some unique problems. First, his favorite treehouse gets struck by lightning. Then Glen and Terry find a pretty rock called a geode. In the process, Glen gets a splinter and leaves behind some blood. Coincidentally, Glen and Terry find interesting, evil-sounding information on a heavy metal album. A hole in the backyard begins emitting smoke, which aligns with these other weird signs. If that’s not enough, demonic creatures start popping up…

Yes, as you can see, The Gate is rather far fetched — as any demonology movie is. But that’s part of the fun! What if the cheesy, heavy metal albums that 1980s kids listened to really did summon demons? What if people really could levitate each other at parties? What if animal sacrifices could feed evil, and the creepy stories we totally made up could break through the walls of reality, grab hold of us and take us to Hell? These questions are all awaiting us as we peer into The Gate — a hole in the ground in Glen’s very own back yard.

While pondering the lunacy, we have some impressive and humorous effects sequences. There are the infamous Minions (and not the ones from Despicable Me!). You also have the Workman (Carl Kraines) being creepy as hell. There’s also a giant demon that’s among the most impressive claymation creatures you’ll ever see on film — which shows how dedicated The Gate’s creators were to their little project.

During this adventure, you have some adult themes creeping in, such as growing up, love and loss, and gaining respect for (and from) your family. Hell, you even the dreaded issues of puberty and body image.

Some fun facts: The Minions were played by actors in rubber suits who were shot in forced perspective to make them look tiny. Actual Canadian heavy metal band logos showed up in The Gate: The image on The Dark Book heavy metal album was for a band called Sacrifice, while the patch on the back of Terry’s jacket was of the Killer Dwarfs, a band known for their offbeat sense of humor. Writer Michael Nankin planned to direct The Gate as well, but the job went to Tibor Takács.

When you open The Gate, you realize you’re getting into something both fun and surprisingly deep, scary and funny. Perhaps some holes in the ground really are worth looking into.

About wadewainio

Wade is a wannabe artist and musician (operating under the moniker Grandpa Helicopter), and an occasional radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton. He is an occasional writer for Undead Walking, and also makes up various blogs of his own. He even has a few books in the works. Then again, doesn't everyone?

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