retro 1980s horror film just might make you nostalgic for a short-lived
category of games you probably never played. Remember VCR board games? Probably
only vaguely from seeing them on the shelves. It turns out you were right not
to play, but two bickering brothers will have to learn that the hard way in
Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Gates (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
has been months since the disappearance of Gordon and John Hardesty’s
binge-drinking father, so they are finally facing the inevitable and closing
down his anachronistic video store. This is a bad time for Gordon to return to
his home town, because he is still working out issues that very nearly severed his
relationship with the slightly out-of-his-league Margot Jones. In contrast, the
couch-surfing John never left—and he sure seems to have plenty of time. While
cleaning out the office, they come across a strange looking VCR board game
called Beyond the Gates. Naturally, they are going to try playing it. In
retrospect, this looks like a bad idea—one their father made before them.
the bossy Elvira-like hostess seems to be talking directly to them, especially
when she offers them an opportunity to save the old man’s soul. All they have
to do is collect the game’s four keys, but to do so they will have to complete
four comically gory tasks. Eventually, they will also to journey through the
spooky graveyard-style gates that suddenly sprung up in the basement, because
that is literally the name of the game.
Gates is just gleefully
entertaining for genre fans, both for its VHS nostalgia and the casting of
nearly a dozen contemporary horror movie regulars in featured and supporting
roles. Chase Williamson (John Dies at the End, SiREN) does some of his most engaging work yet as the irresponsible
Hardesty brother. Likewise, Graham Skipper (Mind’s Eye, Almost Human) finally gets to play it straight and normal (and rather
engagingly so) as the Hardesty with a girlfriend. Brea Grant (Best Friends Forever) dos as well as
could be expected as the understanding Jones. Justin Welborn (Southbound, V/H/S Viral) and Sara
Malakul Lane (Sun Choke) add further color
and energy as John Hardesty’s erratic drifter friend Hank and his put-upon girlfriend
it is Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From
Beyond) who really makes the movie as the appropriately vampy Evelyn. She
chews the scenery and looks the part—in spades. Even though she has been a
genre cult favorite since the eighties, it isn’t so creepy when the younger
Hardesty bro starts going on about her hotness. Seriously, its not, right?
Gates, the effects always look
vintage eighties straight-to-video, but in the right way. Far from feeling
cheap, the film is really a triumph of cleverly detailed production design.
Stewart and co-screenwriter Stephen Scarlata infuse the proceedings with sly
attitude, but they never let winks and hat-tips distract from the fundamental genre
movie business. Jolly good fun, Beyond
the Gates is enthusiastically recommended for horror movie lovers when it
opens this Friday (12/9) in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Barbara Crampton, Graham Skipper, Horror Movies, Sara Malakul Lane