2016’s Beyond the Gates takes us back to a part of the 80s and early 90s with its homage to video stores, video board games, and Italian horror cinema, replete with a score by by Wojciech Golczewski that is sometimes reminiscent of Dario Argento’s film composer partners, Goblin. Jackson Stewart helmed this throwback film, written by himself and Stephen Scarlata. Stewart’s film resume might be small but it’s well-rounded, with a story-by credit for an episode of Supernatural, “Frontierland.” Scarlata’s resume includes a story-by credit as well for Final Girl (2015), not to be confused with Final Girls (2015). Scarlata, however, also helped produce the documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) and worked on the art department for one of my favorite independent films Swingers (1996). The film begins with a couple and their two sons opening their mom-and-pop video store in 1992 (actually the famous Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee in the Los Angeles area). The scene ends suddenly, a disconcerting expression on the father’s face foreshadowing the events to come. We then cut to seven months after their father, played by Henry LeBlanc, disappears, as the two grown brothers pack up the store, find a video board game called Beyond the Gates, and no matter how much you yell at the screen, sit down and play it. I’m not one for title sequences that seem to be created to add to the running time or that don’t drive the plot somehow, even in little ways. Envision, however, the following cool title sequence: the insides of a running VCR in close-up under the titles, a thing of beauty as powerful as if Todd McLellan took it apart himself for his Art of Meticulous Disassembly. (My favorite of McLellan’s work is the chainsaw. No, the typewriter, No, the chainsaw. Look him up.) The title deserves some mention here for its formatting, which is very similar to the incredible From Beyond (1986). Underlining accentuates the first word in the title of both movies. If this seems a tenuous allusion, know that Stuart Gordon, director of From Beyond, received an end credit “Special Thanks.” But that’s not all, Beyond the Gates also stars the incomparable Gordon regular Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator (1985), Chopping Mall (1986), Tales of Halloween (2015)). In an interview with Frightfest 2016, it turns out—sorry about the homophones— the director of Beyond the Gates Stewart, interned for Stuart Gordon. Additionally, Beyond the Gates actors Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin starred in Re-Animator: The Musical, not—unfortunately—a movie, but they do attempt a few lines from it in the interview. Next, the two sons, Gordon and John, meet at the video store to pack it up. They’re played by Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson, who killed it as David Wong in the groundbreaking John Dies at the End (2012). He could have easily retired from the horror genre after that and still remained a horror icon. He plays a good second to Graham and is decidedly not David Wong here. But Graham is no novice either having appeared in quite a bit, notably two segments of Tales of Halloween, “Bad Seed” and “This Means War” with Dana Gould, and there is a feature out there somewhere titled Space Clown (2016) written, directed, and starring Graham, and whose title is exactly what it says, which I now must see, since I can’t see him in Re-Animator: The Musical. At the video store, we meet their cop buddy Derek played by Matt Mercer, then they find some video board games, they can’t find the keys to dad’s office, and Gordon’s girlfriend Margot texts him. Typed up here, these first ten minutes are a subtle ten minutes, but certainly not a slow burn borefest. What drives it are the layers of character, dialogue, the slow revelation of plot and the nostalgia for the video store. The filmmakers worked hard not to pander to simple allusions for horror fans and movie fans in general. Check out how these allusions grow more and more obscure. John watches Messiah of Evil (1973) on the store TV. The fake movie poster for WereDad adorns the wall as it did in Scream 3 (2000), created originally by Chad Fifer. And they let their cop friend Derek keep his favorite movie, Operation Orion, essentially a fake film, but mythically the perfect film created in theory from a survey by Amazon.co.uk — a story in itself. Granted, the poster may have been there already, but they also didn’t cover it up with a poster for an easier allusion. They find dad’s office key and then the Beyond the Gates video board game inside, the video for which hangs out of the VCR. For you younger folks, that means the tape ran to its end and the VCR ejected it automatically, a bit of obscure foreshadowing considering their father’s disappearance. Barbara Crampton as Evelyn, appears on the video as a sort of dungeon master or host for the game players, instructing John, Gordon and his girlfriend, Margot, played by Brea Grant. Evelyn also encourages them to continue each time they attempt to quit. Her interactions with them grow more and more weird as they go along. They realize they must finish the game to survive, which unknowingly, will also involve their cop friend Derek and John’s friend Hank played by Justin Welborn. Some other notes. As they play the game their lives are more and more weaved into it. Clues lead them to the Spiral Staircase vintage store where their father bought the game and where creepy clerk Elric, played perfectly by Jesse Merlin, greets them. The game leads them to the basement and an ornate gate to hell. Here and a few other items seem to allude to Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (The Seven Doors of Death, 1981), capturing the allusion market on the major horror movies with beyond in the title. Sorry, no apparent allusions to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). In the FrightFest 2016 interview, Stewart also cites as influences, The Gate (1987), Phantasm (1979), Gates of Hell (City of the Living Dead, 1980), Poltergeist (1982), and though he doesn’t explain it, Buffalo ’66 (1998), another of my favorite independent films. Don Coscarelli also gets an end credit “Special Thanks.” Skipper and Williamson as the brothers and the rest of the cast—Henry LeBlanc, Brea Grant, Matt Mercer, Justin Welborn and Jesse Merlin—though not well-known, are experienced professionals with formidable track records, including short films, TV series, and feature films. This might be the film they look back at lovingly after a long career. Casting one well-known is a typical low budget horror movie trick, but the filmmakers and Barbara Crampton pull it off well on all sides. Beyond the Gates is a low budget film done right. If this were shot in the time period it exalts, it might have wound up a cult film and its weaknesses ignored. A small cast and limited locations are classic low budget traits, but they do them right, like the gate in the basement and the video store. I imagine they would not have even shot this without the video store being perfect, and it is. As a whole, though, the movie isn’t perfect. When they play the game they go into an alternate dimension, sometimes waking back up on the floor near the game, and when they do play, more time passes in the real world than expected. The rules for this, however, are not well-laid out, nor do the characters react enough to it. It is also a little bit of a slow burn as a whole, but not so much I abandoned it à la Monsters (2010). Some critics lambast it as too much homage, and unfairly compare it to Jumanji (1995), but it’s probably the best Jumanji-style horror film out there, though I’m not even sure if there’s a horror genre precedent for this, so Beyond the Gates might be that precedent, unless you define a Oujia board as a board game, which is historically accurate so they say. But hey, it’s no Battleship (2012), and for that we thank you. I won’t defend what other critics consider slow pacing, simple dialogue and bad acting, but I will admit the reactions to the deaths and their motivation to find their father seems weak. Granted, I have a soft spot for the underdog, but certainly not all of them. In an interview with Red Carpet News TV, Stewart lists future projects, including an episode of the Blumhouse-produced anthology, Twelve Deadly Days; The Day After Halloween, which he explains as a Brea Grant-helmed Dark Half (1993) meets Halloween 2 (1981); and a sequel to Beyond the Gates. I for one would forgive a pseudo-remake of Beyond along the lines of Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987). I get the feeling that the new road for directors includes a first film more like Beyond the Gates rather than Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987) or Oliver Stone’s Seizure (1974). Who knows with the changes in the film industry as it relates to the internet how we will historically see good, basically well-done first films with lukewarm receptions after their filmmakers make their second and third films. Beyond the Gates is a valiant effort that excels beyond its Jumanji-inspired plot, homages, and Italian horror film allusions. I’d watch their next film, and I might even throw a few crowdsourcing dollars their way. See larger image Beyond The Gates [Blu-ray] Welcome, curious viewers…have you the courage to go Beyond The Gates? After their father’s unexplained disappearance, two estranged brothers (responsible Gordon (Graham Skipper) and reckless John (Chase Williamson)) reunite to sift through the contents of his stubbornly anachronistic VHS rental store. Among the inventory, they find an old interactive VCR board game. Intrigued, the brothers pop in the tape… and soon discover that this video is no ordinary game, but a portal to a nightmarish alternate reality: one with deadly consequences for anyone who dares to press play. Featuring horror legend Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Beyond The Gates is a retro-cool tale of “hex, dies, and videotape”, from director Jackson Stewart! New From: $14.47 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Shawn EH July 27, 2017 Might need to get a copy of this! Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.