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Friday, 11 July 2008

The Gate II: Trespassers (1992)

Director: Tibor Takács
Star: Louis Tripp

Back in the mid to late eighties I began to have money in my pocket, which was a damn fine feeling for the few minutes it lasted. I wasn't earning much but what I did earn got spent. Quickly. I scoured the markets and charity shops of northern England for cheap second hand horror novels. I picked up every issue of the horror magazines: Fear, Skeleton Crew and The Dark Side, as well as many of the fanzines and small press publications they advertised. When finance allowed and the newsagent had them, I even got hold of some of the American imports like Fangoria, Gore Zone and Toxic Horror. And I started actually going to the movies. Without my parents.

Back when I was a kid, going to the movies meant it was birthday time and birthdays meant two things: a Chinese takeaway and a movie at an actual cinema instead of taped off the TV. This way I got to see a lot of the early eighties science fiction movies at the small Odeon in Halifax: Star Trek movies, Star Wars movies, The Black Hole... and, erm, The Tales of Beatrix Potter. I'm not sure how that last one came about, but I blotted the memory of that hour and a half from my mind quickly enough. But now I had money, at least a little bit of money, I could go to see horror movies when they came out. I didn't have to rely on parents and birthdays.

One of the earliest I saw was The Gate, mostly because it was rated 15 in England instead of the usual 18 (even with the inevitable cuts decreed by the all powerful BBFC, arch nemesis of all true horror fans of the era) and in 1987 I'd just turned not so sweet sixteen. The Gate will always stay with me, partly because it was a fun movie and partly because it underlined just how naive I still was back then. I actually believed some of what I saw on the screen. Now I don't mean the cynical marketing ploy crap, because I could see through that since I was as tall as one of the demons that Glen and Terry conjured up from Hell in their backyard in The Gate. I mean the stuff that should have been cynical marketing ploy crap but somehow wasn't because it was utterly fictional.

You see, in The Gate, Terry, the dorky kid with the denim jacket and the glasses, was a huge fan of a European metal band called Sacrifyx, who sounded like a glam band but had much more in common with bands like Venom who formed the link between old school heavy metal and all the extreme stuff that came later. In particular, Sacrifyx were hardcore demonologists who only made one album before dying in a plane crash. The album was called The Dark Book, which was 'like the bible for demons', taking its lyrics from the real book of the same name. It came in a cool gatefold sleeve with pages of explanatory notes with pictures of demons on them.

And it was all frickin' awesome to a sixteen year old metalhead and horror nut. Bands like Venom were seriously scary in the early '80s, in the precise way Slipknot would love to be but can't because they were a decade and a half too late. And by the mid '80s, there were a number of bands like Sacrifyx who used scary monologues and backward messages and demonic or outright satanic imagery. This sort of thing scared the crap out of mainstream culture. This is why Judas Priest ended up in court for allegedly asking their fans to kill themselves through backwards messages on their albums; satanic abuse scandals proliferated through hysteria, which always trumps evidence to the contrary; and talk show hosts ranted about how this subculture was doing the Devil's bidding.

And I remember it well. Even though I was a server at Barkisland Parish Church and member of the Parochial Church Council, I was a still a long haired kid buying albums that scared the salespeople who took my money. I remember the sort of looks I got when buying albums like Megadeth's Killing is My Business... and Business is Good! or Bloodcum's Death By a Clothes Hanger from mainstream stores like W H Smith's or Boots the Chemist because I'd got vouchers for those places for Christmas. And I loved it!

So off I went to Groove Records, where Geoff the proprietor could get anything from anywhere, and I asked him to track down this band called Sacrifyx, utterly sure that this was a real band who were somehow obscure even though they were being profiled in a Hollywood film. I'm not sure what logic brought me to that conclusion; I think it was just so many levels of coolness all at once that made me want to believe that it was real. Of course they weren't and I looked like an idiot, but that's what being sixteen is all about, right?

And so I had to see The Gate II when I saw that Chandler Cinemas were screening it. It was a must. I didn't even know there was a sequel but I just had to revisit something that connected me back to the innocence and idiocy of youth. And it was fun, but it wasn't the original, even accounting for the fact that it never could be because I wasn't sixteen any more and somehow willing to believe that outrageous fictional metal bands were real. This time out, it played dumb from moment one.

In The Gate everything was accidental. Terry and Glen didn't mean to raise the Old Ones out of a mysterious hole in the back yard by playing a metal album backwards and spilling some blood. It just happened. In The Gate II it's all deliberate and that would have crossed a line, if writer Michael Nankin and director Tibor Takács hadn't changed the focus. Now Terry isn't a metalhead any more, which might be an insulting suggestion that it was just a fad that he went through as a kid or might be something more clever like suggesting that it's really the 'normal folks' who really do this stuff that the panicmongers are so afraid of.

So this time out, our young hero is normal, though still a geek, and he attempts to summon up the sentinels by sacrificing his hamster. Yeah, his hamster. At least he has a cool sacrificial dagger to do the deed with but he's still using it on his hamster. Now I grew up watching Hammer horrors on TV where the sacrificial victims were always gorgeous young ladies who gradually lost more and more clothing during the rituals as the years went by and the censors allowed it. But this guy had a pet hamster. Oh well. And now he's a poser too: he's into demonology because Satanism is for pussies. By being a demonologist he's showing the world that he isn't screwing around, even though he's hiding it from everyone. He's touching the infinite!

Louis Tripp reprises his role as Terry Chandler, the only character to return from the first film. His buddy Glen isn't here because he was played by Stephen Dorff in his film debut so was probably too expensive by the time the sequel came along. And Terry's life now sucks. His mother has committed suicide, his dad is an unemployed drunk, and so he's desperately searching for meaning. Which leads him to the old boarded up house from film one that had the hole in the garden that led directly to the Old Ones and our hamster snuffing ritual. Because he's worked out that instead of releasing the hordes of Hell to run amok across our fair green planet, he can conjure up a Minion, one of those little stop motion demons from the first movie, then just kill something small and get his wishes granted.

Given that he's the only person to set foot in this deserted building in two years, naturally it gets overrun on the night in question. Three other kids decide to show up so that we can have a plot and they're not too fond of dorks killing hamsters and conjuring up demons. But hey, if they can get their wishes granted, they're happy to play along. John wants to be king of the world, because he's your typical '80s teen asshole. His girlfriend Liz wants to meet her true love, making us wonder why she's hanging round John if she has such confidence in him. Their idiot friend Moe wants to meet aliens. And Terry just wants his dad to get a job and keep it for more than five minutes before getting fired for being drunk.

Now anyone with any background in horror stories knows that you can't get something for nothing. You can sell your soul to get the world, but there's always a delivery date on the debt. You can get what you wish for but it won't turn out quite how you expect. You can run the show but there's always someone above who's running you. One of the most famous versions of this is The Monkey's Paw, originally published in 1902, but it probably dates back to The Arabian Nights or something just as old. And here our leading characters get their tickets to Paris and their 1962 cherry red Corvettes but everything turns to crap in the morning.

So Terry has to send the Minion back, which he spends the whole running time of the film trying to do. Luckily he has the assistance of Liz, who has somehow noticed that her boyfriend's an idiot and so wants to hang out with Terry. Perhaps it's fallout from the wishing game, perhaps she's just channelling the Harry Potter vibe and realising that geeks in glasses can be sexy. Unluckily he has to deal with John and Moe, his idiot sidekick who does precisely nothing in this entire film except stand around and laugh like one of the hyenas in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. And I'm trying to forget the rest, especially the awesomely disappointing happy ending, which rates among the worst endings of all time.

The cast are unspectacular, our sympathies going more to the Minion who Terry traps under a bucket and stuffs in a cage. The waste of space Moe was played by Simon Reynolds, who I've seen recently in Saw IV without recognising him. He seems to be best known for a TV show called Instant Star, something that certainly didn't happen here. John is played by James Villemaire, who seems to be working consistently but not in anything I've noticed. This film apparently killed off Louis Tripp's career, as after two Gate films, he's managed only one other film credit, as an uncredited nerdy kid in Detroit Rock City, and a few TV credits. The real future star here is Pamela Segall, who plays Liz. She'd done a few films before this one but was still a little way away from fame as a voice actor, keeping very busy indeed. Anyone who watches anime in dubbed form will have heard her, as a regular on Disney's Hayao Miyazaki dubs, and most of America knows her as Bobby on King of the Hill.

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