If Gate II isn't a good horror movie, what is?
Good horror movies (rare ones such as George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and John Carpenter's Halloween, to name two) work best as suburban morality play - a dark, desolate setting far away from mainstream society, a group of impressionable, adolescent innocents in the throes of a sexual or supernatural fantasy for which they must pay, and an indeterminate evil force (a mass murderer such as Jason, or better yet, Lucifer himself) who appears vanquished but at the cathartic daylight hour emerges once again, indomitable.
In a genre where success can be measured by the extent to which atmosphere is sustained, like an orchestral crescendo before the climax, there can never be total release from its grip. Horror movies take place at night because that's where most of our fundamental childhood memories are rooted, in particular our fear of darkness and preoccupation with nightmares. Pilgrim morality is plainly visible whenever anybody is about to undertake the act of sexual intercourse - an act rarely consummated on-screen - where strains of foreboding background music are usually a good clue that assignation will result in assassination. Good horror movies work well enough to be explained rationally but, because of the immediate impact of terror, they transcend rationalization; the good ones are a mingling of psychology and teratology - part Freud, part Freddy.
The more-frequent bad ones are scarcely better than black, Stygian comedies. They soon become extremely tiresome because no one should be asked to endure the trademark bargain-basement production values, misbegotten dialogue, and remedial acting if the the key horror components aren't present - indeed, present and dangerous. Few horror pictures run longer than 90 minutes, but a leaden, heavy-on-atmosphere slasher movie can make that seem an eternity.
Gate II, the sequel to The Gate released in 1987, is a supernaturally fixated horror film set in the suburbs and dealing with adolescents. So far so good. Unfortunately, this story of a fifteen-year-old geek's immersion in demonism and his unleashing of dark forces - essentially for the purpose of saving his boozehound father from the bottle - is the first of many silly things that make you reel backward in boredom. (In great horror movies key things are often left unexplained.) The director once again is Canadian Tibor Takacs and the film stars a young group of devil-worshipers posing as unknown actors - or is it the other way around? But Gate II is obvious where it should be enigmatic. Predictably, the look recalls a dingy, musty public lavatory.
There are diverting examples of bottom-of-the-barrel dialogue, however, especially from bespectacled, carbuncular Terry, the protagonist. Remembering the events in The Gate, he opens: "It's hard to believe the world almost ended right here on our block." Then, beckoning the evil spirits: "Appear before me, sentinels! Rise up! Rise up!" and, reflecting later, he says, "Demons don't like to be jerked around." When the devil minion (looking like a cross between an iguana and former Miami Beach mayor Alex Daoud) makes an appearance, the four kids convulse: "What's that smell?"/"Smells like a sewer!"/"That's the smell of the dead!" The two highlights come when one of the teen-agers, pondering the satanic question, asks the other: "How can a guy with a hole in his heart believe in wishes?" and later, "Who needs demons when we've got chicks?"
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Ultimately the finest metaphor in and for Gate II appears after the kids pray to the minion - being American, they pray for material goodies - and get their wishes. The following day their presents turn to sizable lumps of black excreta. (Yes, seeing a 1962 "cherry" Corvette turn to evacuated mush is believing.) The press release tells us that it was the first time Gate II's supervisor of mechanical effects had been required "to mix 500 pounds of...well, excrement." The recipe is an inspiration to any coprophilous demonologists out there: "A couple of hundred pounds of chocolate pudding mix in 45 gallon drums mixed with a standard thickener and water" plus "cork, sawdust, vermiculite-stuff we had around, a bit of yellow paint."
It does lend a whole new meaning to devil's food, doesn't it?
Directed by Tibor Takacs; written by Michael Nanyin; with Louis Tripp, Simon Reynolds, James Villemaire, and Pamela Segall.