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‘Gate II’ Blu-ray Brings the B-Movie Chills (And More)

Tibor Takacs’ 1987 horror hit “The Gate” may be forever remembered as an amusing footnote in the infamous “Ishtar” saga.

“Ishtar” was a lavish, problem-laden production starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, with a famously out-of-control budget and terrible word of mouth. “The Gate” was a tiny horror romp being released by a mini-distributor with little fanfare.

As fate would have it, the two opened on the same day and, while the toxic (and not entirely fair) pre-release buzz on “Ishtar” sealed its doom, “The Gate” wound up stealing its opening weekend box office glory.

“Ishtar” technically came in first place with $4.3 million (not a great opening figure, even in ’87). “The Gate” followed close behind with $4.2 million and had almost the exact same per screen average.

While “The Gate” wound up grossing an impressive $13.5 million (an excellent return on a $2.5 million budget), the $50 million “Ishtar” never came close to recouping the monumental costs of showcasing a desert with no dunes, vultures, a blind camel and its stars singing (intentionally) off-key.

The cult of “Ishtar’ deservedly rises every year, but the indie success of “The Gate” was a shot in the arm for the horror genre. Also, whereas “Ishtar” is entertaining for ways that aren’t entirely intentional, “The Gate” is a wild, scrappy and skillfully crafted genre offering for young teens.

The Gate - Trailer

Starring a 14-year old Stephen Dorff in his film debut, “The Gate” depicts a group of youngsters who find a gate that opens a portal with all sorts of bad things waiting to pop out. With its PG-13 rating, Takacs’ film is intense enough for horror fans but plays like an edgier variation on the same year’s “The Monster Squad.”

While the build-up is R.L. Stine-light, Takacs’ film has a consistently creepy mood, is full of charming stop-motion animation effects and has an Earth-shaking, all-bets-off finale that delivers on its premise.

FAST FACT: “Gate” director Takacs said that while the first film took pains to ensure its PG:13 rating he was under orders to make the sequel “R” rated.

For a film about opening a doorway to hell, “The Gate” manages to avoid being heavy-handed or unpleasant. It’s a macabre boy’s adventure tale with maximum entertainment value. B-movies like this can be adorably creaky, but they’re rarely this much fun.

Two years later, Takacs returned to the genre with his horror/fantasy/pulp novel throwback masterpiece, “I, Madman,” which also demonstrates a love for practical effects and efficient genre filmmaking. A year later, he made the inevitable but better-than-expected “Gate II [Blu-ray]” (or, as some releases tout it, “Gate 2: The Trespassers”).

Gate II (1990) - Official Trailer

Dorff moved on to pursue a prolific career as both a leading man and in-demand character actor. With his unavailability as a lead, the star of “Gate II” is now “The Gate” co-star Louis Tripp. Playing Terry, survivor of the first film, Tripp leads a group of dumb and very curious teens on an ill-considered journey to re-opening the titular gate.

Why? A real reason isn’t given, aside from there would be no movie if anyone onscreen did the smart thing. A subplot about Terry’s alcoholic commercial airline pilot builds genuine interest, and “Gate II” doesn’t skimp on creature effects or B-movie highlights, either.

This nutty sequel falls a bit short of matching the original but has more than enough B-movie thrills and memorable moments to recommend it.

Tripp lacks the intensity of Dorff but still carries this with quiet authenticity. Co-star James Villemaire, playing a bully-turned-ally, appears to be doing a tryout for his equally funny turn as “Harvey Starkweather” in Joe Dante’s wonderful “Matinee” (which appeared the following year).

Gate II (1990) - Clip: Terry Opens The Gate

Rarely do the special effects fall short of their ambition. The bulkier $6.5 million budget allows for forced perspective shots, stop-motion animation gags and elaborate monster make-ups that are exceptionally well done.

Whenever the focus is on the monster (or the gross aftermath of characters getting what they wish for), this fulfills its promise as a curiosity item. Takacs’ “I, Madman” remains his best film and this one unravels at the end. Following an ambitious but goofy climax, “Gate II” concludes with a poorly conceived closing scene, though a post-credits button is hilarious.

The new Scream Factory “Gate II [Blu-ray]” is presented with a 2K scan of the interpositive, allowing for the best presentation of the film and a vast improvement over the VHS version.

Gate II (1990) - Bonus Clip: Director Tibor Takacs & The Crew On Filming The Bird Cage Scene

The best of the special features is an extended interview with Takacs and a few other collaborators on the film’s artistic achievements and limitations. It’s a great listen and an informative lesson on low budget genre filmmaking.

There’s also a gallery, the effective trailer and, a real treat for anyone with a love for VHS rental shops, a promo for a “Gate II” video store contest.

The best thing I can say is that this is the kind of movie that would pop up on TNT’s “Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs” and I would stay up all night to finish it. For all the camp and very-’90s feel it evokes, “Gate II” has an appreciably dark sense of humor and makes a determined effort to keep its audience completely entertained

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