The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Beyond the Gates

Beyond the Gates is a welcome throwback to '80s and early-'90s horror. That was a time when fright flicks were more playful and fun than they are now. This is not to say that the films of that era couldn't also be scary, just that they weren't afraid to have slightly over-the-top concepts or non-traditional antagonists. Watching Beyond the Gates, you can sense the same DNA that ran through pictures like Witchboard, Phantasm 2, Night of the Demons, and others. At the same time, director Jackson Stewart (who co-wrote with Stephen Scarlata) incorporates an original sense of nostalgia for VHS that nicely distinguishes it.

The story involves two estranged brothers -- irresponsible John (Chase Williamson) and uptight Gordon (Graham Skipper) -- whose father has gone missing. They reunite at the video store he owned so they can pack everything up for liquidation. Inside his office, the brothers stumble across a strange-looking old VCR game called “Beyond the Gates.” Together with Gordon's girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant), they decide to play it. On the tape is a beautiful, but oddly menacing woman named Evelyn (Barbara Crampton) who issues instructions on gameplay, which involves locating keys that open the gates to another dimension. Quickly, it becomes clear that she somehow sees them and monitors what they do, with eerie paranormal occurrences following each move. The game takes place in real life just as much as it does on the board that comes in the box. Gordon and John hope that they can win and, if they do, that it will provide answers about what happened to their father.

Beyond the Gates has great fondness for the era of the video store, where each tape had the possibility of magic. It was through the ease and convenience of VHS tapes that so many people discovered so many movies. While VCR games never really took off as fully as video rentals did, anyone who was around during that time probably remembers them. The film faithfully recreates the cheesy feel of such games, then adds a sinister twist. Even the design of the game board is clever; it looks like a demented version of Clue.

To give away much about what happens once the characters start playing the game wouldn't be fair. What can safely be said is that the stage is set for a number of shocking twists, in addition to some deviously designed sequences of gore, all achieved through old-school practical effects. The movie doesn't go overboard; it includes just the right amount of gruesomeness to make an impact that is beneficial to the story. Unlike many horror flicks, which have a certain predictability, Beyond the Gates doesn't telegraph its scares. That keeps you waiting for each new development with excitement. And since the story's events get increasingly spooky, there's no “down time” here. The film sinks its claws into you immediately and doesn't let go.

Even with all the supernatural elements, Beyond the Gates has a very human theme underlying it, one which becomes clear in the final ten minutes. For that reason, the quality of the performances is important. The movie scores on this count, as well. Williamson and Skipper are excellent in their roles, creating a believable brotherly bond. Through their efforts, the relationship John and Gordon have feels authentic. They palpably care about one another, even though things between them have been strained. Brea Grant is also very good, avoiding the standard horror “girlfriend” cliches to create a character who has true relevance in the story.

Perhaps the key performance comes from Barbara Crampton, an actress with plenty of horror cred, having starred in everything from Re-Animator to last year's We Are Still Here. Her character is tricky, because Evelyn is only ever seen from the shoulders up on a videotape, so there are a limited number of ways to convey her unsettling ethereal presence. Crampton, in heavy eye makeup and lip liner, never blinks on camera and enunciates words in a manner that is simultaneously theatrical and threatening. The way she brings this unconventional character to life is the picture's ace in the hole, gluing everything else together and ensuring the audience buys the whole premise. There's delightful creativity in her approach to the role.

Beyond the Gates additionally has atmospheric cinematography from Brian Sowell that recreates the look of its cinematic inspirations, a fabulous '80s-type synthesizer score composed by Wojciech Golczewski, and a healthy dose of dark humor. In a time when horror audiences are bombarded by a million generic found footage movies, Paranormal Activity sequels/ripoffs, and bargain basement one-weekend wonders, this film stands as a breath of fresh air. Beyond the Gates is wicked, witty fun that reminds you how insanely entertaining the horror genre can be.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-ray Features:

As always, Scream Factory has assembled a solid collection of supplementary materials for this release. There are three insightful commentary tracks featuring writer/director Jackson Stewart, actress Barbara Crampton, and other cast and crew members. There's lots to dig in to here, as everyone is excited to talk about a film they are rightfully proud of.

A 10-minute behind-the-scenes feature has Stewart and his actors discussing the film and the characters. Some cool on-set footage can also be found within. About three minutes of deleted scenes are next. Nothing vital, but there is a nice jump scare involving Margot going into the basement to retrieve a dropped key. The original theatrical trailer and a fun retro-style commercial for the movie's fictitious board game are also included.

Last but not least is Sex Boss, a six-minute short film written and directed by Stewart and starring Graham Skipper. It's about a man trying to please his boss, an employer with a penchant for making very inappropriate demands. It's really funny and has a wickedly perfect ending.

All the way around, the Beyond the Gates Blu-ray is one of 2017's must-owns for horror fans. Great movie, great bonus material.

For more information on this and other titles, please visit the Scream Factory website.

Beyond The Gates (Teaser) from Channel83Films on Vimeo.

Beyond the Gates is unrated, but contains language and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.

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