Friday, May 5, 2017

BEYOND THE GATES (2016) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory / IFC Midnight

Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 82 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: Jackson Stewart
Cast: Brea Grant, Chase Williamson, Barbara Crampton, Graham Skipper, Henry LeBlanc, Jesse Merlin, Justin Welborn, Matt Mercer, Sara Malakul Lane

In Beyond The Gates (2016) we have a pair of estranged brothers, Gordon (Graham Skipper, The Mind's Eye) and John (Chase Williamson, John Dies At The End), who reunite to sort through the now closed VHS rental store that was owned by their father Bob (Henry LeBlanc), who disappeared seven months earlier and is now presumed deceased. While rummaging through and packing away the old video cassettes they reminisce and speak of their troubled relationship with dear old dad,  a formerly loving father who turned a bit sour after the death of his wife. 

Dad's office at the shop is locked-up, but when Gordon finds the key they get inside and search for possible clues about their father's last days, they don't find much except for some dusty VHS cassettes and and old VCR board game called "Beyond The Gates", which seems to be the last thing dad watched. For those not in the know, back in the 80s at the height of the VHS boom, there were numerous interactive VHS board games that were part traditional board game, and part VHS-based, you played along and watched the VHS following its commands and prompts. I myself never got to play one, but the idea is sort of carried on nowadays with stuff like the DVD based Scene-It series I suppose.  Anyway this game is a key-based mystery board game, sort of like Clue, and the VHS part of it is hosted by a creepy character named Evelyn, played by 80s horror-enchantress Barbara Crampton (From Beyond)

The brothers call it a night and are joined back at their dad's house by Gordon's girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant, The Devil's Dolls), after dinner the trio gather in the living room and pop in the Beyond The Gates tape and press play, and it soon becomes evident that this game holds the key to the whereabouts of their missing father. Egged-on by the ethereal and creepy prompts of VHS host Evelyn the brothers and Margot venture into the world of Beyond The Gates, with each role of the dice they discover the game-based play has deadly real-life consequences. 

Director Jackson Stewart and co-screenwriter Stephen Scarlata have assembled a fun slice of vintage 80s nostalgia with Beyond The Gates, channeling a love for 80s ephemera with a fun film that has a unique premise, at least one I cannot recall being used, the use of the VHS board game, it kind of made me think of The Gate in that respect, only with a VHS board game in place of a satanic metal album played backwards, with similar gates of hell opening results. Skipper and Williamson are very good as the estranged siblings, Gordon is a bit of a reserved stick-in-the-mud, while John is a bit of a slacker type, they've both struggled with the disappearance of dear old Dad, and the reunion fills in some of the back story, allowing them to air grievances with one another. There's a moderate amount of character building going on, not too much, but more than your average indie-horror film seems to offer up these days.

The inclusion of Barbara Crampton as Evelyn, the host of the VHS game, is an inspired one, the woman is still a stone-cold fox! Ethereal beauty aside, the character is creepy, with her pale white skin, big eyes darkened with eyeshadow, and with a mesmerizing and eerie line delivery, of "do you have the courage to go BEYOND THE GATES!", and "the other world awaits you!". I so wish this was real VHS board game you could buy, there's just never enough Crampton in my life, and what a great movie tie-in that would be, it's hard to imagine that this won't happen, if in fact it has not already! 

Beyond The Gates has some choice moments of practical gore, it's not as blood drenched as the advertising would suggest, but it has it's moments, including a voodoo doll which causes someone's intestines to be pulled from their body like someone spooling spaghetti on a fork, and a head explosion on par with scanners, kudos to the effects team on this one. The lighting and atmosphere of the film at times recalls the Italian gore films of Lucio Fulci, including the physical manifestation of the literal "gates" in the basement, which brought to mind the end scene of Fulci's The Beyond (1981) layered in fog and magenta/purple lighting, some good atmospheric touches. Also, worth mentioning is the cool retro-80s synth score from Wojciech Golczewski (Late Phases, We Are Still Here), the opening main titles theme that plays over a montage of the inner working of a VCR might just be on par with my favorite themes from prime-era Goblin or Fabio Frizzi.  
Audio/Video: Beyond The Gates (2016) arrives on Blu-ray from IFC Midnight and Scream Factory, framed in 2.40 widescreen looking crisp and detailed, colors are strong, skin tones look accurate and the multi-colored lighting looks great in HD. The disc comes with option of DTS-HD MA 2.0 or 5.1, everything sounds crisp and dynamic, the Wojciech Golczewski synth score is particularly good, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Onto the extras we have three commentaries, two from the director and assorted cast and crew (including producer/actress Barbara Crampton), plus a fan commentary with the Junk Food Dinner Podcast crew. There's also 3-min of deleted scenes, a 10-min behind-the-scenes featurette, the premiere Q/A with Stuart Gordon, a 6-min short film, theatrical trailer and a cool retro commercial for the Beyond The Gates board game. The release is a single-disc, comes housed in a standard blue keepcase, the artwork is not reversible but does have artwork on the reverse side, a cool reproduction of the Beyond The Gates board game. 

Special Features
- Audio Commentary with director Jackson Stewart, Jesse Merlin, Brian Sowell, and stephen 

- Audio Commentary with director Jackson Stewart, Chase Williams, brea Grant, and Graham Skipper 
- Junk Food Dinner Audio Commentary with Kevin Moss, Parker Bowman, and Sean Byron 
- Behind the scenes featurette (11 min) HD 
- Premiere Q/A moderated by Stuart Gordon (17 min) 
- Deleted Scenes (3 min) HD 
- Sex Boss Short Film (6 min) HD
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD
- Retro-style Beyond The Gates Commercial (1 min) HD

I loved the idea of the movie but will say it did fail to completely deliver on the super-cool premise, though it doesn't quite fall flat at the end, it doesn't have a whole lot of fright-factor and lacked the visceral punch I thought it needed. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the journey quite a bit, the 80s nostalgia was awesome, the VHS board game was cool, and the practical gore was satisfying, this is 82-minutes well spent.  For those of us who remember the glorious days of VHS and scouring the shelves of the local rental shops for horror movies, this is a love letter to a time that will always loom large in our horror hearts. 3.5/5