Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of falling through yet another portal to boredom on the internet, because there’s so many better portals that you could be stumbling into. And while I make this stupid joke every week to increasingly diminishing returns, we should all think about how lucky we are to have so much at our disposal. I’ve talked about the hardships of having to leave the house and find things to watch before. I’ve talked about the struggles of being forced to rely on games of imagination that last for nine hours in your friend’s basement where you end up casting magic missile at the darkness to keep yourself entertained. We forget that there was once a time when all these luxuries of having a streaming site to find something to watch were all just some fanciful dream that we wish we had. Back in those days, we had to make our own fun or be stuck being bored. Sometimes what we found in the pursuit of fun was pretty weird and occasionally it was feared that it could open a portal to hell. Such was pretty much the premise of the awkward and somewhat slightly forgettable film, The Gate. However, the filmmakers behind must have really felt committed to the story behind that film and, much more likely, the idea that said story could gain them a whole extra dollar. I’m not certain of this but I’m going to choose to believe that this is why the absolutely oddball film The Gate II exists. And tonight, we’re going to cast magic missile on our boredom and review this fantastically awkward sequel!
We’ve chatted sequels before and by now, we know that this is a particular type of film that comes with both baggage and potential for greatness. It’s not fair to assume all sequels are automatically a steaming pile of bad ideas. After all, in cinema in general, there’s tons of examples of good sequels to films and some of them even surpass the originals. In horror, however, we have a bit of a sequel problem. It seems like a lot of great ideas get the mozzarella treatment, most of the time to diminishing returns. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, basically this is where one film will be good, the next one will be pretty good, the one after that might be great or a piece of utter garbage, the one after that is basically just people showing up for a pay cheque and then they shoot the fucker into space and if anyone lands back on earth, it’s a game of where filmmakers can figure out where to squeeze another ten cents out of the franchise. You’ll note that a lot of the major horror films are noted for having not just two or three films but usually edging into the six or seventh (or more) films. While not all of these were pieces of cinematic waste, most horror fans will agree that after a while, you started to wonder exactly what the hell the point was to this anymore, if not to simply milk that cash cow dry. The sad part of this is that often times, favorite characters were often killed off in unceremonious ways or favorite villains were reduced down to a shadow of their former selves, giving the rest of the film series a bit of a scent of “just let this die already”. The worst part of this was that often, this was all we got in lieu of any creative new ideas or just new horror in general. Worse yet, a lot of films that didn’t require or support a sequel had them tacked on in the hopes of creating another cow to bleed money for a studio that did absolutely nothing interesting or creative with any of the worlds or characters they had to work with.
All this said, we do have some legitimate gems that we can point to, like Halloween 2, The Exorcist 3, Aliens and Friday the 13th 4: The Final Friday. All these films took the original story and either continued to fill in extra bits to make the narrative bigger and richer or they ran with the world and made it more interesting with new characters and plots. Expansion can be good! It can also be terrible and that seems to breed a lot faster than gems do. You don’t have to take my word for it either. We have all kinds of examples like The Exorcist 2. Or Freddy vs Jason. Or The Howling 3. There are too many to list but the point is that sequels are a risky game and not all of them will end up with the filmmakers hitting the jackpot to money and fast men and women. Occasionally, we end up in weirder territory than we planned. Here lies the sequels that don’t quite make any sense or they seemed like a good idea on paper and you wonder why no one read them out loud to realize that it was probably not such a great idea after all. These are films like Halloween 3 or Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2. (Sometimes you also get weird and terrible at the same time. While I still haven’t found it yet, I’ve since seen clips of the sequel to Rock and Roll Nightmare and if what I’ve seen is actual footage, I’m not convinced that it wasn’t shot on an iPhone. Also, it looks like the kind of absolutely terrible that makes me excitedly happy and I’m serious, guys, please let me know if you find it!)
So where abouts does The Gate II land on this scale, if it can even be called a scale? If you’re new around here, you might be forgiven for getting your hopes up about what I review, but suffice it to say that save for the few high brow, genre defying, experimental things I might dig up, most of my favorite films on this site are going to be sitting on the opposite side of the table as your sequel gems. In fact, the table might be in another room in a different house all together. While I would argue that as far as sequels go, this one isn’t the worst you’re going to find and it’s nowhere near as much a departure as Mary Lou was, The Gate II isn’t going to be redefining the continuing saga style story as we know it. In fact, it starts off by taking the ultimate in risky moves: abandoning our previously established lead characters and yeeting itself in a whole new direction entirely. Most of the time, this is done extremely poorly and usually with some kind of ulterior motive. When it was done with Halloween 3, it was because the filmmakers had wanted to start a franchise of horror films based around Halloween where terrible things happen and hadn’t anticipated that Michael Myers would become the face of the series. When he didn’t come home in part three, people lost interest and they were forced to come up with the “incredible” idea of the Thorn cult to continue everything. In cases that we’ve already talked about like Vampire Journals or Mary Lou, we see even more examples of how the people behind the scenes are trying to direct the sails of the viewing public, either trying to launch new series’ or trying to cash in on something else popular. With examples like these, you can guess that changing up a series of established settings and characters is something that should probably be avoided if you’re looking to make a good movie. This is why it’s all the more baffling that for all its flaws, this is actually one of the best parts of The Gate II.
For those of you who are not familiar with The Gate, basically it can be boiled down to the following: kid and his friend and his older sister accidentally open a portal to hell while parents go on vacation, hilarity and violence ensue, house is wrecked but gate is closed and scene. While it’s not a terrible movie, it’s a bit light on plot, if you will. It also kinda suffers from what we shall call Mercutio Syndrome. This is where we’re supposed to care a whole lot about the lead character but there’s another character that is way more interesting and has a lot more going on with them and you find yourself wondering why the hell we’re bothering with the actual lead when perfection and intrigue is standing on the sidelines. Well, The Gate II says to us, wonder no more and delivers us from the pretty typical (and perfectly fine) portrayals of Glenn and Al from the first film and instead focuses in on Glen’s weird friend, Terry, played in both films by Louis Tripp. You see, where Glenn was just a normal kid with normal parents in a normal household, Terry was odd, awkward and dabbling in weird occult stuff, thus making him the perfect consultant when his friend was looking to figure out what the hell was going on with his backyard. He also had recently lost his mother and his father was a pilot who was usually on the move somewhere, so you ended up with a lonely, weird kid who had a lot more going on for him than poor Glenn.
The Gate II doesn’t even give us an idea of what happened to the original family and dives right into Terry talking about what happened from his own perspective. By now it’s been a few years and Terry, who now goes by Terrence, has turned from a weird kid to an awkward teenager. A pretty troubled teenager whose father has hit the bottle pretty hard and lost his job in the wake of losing his wife, culminating in Terrence finding him flirting with trying to commit suicide. The film opens with this incredibly sombre moment of him talking about how they opened the gate before and it turned out badly because they were young and didn’t know what they were doing. And now he plans on opening it again to make things better in their lives. He says all this to his father who is lost in a drunken stupor only to have his dad wake up after and ask about the score to a sport ball game that he’s trying to pretend he was watching.
Already, the tone of this film sets things in motion immediately and Terrence has us on board with everything right from the start. His young life is in shambles but he’s going to use that dark magic to make things better and consequences be damned. Unfortunately for Terrence, while he’s trying to perform the ritual to open the gate, he’s interrupted by a local thug named John, his girlfriend, Liz, and their friend and John’s lackey, Moe. While John is mostly interested in making Terrence’s life difficult, Liz is interested in demonology and wants to join in. John is convinced to participate, mostly to appease Liz and with much eye rolling, and Moe does what he’s told so the four of them open the gate and make a wish for something important to them. With such a stunning display of seriousness and commitment to their cause, as you can well imagine, things go wrong. A minion escapes from the gate and John, ever the paragon of rational decisions, shoots it and the three take off, leaving Terrence with what he believes is a dead minion and an equally dead wish. Still, no weird teenager is going to leave a perfectly good odd creature to the crows so Terrence takes the minion home and puts it in a jar. Luckily for him, it turns out that minions aren’t as allergic to bullets as people are and despite having some connection to the greatest of dark forces in the universe, it can be easily contained in a bird cage.
Still intrigued by Terrence’s ritual and what he was doing, Liz hunts him down to find out more about it and once she discovers the minion is still alive, she convinces him to wish for things, starting with simple things first and then, doing what teenagers do best, they test the limits of what they can do with it. The trouble begins when they go overboard and John sees Liz with Terrence and gets jealous. Things only get worse when they realize that the wishes they make all have a bit of a half life, starting out with them getting what they want and ending with everything they get turning to literal and figurative shit. John probably could have used that information when he decided to beat up Terrence and steal the minion for himself but that’s what he and Moe end up doing. The surprises keep coming for everyone, however, as they find out the real cost to the wishes that they made in the start of the film. Terrence’s father lands in the hospital when his drunken antics on the job get him severely hurt, Moe discovers that demons and aliens aren’t very good at repairing a faulty heart valve and John gets a painful lesson in what it means to be king of the world.
There’s some elements to this movie that don’t stand the test of time. The film might have come out in 1990 but the fashion is all firmly entrenched in the 1980s. The stop motion is actually pretty impressive but the rubbery suits are pretty obvious when the actors are forced to sweat out their lines as demons. There are other things that you can point to but ultimately, these are petty grievances. This is a solid film that stands a lot taller than the film that it was spawned from. It’s got a better story, the main character is a hell of a lot more interesting, the world is better laid out and the gate is given a lot more gravitas in this film rather than just being a thing that someone could accidentally open with a back hoe and a dead dog. I also like that the budding romance between Liz and Terrence isn’t played as love at first sight nor is it the kind of thing where the nerdy kid takes off his glasses and suddenly he’s a male model. Liz likes Terrence because he’s nice to her and treats her like a friend and an equal, where John treats her like a possession. I really like the even John and Moe aren’t just cardboard villains too. John is a jerk but he’s used to getting his way and there’s a sense of someone in there, even if he is an asshole. Moe too is someone you can almost be sympathetic to in a lot of ways. In fact, this film really doesn’t have any red shirts in it, now that we’re talking about it. No one dies for no reason. No one is a sacrificial lamb and actually ends up getting killed. And ultimately, all of their actions have consequences but they all have motives for what they want.
So as far as sequels go, whether you will call this a good one can kind of depend on if you liked the first film and if it being a completely different animal is a deal breaker for you. It takes a whole new direction and focus for its lead and if you liked the characters in the first film, that might be a big no for you. That said, I stand by that the characters in the first film were a lot flatter than the ones in The Gate II and this has the better story, by far. It’s true that this is really just going over the same territory as “The Monkey’s Paw” but Terrence is a decent character and someone who is likeable and with enough motive behind what he does that he can carry it. So if you’re wanting a little stop motion demon action in your life and want to enjoy a little cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for and how, I very much recommend this one.
As always, I thank you for joining me for another Friday Nightmare Review! Updates are always on Fridays but if you are looking to get your horror fix sooner than that, check out my fictional series, Hello Dolly, updated on Mondays. Follow the adventures and misadventures of a horror hostess who, along with her band of misfit and monstrous friends, deal with a world of real monsters while trying to create an online weekly horror show. And until next time, may all your wishes be good ones and may all your demonic minions stay in their bird cages while you sleep soundly!