Director: Jackson Stewart
Screenplay: Stephen Scarlata and Jackson Stewart
Cast: Barbara Crampton (as Evelyn); Brea Grant (as Margot); Chase Williamson (as John); Graham Skipper (as Gordon); Jesse Merlin (as Elric); Justin Wellborn (as Hank)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #90
Beyond the Gate is admirable for not going for the easy nostalgia buzz of eighties pop culture, deciding to do something more personal in spite of the initial premise starting with two brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chase Williamson) having to close their father's video store, full of giant shelves like an archive for the medium, when their old man has been missing for weeks. It still reveals in the appeal of this era, as their cataloguing of the stock leads them to finding a strange VHS game, where one has to play a tape alongside the actual game, with a mysterious female figure (Barbara Crampton) as the host who is an emissary to a hellish place, but the trip to the actual gates and onwards, with Gordon's girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) in tow, is by way of Gordon having to come to terms with the emotional vacuum since he left the town on bad terms, his brother, sleeping from couch to couch, to reconnect to, and the hallucinations, ghosts and sinister gates appearing in their father's basement all with the subtext of the past having to be exorcised for both brothers whilst real people are dying.
In Beyond the Gate's favour, it takes its drama serious. The usual set-up, where Gordon is the calmer and softer of the brothers at first, John the layabout slacker who still lives in his hometown, is done well and the film goes further in having more layers onto this, more of an achievement when the running time is less than eighty minutes, fleshing the characters out more than other films in this short space of time. I have to compliment this further as, what I initially expected to be a retro love-in, had more of a heart and the notion of human interaction being an important part of the horror itself, how this VHS board game of the damned is really a series of supernatural events for Gordon to reconcile with his father and his childhood. The nostalgia for the medium becomes as much about the person who grew up with it rather than just drooling over a pop cultural item.
I have to admit however in terms of being a whole, the ending does let the film down after its admirable start because, whilst it thankfully ignores the cheap nostalgic, I wished it would've stuck to the more fantastic nature of the story and, after starting as a slow burning horror movie first, would've embraced the side the VHS horror board game evokes even if on a low budget. The closest thing to phantasmagoric horror that it needed to dip its toe into for the finale is how the same basement that the gate to enter the underworld is becomes said underworld by the vaporwave colours of various shades of purple and dark blue, but nothing else. This is a shame as, building up to said ending, Beyond the Gate was promising to be a character drama but with a taste of a weird tale, with a creepy owner of an occult antique giving ominous warnings and deaths by way of unconventional voodoo dolls. The ending does come off as a blank squib sadly after this, consisting of only a few zombies trying to maul people, when even what turns out to be a slow burn character drama could've used a more fantastical conclusion for metaphor and be able to embrace the eighties aesthetic fully for once for a justifiable reason.