Beyond the Gates – Blu-ray review
Director: Jackson Stewart
Stars: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Barbara Crampton
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
I am a child of the 80s. I grew up in the golden age of horror, the birth of VHS which literally changed the world (no really) for movie lovers, and I was a player of many questionable games that parents thought for sure would damn me to hell. It was a great time to be a kid. And I am not alone in that opinion, because 80s nostalgia has been a huge thing for many a year now. One of the latest titles to try to cash in on that retro-feeling is Beyond the Gates. Is it a fun throwback or a cynical cash-grab? Well get some dice, don’t forget to rewind to be kind, and let’s find out.
Two estranged brothers reunite after their father has been missing for some time. Not knowing what else to do, they start to box up the man’s life, beginning with the video store their father owned and ran. In doing so they come across an artifact from a bygone time: a VHS horror-themed board game called Beyond the Gates. Naturally for old time’s sake, and to perhaps reconnect on some level, the two brothers play the game, and soon people are dying and bad things are a happening. Somehow this game holds the secret of their missing father, but will they live long enough to uncover it?
Now for those of you out there who don’t know the awesomeness of playing a board game in front of your TV for a cool “interactive” experience, let me explain. As you and your friends played the traditional board game with dice, figures, cards and more, you would also be playing a video tape at the same time. Such tapes were usually hosted by a “spooky” character would pop up from time to time to give you instructions, insult you, and mess with you by arbitrarily changing the rules, having you miss a turn, or banishing your token/figure to some black hole penalty box for a set number of rounds. It was good cheesy fun, at least for the first few times you played it. After that you knew exactly what was going to happen on the never-changing video cassette and some of the fun was lost.
But what if the game was haunted? What if the VHS tape was never the same experience twice? What if the creepy host was the lovely Barbara (Re-animator, From Beyond, Chopping Mall) Crampton? And what if the penalty for losing the game was death or worse? That’s right, it’s sort of like Jumanji for the 80s horror-loving crowd, and that’s a very good thing in my book.
Now to be fair, this movie is a far cry from Jumanji, for both good and ill. For starters, even accounting for inflation, this low-budget labor of love doesn’t have a tenth of the budget that the Robin Williams flick had. Does that make it bad? No, but it does mean that they couldn’t be as fantastic with what they could show as I’m sure they wanted to be. That said, the story is entertaining, the acting and direction both good, and the nostalgia vibe was strong. Perhaps my biggest beef with it was that it could have used more Barbara Crampton, but then I think that about most every movie, so I can’t complain too much here, I guess.
On to the extras on this new Blu-ray from Scream Factory and IFC Midnight. Well, I hope you like commentaries, because here you get three of them with a whole lot of people. The first one is with director and co-writer Jackson Stewart, co-writer Stephen Scarlata, cinematographer Brian Sowell, and actors Jesse Merlin and Barbara Crampton. The next one is with director Stewart and actors Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, and Brea Grant. Then there is a Junk Food Audio commentary with a podcast that I’ve never heard of, but it wasn’t too bad. There is a behind-the-scenes featurette that’s 11 minutes, and a 17-minute Q&A session with the cast and crew that is moderated by Stuart “Re-Animator” Gordon for some odd reason. There is a short film included here called “Sex Boss” that was made by the director and stars Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin from Gates. It’s a nice bit of extra fluff and at five and a half minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. A collection of deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer are also here, as is a fun throwback-looking TV commercial for the Beyond the Gates VHS game. It’s silly, but I like silly, so I liked it.
Beyond the Gates is a fun blast from the past. If you played games like this back in the day, you are sure to get a kick out of this movie. If you never have…I pity you, but there is enough good here in addition to that, that I can still easily recommend it to you. For some none-too-serious nostalgic fright flick fun, roll the dice on Beyond the Gates.