Some horror movies are really more than the sum of their parts. Take 1987's The Gate, starring Stephen Dorff. It's a schlocky, Satanic masterpiece akin to Evil Dead in that the special effects dance the line between laughable and horrifying, though in The Gate's case it's aided by some endearing Ray Harryhausen-inspired stop-motion animation.
Both movies deal with the inadvertent release of demonic forces, both feature loved ones turned into possessed doppelgangers, and both films' only hope for intervention hinges on a single book. To be fair, The Gate calls to a simpler time, when the Bible and the power of innocent love between friends and family are all the weapons needed to defeat the most powerful of diabolic forces.
Its message of black and white good and evil feels naive in today's more nuanced and antiheroic offerings, and therein lies its appeal. Its very hokeyness adds to its status as a classic. That's one of the reasons that Robert Saucedo was so keen to screen the film at Alamo Drafthouse, along with its 1990 sequel, as part of Alamo Drafthouse's Graveyard Shift.
"I've been a big fan of The Gate since my early childhood -- a screening courtesy of my older sister in what was either a plan to nurture a young horror fan or traumatize a child forever," said Saucedo via e-mail. "The Gate is a great example of a good, scary horror film that is appropriate to share with a kid. Hopefully this screening will remind audience members what it was like to be a frightened kid again -- and also remind them that there are age-appropriate horror films out there for the little ones."
At the time that The Gate was made, America was deep in the throes of paranoia relating to Satanism being slipped to children hidden in heavy metal records. The supposedly subliminal lyrics, apparent if the albums were played backwards, turned children away from the Christian faith and toward acts of violence and suicide. Judas Priest was famously named in a lawsuit relating to the deaths of two men for sinister hidden messages. The suit was dismissed.
Saucedo, always ready to up the ante on Graveyard Shift events, has tapped into the old fear and invited Church of Melkarth to play a set between The Gate and the sequel. The band's leader, Justin Whitney, is well-versed in many demonologies, both fictional and historical. His music is everything that a responsible parent would ban from the house lest it summon evil from the void.
Whitney's earlier band the Splinters of Death recorded a concept album based on the movie called Towards the Demon Gate in 2004. The album was shelved and remains unreleased, as Splinters was dissolved and Whitney rebuilt Melkarth from the ashes of the old group. Still, he credits The Gate with inciting a love and worship of dark gods, and the forces of chaos.
The performance is sure to be spectacular, with Whitney incorporating pyrotechnics that he is often prohibited from using since the Station nightclub fire that claimed the lives of 100 people in 2003 at a Great White concert, including guitarist Ty Longley. The theme of the band is worship of an obscure Lovecraftian fire deity, and Whitney is extremely excited to be able to once again use such symbolism in his live act.
Devil worship through music has made something of a comeback recently. A satirical article that claimed Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was declaring war on heavy metal's disastrous effects on the human soul went viral, proof that the public is perfectly willing to believe such an act. The hit 2009 horror film Jennifer's Body was also based around a group of musicians who sacrifice a small-town girl in hopes of enlisting the aid of a demon to boost their career. It may be that a kind of devil-nostalgia is on the horizon.
"There is real devil worship and evil revelations of the occult in music that's not being subversive or hidden, yet these bands go completely ignored by the media," said Whitney. "Music was always the tool of the devil, especially fiddlin'.
"I also thought it was amusing that so many people got in a fuss about a fake Santorum article, and it went viral with people complaining about it, which is, sadly, proof that metalheads as a group are lacking in independent thought and still following a herd mentality. I guess they weren't paying attention in the '80s when Al Gore's wife actually said those things, then Dee Snider and Frank Zappa told her to shut the fuck up, which is why there are explicit lyrics stickers on rap CDs."
There was rumor around the time that Jennifer's Body was released that a remake of The Gate was in the works, utilizing CGI effects and with Alex Winter at the helm. No word on the remake has some since, and with Winter involved in a documentary on Napster and the highly anticipated third Bill & Ted film, it's unlikely he's still attached.
So at least one horror film that took hold of the public imagination in the fertile 1980s is safe for now from the Hollywood remake mill, and thanks to Saucedo and Whitney, its one-of-a-kind appeal can be recaptured for a paying audience ready to wrestle with the devil through monsters and metal, the way God surely intended.
The Gate and the Gate II: The Trespassers featuring Church of Melkarth plays Saturday, February 18, at 8 p.m. at the West Oaks Alamo Drafthouse.
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