Screams From The Crypt: Beyond The Gates (2016)
Welcome back to Screams from the Crypt, the Talk Film Society’s home for horror! This week Ben Lane is here with a review of 2016's Beyond The Gates, a horror film that he feels deserves an audience. It's currently streaming on Netflix!
Last October, I drove to Columbus, Ohio to attend Shock Around the Clock, a 24-hour horror marathon which started at noon and ended at noon, the time in-between consisting of nothing but horror movie mayhem. This was my first horror marathon, so my excitement was through-the-roof, as a lifelong fascination with horror cinema was about to culminate in this day long event surrounded by hundreds of other fans. Admidst all the brouhaha and pandemonium after the fifth or sixth movie, the announcer introduced the midwest premiere of a new indie horror movie called Beyond the Gates.
This scenario may be why I enjoyed Beyond the Gates so much, so if you fear that the praise I dish out is biased, you aren't entirely wrong. But I must assess that after revisiting the film tonight in the darkness of my living room, I still find most of what I initially liked about it still stands.
Director Jackson Stewart's infatuation with 90s pop-culture is never more evident than in the opening title sequence, which simplistically articulates the process of a VHS tape being inserted in to a VCR. Certainly not something we haven't seen before (this kind of up close photography of an object in motion is used quite often in film, and David Fincher's opening credit sequence of Se7en seems to draw inspiration from this method as well). The tone is brought on by the music which accompanies this sequence, which isn't unlike John Carpenter's work on most of his movies, Halloween III: Season of the Witch comes to mind more than others.
The weird, ambient tunes are scattered throughout the picture, and they come less often than they should, some scenes being set to no music at all which, unfortunately, cripples its effectiveness and eliminates any sense of dread. This is in line with one of the film's largest criticisms, which is that it's very boring at times, and I would have to agree. Despite the first act's sluggish pacing and the main actors' struggle to convey any kind of real tangible emotion, the atmosphere is nearly impossible to resist.
From the film's opening scene, in which two estranged characters meet up at an old, run-down shop, the aesthetic of the world in which these two live is absorbing. Graham Skipper and Chase Williamson play Gordon and John Hardesty, whose father's recent disappearance prompt them to clean out his video store, in which they find a mysterious VCR board game called “Beyond the Gates.” When they pop the VHS in, the face of none other than horror icon Barbara Crampton appears and begins to lay out the rules, which makes things more drastic than the two could imagine.
In many ways, this film plays on the classic Jumanji storyline, but with an obviously fascinating twist. What begins as a kind of slow-burn character drama rapidly turns into weird genre horror with creepy visuals and sporadic blasts of blood and guts. As the film moves along and the third act reveals the secret of their father's disappearance and the board game's existence, it all gets a bit hammy and a bit too crazy for its own good. But I would be lying if I said I didn't have a hell of a time watching it.
After the film ended and Scarlatta was giving his Q&A, someone in the crowd asked if he knew of any plans for distribution, and at the time, the answer was unclear, to the point of Scarlatta not knowing if the film would ever be distributed. Thankfully, it's currently streaming on Netflix.
So, if you're into obscure horror disguised as a love-letter to a bygone era, the streaming service has it at your disposal. And as Scarlatta is working with Blumhouse on the documentary Tied In, which focuses on movie novelizations, now is a great time to get associated with his body of work including the terrific Jodorowsky's Dune.
That's all for this week's installment of Screams From The Crypt. We'll be back next week, so until then...
Stay Tuned and Stay Scared!