Review: Beyond the Gates (2016)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #730

Number of Views: One
Release Date: June 2, 2016
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $3,000,000
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: Jackson Stewart
Producers: Barbara Crampton, Amanda Mortimer
Screenplay: Stephen Scarlata, Jackson Stewart
Special Effects: Josh Russell, Sierra Russell
Visual Effects: Jason Richard Miller
Cinematography: Brian Sowell
Score: Wojciech Golczewski
Editing: Josh Ethier
Studios: Destroy All Entertainment, Easy Open Productions, Lodger Films, Thunder Warrior Productions
Distributors: IFC Midnight, Scream Factory
Stars: Barbara Crampton, Brea Grant, Chase Williamson, Graham Skipper, Jesse Merlin, Justin Wellborn, Henry LeBlanc, Sara Malakul Lane, Matt Mercer, Caryn Richman, Pierson Ryan

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] The Five Blobs “The Blob”

[2] Tom Jones “What’s New Pussycat”

[3] Yello “Oh Yeah”

[4] Vincenzo Salvia “Outrun With The Dead”

I’ve always been mighty suspicious of the unknown perils that lurk beyond the gates. This illogical fear stems way back to my childhood and two disagreeable instances in particular. The first entailed primary introduction to Richard Donner’s The Omen and watching Gregory Peck and David Warner attempting to hop a cast-iron cemetery gate whilst fending off a horde of rampaging rottweilers without getting their balls sicked.

The second was closer to home and involved one of my best friends, 200 lb of whale blubber affectionately nicknamed “Blob” for his portly stature. Foolishly, Blob took it upon himself to reenact that very scene, albeit minus all the canine-courted confusion. Alas, the hapless Blob came a cropper that humid summer evening, impaling himself with a rusted gate spike that entered at the ankle and worked its way through to his flabby thigh with one excruciating thrust.

How he didn’t rupture his femoral artery and bleed to death right where he hung is beyond either me or the gate in question, but likely had something to do with his spotter (who weighed less than half the wounded soldier’s mass) holding him up while a passer-by called the fire rescue team to cut him out of his agonizing fix. His savior won a medal of bravery, Blob was stitched up good as new, and a valuable life lesson appeared to have been learned.

I know one thing – after learning of my buddy’s moonlighting exploits as a human sheesh kebab, I knew precisely what side of the fence I wished to perch upon and was no longer quite so curious of the unknown perils that lurked beyond the gates. Moreover, I’m reasonably assured that Blob would second that emotion.

Anyhoots, the truth serum is beginning to wear off now so I guess we should take a peek at the reason we’re congregated here today. When Arizona-born filmmaker Jackson Stewart learned that he had secured the services of none other than salacious scream queen Barbara Crampton for his first full-length feature, Beyond The Gates, I’d imagine he jizzed right through his crotch denim.

Indeed, during my primary introduction to his debut in my local DVD stockist, I’m fairly certain I jizzed mine a little too. Crampton in a leading role? Count me in and pass me the handkerchief; I’d been waiting for this perfect day to arrive for longer than I cared to remember.

My Crampton boner dated way back to 1985 and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator when Megan Halsey first slid her rosy red cheeks on that gurney and spread ’em for the purposes of medical science. Ms. Crampton certainly wasn’t shy when it came to ditching that hospital gown, as attested by her brief bronco riding run-out for Brian DePalma’s glorious noir, Body Double, the year previous and Gordon continued to frame her supple lovelies in 1986 for his follow-up project, From Beyond.

The thing is, for all her easiness on the eye, Crampton was also clearly just as extraordinary a performer with her clothes on and her superb performance in Castle Freak is an ideal showcase for her ability as an actress. She continued to work steadily, but it wasn’t until 2015 and Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here that another director aside from Gordon truly took advantage of her gifts for the giving.

Beyond The Gates places Crampton front and centre for its ad campaign and that’s some shrewd marketing if you ask me as a lifetime of curiosity over the unknown perils that lurk beyond the gates came flooding right back in an instant. Should she be present and correct, then I’d gladly do a Blob and vault on in without a second thought. At the very least, she could nurse me back to health in the eventuality that I snag myself some spike during transit. Stewart had my attention, both full and undivided, and early reports suggested a retro-savvy affair with all manner of supernatural bells and whistles to keep things lively.

There’s no sign of Crampton early on as Beyond The Gates focuses on estranged brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chase Williamson) as they reunite to liquidate the family jewel and clean out their father’s old video store after he mysteriously disappears. John seems like a fun-loving kind of guy, whereby Gordon has a stick so far up his ass that his breath smells like mahogany.

While apparently this pair shared a womb once, you wouldn’t know it from the chalk and cheese we’re presented with and tensions run high as, being the responsible one, Gordo takes it upon himself to call every last one of the shots. Does John respect big bro’s authority? About as much as he does signs that clearly state ☠ ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL ☠.

After rooting around the junk some, Gordo and John happen across a vintage VHS board game entitled Beyond The Gates in pops’ back office and four eyebrows instantly raise in unison. Could this be some common ground at last? Better yet, perhaps it could provide clues as their father’s whereabouts. The tape was evidently the last cassette to inhabit daddy dearest’s frontloader and there seems little to lose by playing its game for the purpose of nostalgic recollection if nothing else.

They press play and, lo-and-behold, the crypt keeper Evelyn (Crampton) appears right on cue to explain to them the rules of engagement. We’re not talking anything too strenuous, just your regular key finding shenanigans wrapped in delicious eighties-styled phantasmagoria.

Gordon’s significant other Margot (Brea Grant) is just as intrigued by the boys’ new toy and the trio sit down together to attempt at solving its riddle. However, little are they aware that the game has the power to interact with their respective realities and locating these elusive keys is about to prove anything but elementary.

Moreover, Evelyn’s not messing when it comes to using her netherworld to interfere with their natural order. Grim fortunes await, even more ghastly than the death of Betamax, and it’s time for the three amigos to discover the unknown perils that lurk beyond the gates.

Crampton predictably slays it as our Elvira-esque ferrywoman into a neon-tinged hell that knows no rhyme or reason and every second she graces us with her presence is another jizz stain to hand wash come sunrise. That said, most of the weight falls directly on Skipper and Williamson’s shoulders and they carry the burden decidedly well between them.

Grant is no less magnanimous but it is brotherly love that forms the emotional glue and the whip-smart screenplay from Stewart and co-writer Stephen Scarlata throws them plentiful scraps to sink their pearly whites into and reasons to lock horns. Alas Beyond The Gates suffers a little from Event Horizon syndrome as it introduces us to a nightmarish dimension that is more about distraction than interaction.

Slight grumbles aside, Stewart’s film is as pleasing a time waster as they come and, assisted by the sumptuous photography of D.O.P. Brian Sowell, drenched in sufficient purplish excess to take us back to the moment when Crampton’s partner in crime Jeffrey Combs first fired up the Resonator all those moons back. Beyond The Gates is unashamedly eighties in flavor and therefore effortless to savor, should your bifocals support it ultraviolet rays.

Does it reinvent the wheel? Barely a solitary spoke. But, after a protacted preiod of head scratching, I now know precisely of the unknown perils that lurk beyond the gates. Thanks Eveleyn and, while we’re on the subject, I don’t suppose you wish to share the whereabouts of the key to your chastity belt do you?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Quality overrides quantity here and Beyond The Gates knows precisely how to sporadically sicken. The practical prowess of FX tag team Josh & Sierra Russell is mightily impressive and culminates in a couple of exemplary gags that ladle on the gloopy grue with wildest abandonment. On this bloodthirsty evidence, Stewart has quite the team around him to push on and Evelyn’s grisly ghouls are welcome at my place anytime, provided Crampton’s on hostess duties.

Read Re-Animator Appraisal
Read From Beyond Appraisal
Read Castle Freak Appraisal
Read We Are Still Here Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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