After their father's unexplained disappearance, two estranged brothers – responsible Gordon (Graham Skipper) and reckless John (Chase Williamson) – reunite to sift through the contents of his stubbornly anachronistic VHS rental store. Among the inventory, they find an old interactive VCR board game. Intrigued, the brothers pop in the tape… and soon discover that this video is no ordinary game, but a portal to a nightmarish alternate reality – one with deadly consequences for anyone who dares to press "play." Featuring horror legend Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Beyond The Gates is a retro-cool tale of "hex, dies, and videotape" from director Jackson Stewart!
“A wise man would read the instructions.”
Gordon got his life together after leaving small town America. He bought some button-up shirts, found a nice girl, and got a mortgage. The last thing he wants to do is return and deal with his family, much less his washed up brother Jason. In Beyond the Gates, co-writer/director Jackson Stewart uses a narrow niche of 80’s nostalgia to anchor the story of two brothers reuniting under sad circumstances. What eventually heals the broken bond between the brothers is more sinister and horrific than they expected.
Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chase Williamson) meet at their dad’s cluttered video store to pack up its contents. Their abusive father has a habit of disappearing but this seven-month stretch has enough weight to warrant closing up the shop. Gordon just wants to move on and forget his crappy childhood while John holds onto happy memories of the store’s catalog of gems. While digging through the back office they come across a VHS board game with the tape still in the VCR. Curious, they sit down to play the game with Gordon’s girlfriend Margot in hopes that it might rekindle some brotherly love. Upon pressing PLAY the game’s host Evelyn (Barbara Crampton) offers the players a chance to save their father’s soul from eternal damnation. Intrigued, the trio proceeds with violent real world consequences after a roll of the dice, “Have you the courage to go beyond the gates?”
Staring a number of seasoned genre actors, including Barbara Crampton as the creepy game host, Beyond the Gates smartly employs an analogue aesthetic to showcase an often forgotten element of the VHS era so fondly remembered by us pre-internet geezers. Working with a limited budget, Stewart uses this to his advantage with each location tailored for the production without much effort. “Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee” is an actual store in Hollywood where the opening scenes were filmed. I tell ya, when those guys are going through the aisles I got a bit weepy eyed for those analogue days of old. Once inside the game the unexpected violent gore effects look brilliant for such a independent production even if they feel a bit forced. Bland Interiors work quite easily for a production set in a sleepy small town. Extra credit goes to the town curiosity shop filled with collectible horrors that would even please Guillermo del Toro.
Unfortunately, Beyond the Gates didn’t work for me. Writers Stephen Scarlata and Jackson Stewart easily translate their passions on screen through the bickering brothers. You can tell from lines like “Dad didn’t have a lot of faith in the dvd boom” or their intricate interior shots of a VCR playing a tape that these guys live and breathe this stuff. However, I couldn’t shake their lackluster characters and the uneven pacing. Graham Skipper and Chase Williams are fine actors but the snail's pace at which they churn out the family drama drags the film down severely. I felt a bit like Margot at dinner sitting between the estranged brothers waiting for something to happen. Working as a character piece from the start seemed like a wise approach to a point, but with everything from the artwork to the cast pointing to fantastic 80’s neon horror it needed to get the ball (or dice) rolling sooner.
Beyond the Gates works well when the game is moving our players through horrific challenges with real world consequences. Seeing the stakes rise with every move on the board elevates this film into a fun and exciting horror romp. It’s the kind of film that even with it’s shortcomings viewers who are excited by the premise will enjoy it no matter what. See it with the lights turned off and the volume turned up.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Beyond the Gates makes it’s HD debut thanks to IFC Midnight and Shout! Factory. The film is pressed onto a Region A BD50 disc housed within a standard blue keepcase. Disc plays through three trailers before landing on the static Main Menu with typical navigation options. When you hear the eerie synth pop track you’ve made it.
Beyond the Gates is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer looks surprisingly good given the film’s numerous dark interior settings. Detail is sharp with facial features, clothing textures, and backgrounds registering clearly. Black levels are deep and consistent throughout the feature. Skin tones are even. Colors are dynamic and pop nicely with all those neon lights and effects.
Beyond the Gates arrives with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DD 2.0 tracks that fill the space nicely within the surround and stereo fields. Syth scoring sounds great with emphasis on lower frequencies allowing bass tones to carry the dread through the feature. Surround channels get to shine occasionally outside of typical ambient and environmental effects. Dialogue is clear and clean. Wojciech Golczewski’s cool synth scoring is spot on and more than enough reason to crank up the volume.
Behind the Scenes Featurette (HD 10:59) - Cast interviews and set footage highlight this brief look at the film’s production.
Deleted Scenes (HD 2:49) - Two short sequences that were removed from the final cut.
Premiere Q&A - Moderated by Stuart Gordon (HD 17:28) A nice little Q&A with most of the cast and crew. Cult director Stuart Gordon is barely intelligible thanks to poor audio quality. Turn up the volume to hear some pretty great anecdotes about the film and it’s cast.
Sex Boss Short Film (HD 5:32) - A fun short film from director Jackson Stewart starring Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin.
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:06)
Retro Beyond the Gates Commercial (HD 0:51) - Very effective retro commercial for the game. Kinda wish this was the tone and vision for the film. It’s so perfect.
Director/Co-Writer Jackson Stewart, Actors Barbara Crampton And Jesse Merlin, Director Of Photography Brian Sowell, And Co-Writer Stephen Scarlata
Director/Co-Writer Jackson Stewart And Actors Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, And Graham Skipper
Junk Food Dinner Podcast Hosts Kevin Moss, Parker Bowman, And Sean Byron
Beyond the Gates is an imaginative and fun independent horror film that will appeal to 80’s kids who spent too much time in front of the TV. Unfortunately, it left me wanting more of the game’s violent fun and less of the awkward family drama. Shout! Factory and IFC Midnight have put together an excellent A/V presentation and an entertaining slate of special features which make this Blu-ray worth checking out. Recommended for fans of independent horror.