VHS

Beyond the Gates

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After their father’s mysterious disappearance, two estranged brothers come together to go through their father’s belongings. The first stop is the family’s old video store. While combing through the large inventory the brothers come across an old VHS board game. They decide to take the game home and give it a try. As soon as they hit play the brothers realize that this game may have something to do with their father’s disappearance, and they have to play in order to save him.

Beyond the Gates immediately does an excellent job of immersing viewers in the past while keeping the film in the present. As soon as the brothers step into the old video store it is like taking a step back in time. It will instantly make you think of your Friday nights spent perusing the racks of VHS tapes at Hollywood Video or Blockbuster. While not everyone experienced the VHS board games that were popular in the 80’s and 90’s, the nostalgic message still comes across loud and clear. The audience gets to experience that nostalgia through the eyes of the brothers, one who is trying to move on from the past and one who seems to be stuck in it. Gordon is the level-headed brother that wants to forget his father and be rid of all his father’s assets. His brother, John, still has fond memories of better times spent in the video store. They have an interesting dynamic because it is clear at one time they were very close, but time and distance has pulled them apart. They start their reunion off quite awkwardly around each other. It isn’t until they dive deeper into the game that they become closer.

In general, the plot is very compelling. The relationship between the brothers and the mystery is fascinating to watch unfold. Unfortunately, the film loses some of its spark in the final act. The excitement builds and builds throughout the film, but then what should be the climax “inside” the game ends in a fizzle. When the brothers cross over into the game the smaller budget becomes apparent, resulting in funky lighting, fog machines, and not-so-scary bad guys. It’s hard to determine if this was due to the film’s budget, or if this was another stab at nostalgia since many films of that era ended in a similar fashion. Either way, it detracted from the rest of the events that preceded it.

While the entire cast of this film are phenomenal, special recognition goes to the two leads. Graham Skipper (The Devil’s Dolls, Space Clowns) plays the straight-laced Gordon. Despite his somewhat rigid demeanor, Skipper makes Gordon a likable and complex character. Skipper especially shines when the story dives deeper into why Gordon hates his past so much. Then there is Chase Williamson (Sequence Break, John Dies at the End) as John. This is the kind of character that Williamson is best at, a man stuck in the past that could potentially be considered a bit of a loser. Yet he is always endearing and lovable. The on screen brotherly chemistry between Skipper and Williamson is pure magic.

Since Beyond the Gates highlights the 80’s and 90’s VHS board games, it only makes sense that the filmmakers would opt for practical effects. That being said, there really aren’t a lot of them. The director smartly found creative ways to carry out the couple kills in the film in a way that hints at gore more than anything else. It was a very imaginative way to give the audience the excitement they expect from a horror film without completely blowing their budget on elaborate practical effects. The only part of the film that could have benefited from more effects was the climax, but everything leading up to the point works well within the context of the film.

Beyond the Gates is dripping with nostalgia and gives horror fans a compelling story that will take them back to their childhood. It has such a fun and unique story, as well as a great cast of characters, that I have no doubt it will become a cult classic. Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond) has a hilarious cameo that alone makes the film worth a watch. Unfortunately the climax will likely leave viewers wanting something more. If it can be overlooked, then Beyond the Gates will become a household favorite among horror fans young and old.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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Well, I’m going to start this review by saying that I absolutely loved the first two films in this series. For those of you that have not seen them, the premise centers around secret videos of supernatural events. If you watch them in a certain order, something strange happens to the viewer. The past movies have consisted of 5-6 shorts with an overarching storyline about the people watching these videos. While the first two films achieved creating an anthology of really unique and horrifying stories, this third installment failed miserably. I will start by breaking down each segment and then go after the film as a whole.

“Vicious Circles”: This segment made the least sense of them all. I couldn’t even begin to give a synopsis of it, because it is so disjointed. What makes this especially frustrating is that it is supposed to be the story that keeps everything glued together. All it does is confuse the entire film and have a rather lackluster ending.

“Dante The Great”: When this segment started I had high hopes. This one focuses on a famous magician whose tricks turn out to be more than what your run of the mill magician can do, thanks to a mysterious cloak. Unfortunately, it had a pretty lackluster climax and ending, turning it from intriguing to just down right cheesy.

“Parallel Monsters”: This was another segment that had me greatly interested. A man manages to create an opening into an alternate universe, which at first appears to be just like his own. He switches with his alternate self for 15 minutes, and only after the switch does he realize that the alternate universe is completely different from his own. It seems like a very interesting concept, until you found out what the difference between the two worlds was. It was so ridiculous you couldn’t help but laugh and think “WTF?”

“Bonestorm”: The focus of this segment is a couple skateboarders who hire a camera guy to film their tricks. They decide that Tijuana would be a good place to finish their video. Somehow, of all the places to skateboard, they end up in a ditch that has strange writing everywhere, a couple shrines, and dog poop (yes, I said dog poop). Soon the group discovers they are surrounded by some kind of cult trying to awaken a beast. This one is honestly the least absurd of all the segments, and there are at least a few scenes that made me chuckle.

I had such high hopes for this movie, especially since the first two are amazing. I think aside from the shorts being more nonsensical and not even remotely scary, the thing that upset me the most was the overarching storyline of “Vicious Circles.” In the first two films you could clearly tell when they were showing you the main story and then switching over to one of the videos being watched by the people in the main story. When the “Vicious Circles” storyline moved into “Dante the Great,” it took me a while to realize they were not supposed to be part of the same segment. Ultimately, I would not recommend seeing this film. If you are like me and loved the first films (so you feel compelled to finish the series), just keep in mind that this one pales in comparison.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/10