The eighties are often credited as the time of the VHS and video stores, but the nineties is where the VHS truly hit its stride. Throughout the eighties, the VHS spent most of its time in a war with Betamax, trying to lure customers to their format. Although Betamax was technically superior, VHS eventually won out, and by 1990 while VHS was collecting and reaping its rewards, Betamax was still trying to convince us that it was the superior format. VHS was so powerful it even evaded being sideswiped by the technically superior, albeit more expensive, Laserdisc, which jumped out like a rocket in the early nineties and eventually faded away.
It’s appreciated now as a beautiful format that was way ahead of its time, but back in the nineties right up until 1999, VHS was king. Back then, with the accessibility of VHS and the easy access to camcorders, people filmed everything on VHS. Everything. You could find literally anything if you looked hard enough, from rock concerts, to instructional videos, to talk show panels about Christianity, to music videos, and even illegal activities.
That’s probably why VHS has become such a mythical item in the collector’s market for movie lovers and collectors today. There was just something about holding a VHS and sliding it in to the VCR that made you feel you were opening a Pandora’s box. Again, in the nineties everything was on VHS, and companies even tried engineering board games to include VHS as a form of helping the player to interact and immerse themselves even further in to the world that they’d created on a flat board with plastic pieces.
“Beyond the Gates” taps in to that fascinating corner of the VHS media with a tape that becomes a portal in to another world. “Beyond the Gates” is “Hellraiser” meets “The Gate” meets “Jumanji,” as director Jackson Stewart builds a whole new horror universe with its own series of rules and principles. Thankfully “Beyond the Gates” is a strong enough movie that peaked my interest enough where I wanted to see more of this whole dimension and learn more about its inner workings.
In “Beyond the Gates,” two estranged brothers Gordon and John decide to reunite after their videophile father goes missing for seven months. Convinced he’s either died or moved to another state, they decide it’s best to clean up his belongings once and for all. With Gordon’s girlfriend Margot arriving for emotional support, Gordon and John discover the key to their dad’s private office, and before long find a VHS board game known as “Beyond the Gates.” Coordinated on tape by a gorgeous enigmatic woman played by the one and only Barbara Crampton, the pair of brothers decides to investigate further in the game and before long are looking in to the abyss.
“Beyond the Gates” is a moody and atmospheric horror gem that doesn’t rely too much on the niche nostalgic video board games. It’s surely a plot element that’s crucial to the narrative, but it’s not a gratuitous means of evoking nostalgia. The video board games always had an air of menace to them, even at their most novel, and Jackson Stewart turns it in to his own Lament Configuration, except this kind of device taps in to our fears and vulnerabilities.
“Beyond the Gates” is a lot about two brothers dwelling on their past and the deaths of their loved ones, incapable of moving on and reconciling. There’s a ton of influence by Clive Barker here, from the device that taps in to the dimension to curator of said device. His “Do you like board games?” might become the next “What is your pleasure, sir?” Brea Grant is very good as Margot, the moral center of the pair of brothers who basically tries to keep them together.
Even when they’re butting heads, and she plays a stellar role as protagonist Gordon’s link to a better life that he’s aspiring toward when we meet him. Graham Skipper and Brea Grant meld well as an on-screen couple, and Skipper is a top notch protagonist thrust in to this extraordinary situation. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a sequel, but I wouldn’t mind visiting this mysterious paranormal device once again and see what this alternate dimension is about. Also, it never hurts to see Barbara Crampton pop up in horror films.