1987 was an exceedingly awesome year for kid-centric horror movies. In the span of just a few months, we were treated to both Tibor Takács’ The Gate and Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad, and honestly, there may have not been a better year to be a young genre fan during that decade than in good ol’ 1987. And while there were an incredible amount of quality horror movies for this writer to dig into from that 12-month span of releases, one movie that I always had a deep appreciation for was The Gate, a story that I related to on numerous levels, even if I never happened to summon a horde of demons from digging a hole in my backyard.

An ambitious and good-hearted modern fairy tale that bluntly examined the universal horrors of growing up—both literally and figuratively—The Gate is an admirable genre debut from Takács, who had previously worked in Canadian television, as well as in the Great North’s metal music scene (and you can see how the latter influenced his work on The Gate, particularly with the character of Terry, whose own penchant for heavy metal comes in handy). The filmmaker discussed how it was another project he was developing at the time that led to him directing the kid-centric horror fantasy for producer John Kemeny.

“The way that it all happened was, I was promoting a script that I was trying to get done based on a book called The Girl Who Owned a City,” explained Takács. “And I received a lot of attention for it because it was a post-apocalyptic story about kids in a world where there's no adults, similar to Lord of the Flies, but with a female lead. There was a lot of interest and I took a lot of meetings. From those meetings, one of the guys I met was John Kemeny, who ended up as the producer of The Gate. He expressed some interest in my project, but he felt that he wanted to raise the age of the kids, and to me, that was outrageous, because it wouldn’t make sense.”

“When I had met with him, we left things kind of open-ended, and when he called me a little while later, I thought, ‘Oh my God, maybe he's changed his mind.’ So, when I went to the meeting, I was thinking, ‘We're having a meeting about my project,’ but really, it was something completely different. At the meeting, he said to me, ‘Tibor, I've got these three projects coming up, and I want you to do one of them. Read these scripts, and pick the one that you want.’ I can’t remember what one of them was, but the other was The Wraith, which I wasn’t really sure about. But it was The Gate that really stood out for me. I really took to it because I felt it had a lot of potential, and it incorporated this idea of enchantment that had always struck a chord with me.”

“I had always wanted to do things that were like fairy tales. I really feel like fairy tales are an important part of your development, your creativity, especially when you’re young. I feel like you have to experience fear when you’re young because it opens up a floodgate to imagination. My own experience is, to me, filled with those seminal things that happened when I was kid. Like when I saw Snow White. I was a scared little kid after, but that really fueled my imagination. That's not why I make these movies, but it does explain why I was drawn to these types of stories,” Takács added.

In The Gate, we are introduced to rocket enthusiast and pre-teen Glen (Stephen Dorff), whose nightmares and reality begin to collide after discovering a geode in his backyard, unearthed by a tree that had to be dug up. Glen and his best pal, Terry (Louis Tripp) retrieve the geode to investigate it further, unwittingly opening a portal to a demon-plagued dimension after Glen cuts his finger and his blood activates the gateway. Right around the same time, Glen’s parents decide to take off for a few days, leaving his older sister, Alexandra (Christa Denton), in charge.

With the supernatural forces at play on their property, the trio of tweens have to contend with a cavalcade of otherworldly problems in The Gate, including tiny demons, ghostly apparitions, angry moths, a zombie-like entity contained within their home’s walls, and a demonic overlord. And to take on such a tall order, Takács knew he needed to find the best kid actors for the job.

“We cast a very wide net when we were casting The Gate. Mary Gail Artz, the casting director, was really aggressive in her pursuits. She made me look at a lot of kids, and we screen tested them all. I looked for a kind of compatibility, a believability, because I wanted the family to feel like a family. I was very much about that, keeping the relationships believable between everyone in this film, including Glen and Terry. It was all about choice and finding people that I thought would be a good match.”

“And Stephen was great. He had this ability to convey this idea that he believed, or wanted to believe, in everything that was happening, but he was skeptical. I was looking for that kid. To me, Glen needed to be the audience's point of view, whereas Terry was the kid that believed in all of it wholeheartedly. He had totally bought into these supernatural entities. So even though they were best friends, Terry and Glen are also opposites. It’s like the magic versus science debate, and I thought both Stephen and Louis embodied that really well.”

“Also, originally in the script, Glen’s older sibling was a brother,” Takács continued. “Maybe because when I was Glen's age, I had a very strong relationship with my sister, and so we were the ones that experienced these kinds of enchantments when we were growing up together. Because of our relationship, it felt natural to me to make that character a sister. I have a brother who's 15 years younger than I am, so I didn’t have that brother-brother relationship until some years later.”

With pre-production underway on The Gate, Takács found the project suddenly sidelined due to some money-related issues, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. “We were scheduled to start shooting in the fall and we got delayed by several months because of financing. But the producers kept myself and [effects designer] Randy Cook on to just keep planning, and that's how we were able to storyboard everything and really talk it out. I had lots of time to work with Michael [Nankin] on the script, too, so we ended up having a beautiful incubation period before we went to camera. And it was a very inexpensive prep time, because I think it was only Randy and I who were really on the clock during that time, so producers were lucky in that regard.”

When it came to creating The Gate’s elaborate practical effects, Takács knew he needed someone who would be able to embrace the film’s budgetary restrictions, rather than use them as an excuse to cut back on his vision for the project.

“I told John Kemeny when I took this job, ‘If we're going to do this movie, and I'm going to be involved, I really want to be careful about who we choose to do the special effects.’ And it was this big, long process to choose Randy, too, because I had interviewed dozens and dozens of people, and had companies bidding all over Hollywood. I talked to every company that was around at the time, and it ended up that a lot of them we couldn't afford. People kept saying, ‘Oh my God, this is too overly ambitious,’ but when I spoke to Randy the first time, and he had read the script, he spoke of the possibilities, whereas everybody else spoke of the limitations.”

“When I spoke to Randy, he mentioned using stop-motion, and that’s something I've always been a big fan of ever since I saw Darby O'Gill and the Little People. That was another movie that used a lot of forced perspective. So, because Randy brought up that idea, and I loved it, I just knew he was the guy who could make all this work. Before The Gate, he never had the opportunity to actually be the supervisor of this stuff, and to actually design a lot of these things. He called himself an ‘oarsman on a death ship’ when he was working at Richard Edlund's company, but now he turned into a ‘captain of the ship’ on The Gate, where we got to try out a lot of his stuff, and the decisions were all his.”

“I tried to keep as many of the effects that were written into the script as possible,” Takács continued. “Because there's always a tendency of, once the budget comes in, everyone wants to cut the effects because it’ll be expensive or it’ll take too much time. But, because Randy and I had all those months to plan, we were able to create a kind of military operation that got it all done. In some ways, we were lucky that the producers didn't exactly understand what we were doing. The crazy, elaborate, forced perspective stuff we were planning, they didn't realize the risk involved. I think if they knew how many moving parts there was to get all these effects right, they would have said, ‘Hey, man, you have to simplify this.’ But they never did.”

“Plus, the whole point of shooting in Canada was that labor was a little cheaper than in Hollywood at the time. I think it's changed where everything is pretty much equalized now, but back then, construction was much less expensive. We could afford to build a house inside the studio and some other things that you wouldn't normally do on a lower-budget movie.”

One might expect that the practical effects would be the biggest hurdle that Takács would have to overcome on The Gate, but in fact, the only real obstacles that came up throughout production ended up being related to his trio of young stars.

“The biggest challenge was realizing how little time we actually had with the children because of the child labor rules. In theory, you can see the schedule, and everything looks great, but then when it comes time to actually doing it, you're like, ‘Oh my God, we can only work for 45 minutes every three hours, basically.’ I was kind of new to that because I had worked with kids before, but never for any great length of time.”

“So, it turned out that I had to do the bulk of the movie without them, but sometimes Randy would need the kids for the effects, so it was tricky. We split the work up in a way where we had the main unit working on one stage, and on the stage right next door, Randy would be preparing a special effects set. Those sets would take a day or two to build, but because they were notoriously last minute, they could barely finish the set, so we would always end up having only like five minutes at the end of the second day to actually shoot the effect.”

“Thank God Randy was so meticulous and a perfectionist,” Takács added, “because those tendencies usually paid off and it all worked great, as you can see in the movie. Not every shot is perfect, but a lot of them turned out spectacular. I'm sure if we had a chance to go back a second time for another take or another day, maybe it would have been better. But I’m still proud of what we were able to do, even with limited shooting time.”

While there’s a lot associated with The Gate that Takács is still proud of three decades after its release, he recalled two scenes in particular that are amongst his favorite moments.

“When I think of The Gate, there are two scenes that have always really stuck out to me. One of them is the sequence where the kids are stuck in the house, the minions are in the bedroom, they're trying to get out, and as they run downstairs, the parents come home. Glen sees his mom and she starts laughing at him, and then his dad tells him, ‘You've been bad.’ And then Glen tries to push him away but his face turns into like an old pumpkin, and everyone runs back in the house. All of those moments together really encompassed that feeling of ‘enchantment’ that I wanted this movie to have. It all came together beautifully.”

“The other scene that I have always really liked is when Glen and the big Demon Lord have a moment with each other. This was a really pivotal moment in the movie to me, because not all horror movies have it. A lot of great horror movies do have that scene in it, where the protagonist and the antagonist get to stare each other down, and they both realize that they're somehow connected by fate, or maybe, in some ways they're the same. I always thought that was a really powerful moment in the movie, and really love how it came out.”

When The Gate was released in May 1987, it proved to be a financial success for all involved, and put Dorff as well as Takács on the proverbial Hollywood map. It also became a launching point in the career of Randy Cook as an independent FX artist, and even garnered a sequel, The Gate II: Trespassers, which Takács also directed just a few years later.

“To see The Gate become a success was very gratifying,” Takács reflected. “I've talked about it before, but in this movie, we were all doing things that we loved, or would want to see if we were a younger person watching this movie. We put a lot of love into The Gate. Everybody brought love to the project, and we were able to come together as a team where it felt like everybody was contributing. And when that happens, it seems to come across on the screen. And then, to see a small independent movie without any stars at the time, hold its own against the big blockbusters was great. I’m proud of the fact that The Gate has become this movie that opens up the horror floodgates in this very gentle way. It doesn't blast you over the head. Instead, it makes you contemplate the idea of what is scary in a way where it's very much like a fairy tale, and I think that’s why people can relate to it very easily.”


This retrospective is part of our Class of 1987 special features celebrating a wide range of genre films that were first released thirty years ago. Stay tuned to Daily Dead in the coming days for more pieces celebrating one of the most exciting graduating classes in horror and sci-fi, and check here to read all of our Class of ’87 retrospectives.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.