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A review of "The Gate II: Trespassers" (1990)

aka, "The Gate II: Trespassers"

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

I'm giving The Gate II: Trespassers too high a score.  I'm aware it's not actually that good a movie.  In fact, one might even go so far as to call it a "bad" movie.  But it's enjoyable movie regardless, and it has the charm that only cheap '80s movies with claymation effects and a complete disregard for believable human psychology can muster.  If you have any kind of nostalgic love for white kid horror, check this one out.

My Rating: 3 / 5

The Plot Summary

Y'all saw The Gate, right?  Baby Stephen Dorff opens a gate to Hell in his backyard and shoots a rocket into a three-story demon?  No?  Well, doesn't really matter.  The Gate II is one of those sequels where you'd think having the backstory to the protagonist would make the premise a little more believable - or at least digestible - but actually you might as well be watching it cold since the characters are so ridiculous, anyway.

This time around, the story concerns Terry, Stephen Dorff's nerdy best friend from the original.  To the film's credit, they brought back the same actor (Louis Tripp), so that's a nice bit of continuity.  (Plus, Tibor Tacaks returns as the writer/director.  He's kind of a favorite on this blog; see also my posts on I, Madman and Mansquito.)

The film opens some time after Terry's misadventures with demons, and Stephen Dorff's house is still a smashed wreck.  For some reason, being possessed by spirits from another world has done nothing to put Terry off the supernatural, and he now indulges in some amateur demonology in his spare time.  He believes that if he does his research, he can re-open The Gate more safely and actually control the demons who come out of it.  Through ambiguous provisions of the Unified Hell Code, this also means said demons will make his wishes come true.

Terry goes to his friend's abandoned house / crater one night with the intent of carrying out an elaborate demon summoning ritual.  Unfortunately, before he can finish, he is accosted by three bullies who happen to be passing by at the time: John, the leader, Moe, the stooge, and Liz, John's girlfriend (played by a young Pamela Segall before she was Pamela Adlon).  John and Moe give Terry a hard time and shove him around, but Liz wants them to take it easy because she's kinda into demonology for some reason.

Suddenly all four of them are part of the ritual and they each make a wish in secret.  Terry succeeds in opening the gate long enough to bring a tiny demon into our world.  Then John pulls out a revolver and shoots it, seemingly to death.  The bullies leave and Terry takes the demon's body for... I don't know, research or something.

Liz is suddenly really interested in Terry at school and wants to get to know him more.  (Little known fact: ritualistic animal slaughter drives women wild.)  They get to talking and we get a little more exposition about both.  Turns out Terry isn't just a completely careless asshat who goes around summoning demons willy-nilly - no, his angle in the wish-fulfillment game was to get his father (a drunk who's hit hard times and been unemployed for awhile) back into a successful career as an airline pilot.

(Side note - airlines pay dick.  If you're concerned about money and you really wanted your dad to have stability, you'd wish for him to be an FAA Inspector or a Standards Officer at Boeing or something like that.  Wishing to be an airline pilot is kinda like wishing to be a truck driver.  It's respectable and honest work, but any glamour you think it has comes from you, not from the job.)

Anyway, then the demon comes back to life.  Surprise!  Turns out the bullet only stunned him.

Terry locks the demon in a spare hamster cage (poor Fuzzy was sacrificed in the opening sequence) and Liz immediately starts egging the little guy on to grant them wishes.  They go on a "shopping" spree, wishing for a convertible, cash, and all other kinds of material nonsense.  For a moment, things seem to be going well.

But then two terrible turns happen:

1) The wishes all turn to (literal) crap.  Terry's dad's new job as an airline pilot gets him in a terrible crash which hospitalizes him and all the boxes of cool stuff Liz and Terry wished for turn into molten pools of goo and/or feces.  Turns out they didn't do the ritual correctly, so the demon can't make the wishes last.

2) John and Moe come to Terry's house, trash it, beat up Terry, and steal the demon.

Terry and Liz team up to work on a new ritual that will set things right again and put the demon back in the other world.  John and Moe, in the meantime, go off on their own "shopping" spree, unaware that their wishes will be temporary and disastrous.

Disastrous proves to come sooner than later.  While John and Moe are laughing it up at a fancy restaurant - where they've tipped the host and wait staff with wish-gained hundred dollar bills to look past their wretched clothes - John starts feeling unwell.  He runs to the restroom and finds that his body is slowly, painfully undergoing some kind of metamorphosis.  In an outburst of anguish, he bursts out of the bathroom wall, then dives through a window, gets in his car, and tries to peel out of the parking lot.  Why this was preferable to just leaving through the door, I have no idea.

Moe takes John to one of those abandoned factories that always seems to be in movies like this and hides him there, then goes to get help from Terry and Liz.  When everybody returns to the factory, they find that John has transformed into an enormous demon; it appears the gate has remained open long enough for our world to blur into the demons' world, and now they're running out of time to set things right.

They all get into a bunch of big fights and/or chase scenes in which Moe variously dies and transforms into a demon.  Eventually everybody is pulled into the Demon World.  Demon John and Demon Moe try to force Terry to sacrifice Liz in another ritual that will permanently open the gate.  Terry, too, is starting to transform into a demon, and just as his last ounce of humanity is about to fade, Liz (using a music box that was seeded much earlier in the movie) reminds Terry of what he once was.  Terry fights back, ends the ritual, kills Demon John and Demon Moe, and destroys the link between worlds.

We cut to a funeral scene.  Terry is being buried and everybody's sad.  Then Terry bursts out of his coffin, no worse for the wear.  Liz celebrates and gives him a smooch, and as everybody wanders into the sunset, John and Moe - back in human form - climb out of the coffin for one more crappy one liner.  The End.

The Stuff I Didn't Like

Very little of this movie make sense.

I'm not even sure I understand the basic premise anymore.  I thought it was about a kid who opens a gateway to Hell, through which demons can travel.  Then the second and third acts happened and I can't even make sense of the mythology anymore.  Is it not Hell?  Is it just some Demon Land where a bunch of assholes hang out?

At one point Terry does actually give a monologue that explains this a bit, and it involves these Lovecraftian monsters who were trapped in another dimension and want to get out.  So... it's not Hell.  It's just "the space between spaces." So where did all the Hell-themed stuff come from?  Why are they "demons" instead of "aliens?"  Why are there pentagrams?

And how do they grant wishes?  That's not a part of the Lovecraftian mythos or the Christian mythos.  Demons do your bidding, but they don't make cars and wads of cash magically appear.  And even when they do help you out, you have to sell them your soul.  Where's the scene where he makes a Faustian deal?

But let's leave the mythology aside: why is Terry doing any of this?  He barely survived a demon attack in the first movie!  Does he not remember how terrifying that was?  Is he that much of an idiot?  It's like having a sequel to Jaws where Brody becomes a shark photographer.

What this should have been was a situation where some other kid on the block who's really morbid and weird finds a book on demonology and opens The Gate, and then Terry has to be the wizened old warrior who comes out of retirement (I know, I know, he's only like 16, but bear with me) to save the day and do battle once again.

But Terry is just one of many people whose gleeful disregard for safety and reason confounds me.  You stumble upon some nerd speaking backward into a microphone and summoning deadly black goo in the middle of the night.  Is your reaction A) run away and hope he didn't see you, B) call somebody with any form of authority who may want to be aware that something creepy and supernatural is happening, or C) shove him and call him a loser, then demand to be part of the ritual?

The fact that the bullies show up out of nowhere and then end up being main characters is bothersome - that's just lazy writing - but what makes it ludicrous is how blasé they are about it.  At first they just think Terry's full of crap, so I get why they start out teasing him - but the second they realize there's actual magic happening and they don't stop to question the virtue of hellraising, the entire cast just turns into a bunch of crazy people who do things because the script tells them to.

Even the title doesn't make sense to me.  "Trespassers?"  Who the hell is trespassing?  The humans summoned the demons, and the demons invited / dragged the humans into their world.  Everything was above board.  Or at least, as above board as inter-dimensional travel can be.  Their passports were in order, is what I'm saying.  Nobody was trespassing on anything.

The Part About Movie Bullies

While I'm on the topic of weird things I didn't understand: what's up with the bullies in this movie?

For one thing, how old are they?  Liz and Terry both go to high school and I'm going to guess they're 16 or 17.  But John and Moe are never seen in school and kinda act like transient card sharks who haven't learned how to play poker yet.  Are they supposed to be in their 20s?  If so: ewwww.  John, you're dating a 16 year-old and you're calling Terry a loser?

The bullies in this movie are of the nefarious class of villainous youths that appeared in so many movies from the '70s, '80s, and '90s to make me terrified of high school when I was a kid.  Thanks to movies, I was convinced that high school was like a literal war zone where smarmy jerks carried around weapons and had no qualms about bludgeoning you and smashing up everything you owned.  While that may be true in some inner city schools, most bullies are just assholes who haven't yet met a bigger, tougher asshole. They don't get away with that much.

Not in the suburbs, anyway.  My daughter has yet to go to high school and meet bullies, so I'll report back on how that shit goes down in the city if or when I have to deal with it.

Part of me wants to defend this kind of presentation as a sort of over-dramatic, stylized depiction of what it feels like to be bullied.  A lot of teachers and administrators do turn a blind eye to "low level" bullying, so you end up with assholes saying and doing some nasty shit and completely getting away with it.  (Like the bully I had who regularly spat on me whenever he was within loogie distance, often aiming for my head.)  Or, they just do stuff that would be embarrassing for you to report.  (Like the bully who made a habit of grabbing my fat man-boob and shouting "honk!" whenever he walked by me in the hallway.)  When you're a kid in that kind of situation, it feels like you're in a helpless situation and that the bad guys could literally get away with doing anything, and nobody will come to your aid. So in cinematic terms, sure, it's like you're up against an out-and-out Bad Guy.

...but let's be serious.  Nobody ever bludgeoned me within an inch of my life or set fire to my car or busted out the windows of my house.  You get arrested for that in real life, bro.  Movie bullies are kinda bullshit.

The Stuff I Liked

...all that being said, I still had fun with this movie.

It's incredibly dumb, but it's breezy, and I think that makes all the difference.  The lackadaisical, "who cares it if it's believable, let's just get this show on the road" spirit doesn't make for good drama, but it does make for efficient storytelling.  It's a snappy, quick movie, and I appreciate that.

On the Bad Movie Rating System, I think I have to give this one a Not Actually a Bad Movie.  In terms of what you want to get out of the movie - creature effects, a couple of gross-out moments, a nerd fighting some bullies and getting the girl in the end, matte paintings - it delivers.  But in terms of being a cinematic success - acting, writing, thematic relevance - it's an abject failure.  Funny how those two things are not mutually inclusive.

The weird thing about Not Actually a Bad Movie bad movies is that they're not really good fodder for Bad Movie Night.  You don't watch these ironically; you watch them and enjoy them despite yourself.

So unfortunately, I don't think most people will like this.  I would recommend this to fans of the original, or maybe fans of other gleefully mindless horror flicks like Mind Hunters and Deep Blue Sea.  Everybody else is probably advised to skip it.

Where You Can Watch

If you go before it gets pulled for copyright violation, you can watch The Gate II for free on Youtube.

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