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Beyond The Gates (Blu-ray Review)

Its not often that I get super hyped for one of the modern movies that Scream Factory & IFC Midnight put out.  Some of them, yeah, I look forward to, but catching the trailer on Beyond the Gates grabbed me and had me wanting to skip the rest of it as to not spoil. A film backed and starring legend Barbara Crampton, I was already interested, but when I saw what it was ACTUALLY about, I was thrilled. VCR board games are something that totally fascinated me when I was a kid and still do. I still have me Clue: The VCR Mystery Game in good condition, though nobody will ever play it with me (As was then as is now). Community did an episode on these during their run. Now here comes a sweet looking horror movie about one.  Now, if the movie can live up to the excitement I have to watch it. We’ll see, but I have a feeling Scream Factory has another winner on their hands. You can order yourself a copy to check it out by using the Amazon link below.

Film 

Welcome, curious viewers…have you the courage to go Beyond The Gates? After their father’s unexplained disappearance, two estranged brothers – responsible Gordon and reckless John – 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.”

Beyond the Gates has its head in the right place and (I believe) all the talent to make a great film on this premise, but it falls a little short, winding up pretty good. Its probably more a money issue and the desire to make a cheaper horror film, but it seemed to me like the movie was going to bring a bit more fantasy to it, but it ends up just being a movie that takes place in a house. Now, that’s not on the movie, that’s on me for my own expectation. I do respect what I received, its still fun and good, but I hungered for just a little more.

Jackson Stewart’s film really does nail it in the areas of lighting, scoring, cinematography, gore and performances. To he and the screenwriter’s credit, they refuse to fully plunge down a nostalgia hole for this. There are no “remember that? That was cool” moments in the film and while there is a setting of an old VHS ma and pa rental store that is revisited throughout, they never sit and pander it with obvious tape covers, posters or discussion about old movies or things regarding the format. They make it a part of the story, a device and a crux for the conflict. Its perfect and allows this just to be a solid film.

Character work in the film is a strong suit. The film is just as invested in their depth and personal arcs as it is with the horror. That’s the danger embellishing in the throwback stuff could have brought, but it doesn’t. We have some surprising background on our protagonists and it gets to slowly, naturally unveiled and we really know these characters, their relationships and motivations. It does come with a price, though, it takes probably longer than necessary to get to the VCR game and the 82 minute movie feels a hair long in the tooth. But, I can’t knock someone for caring about their characters as it makes them far more important and gives the audience more stakes for them when stuff finally does get in motion.

Said protagonists are an interesting group. I was only familiar with Brea Grant, whom I really enjoy and still to this day surprised that she’s not a part of more high profile projects. Oh well, she’s great here and her co-stars are pretty solid. Another indie actor I’m a fan of, Justin Welbron, has a devious little turn as a complete a-hole. Barbara Crampton really, truly just is the host of the game. But damn, does she sit and chew the scenery and look like she’s having some fun. While not in every scene, she’s such a presence in the video that she looms eerily over the whole movie.

While I felt it could have done just a little more, Beyond The Gates is STILL a really fun throwback to some B-level 80s spooky supernatural horror and the bygone VHS era. What’s best about this movie is that stuff is just mainly background and set dressing, as the film doesn’t even for a moment become drunk on nostalgia and just tells a story in modern times and keeps rooted in its characters. Pacing could have turned it up just a notch, but overall this was quite a fun little indie horror thriller.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail:  Beyond the Gates carries a strong image that really feels rich with its display of color. The image is sharp and crisp, though looking plenty flush and full. Details are quite abundant, especially in the video store and on boxes that are visible both up front and the background showing visible aging and damage to the merchandise (VHS and game boxes). The board with which they play is also heavily detailed and the gore in the film looking plenty impressive in its practical effects. This film look plenty pleasing on the eyes and I think this image really does a good job of selling it.

Depth:  Some good spacing apparent throughout the film, interiors and exteriors both. Characters movements are smooth and natural, and I didn’t witness any burring or jitter problems during this viewing. Camera movements are also clean and confident.

Black Levels:  Blacks are rich and deep, well saturated. Dark scenes look plenty rich and don’t hide any details that aren’t intended to be masked. No crushing witnessed on this viewing.

Color Reproduction:  Coloring is gorgeous, especially the basement smoky scenes with pink/purple and blue lighting. Definition is kept with no bleeding either on those filters. Brea Grant has a shirt that is sort of an orange-like color that pops. Natural colors are pretty strong as well.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and keep consistency from start to finish (Besides scenes with an obvious filter). Facial features like wrinkles, make-up, moles, stubble, dried blood and demonic looking facial make-up all have good information from medium and close up shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English, Spanish

Dynamics:  Beyond the Gates features a really solid 5.1 mix that manage to give some real intricacies in its soundscapes for the film. There is a really healthy balance between the effects, vocals and musical score that really keeps them free and separate of one another. This track really loves the score as it always sounds crisp, front and center when it really kicks on. Effects also have a fully realized bit of depth and layering to them with good lifelike realized placement and impact in the mix.  The track could have been a bit more full and engulfing, but its still very enjoyable and gets the job done more than fine.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  Subwoofer provides umph and bump with music beats, jump scares, the unlocking of the gate, doors shutting, shotgun blasting, impaling and blood splattering.

Surround Sound Presentation:  This 5 channel blend focuses a lot more on the front than anything. Movement of action and such is accurate tracked and played as well as volume placement. There are some really cool moments, like when they put the key on the board and you can hear the gate unlock from the basement. Rear channels are primarily room ambiance, but do awake for their own unique moments periodically.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are crisp and clear. Diction from the actors is well represented in the fully captured sound.

Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • With Director/Co-Writer Jackson Stewart, Actors Barbara Crampton And Jesse Merlin, Director Of Photography Brian Sowell, And Co-Writer Stephen Scarlata
  • With Director/Co-Writer Jackson Stewart And Actors Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, And Graham Skipper
  • With Junk Food Dinner Podcast Hosts Kevin Moss, Parker Bowman, And Sean Byron

Behind the Scenes Featurette (HD, 10:59) – A pretty soft making of (How we came up with it, this is my character, director is so great…that stuff), with behind the scenes footage and on-set interviews with the director, writer and cast.  No Barbara Crampton unfortunately.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 2:49) 

Premiere Q&A (HD, 17:28)  – Moderated By Famed Horror Director Stuart Gordon.  Comes from a bit of a wobbly camera sitting in front of the stage and the person hold it is a Michael Myers-like heavy breather (Who makes it a challenge to get through this on his own). Audio can get a bit muffly and some audience members pick up a little louder. They go over how the film came about and there’s a lot of people and they have to pass the mic around.

Sex Boss Short Film (HD, 5:32) – A short film from director Jackson Stewart which features Graham Stewart and the guy who played the shop owner in the film.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:06) 

Retro Beyond The Gates Commercial (HD, :51) – A VHS/80s TV Broadcast quality commercial for the board game featured in the film. Yeah, its awesome.

Summary 

Beyond the Gates is a cool little indie horror throwback to Italian horror, ghost movies and B-level stuff while also putting character first and having the scares compliment that. This Blu-ray release has terrific, beautiful looking video and a really good audio track to go with it. FORTUNATELY (Or Finally!), one of these IFC Midnight/Scream Factory collaborations I was really into has some bonus material, and its got plenty of it (3 Commentaries!). With the right price (Not sure what this one is sitting at other than Amazon), this is worth taking a chance on. As always, if you’re weary, give it a rent first.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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