• Beyond The Gates

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: May 2nd, 2017.
    Director: Jackson Stewart
    Cast: Barbara Crampton, Chase Williamson, Graham Skipper, Brea Grant
    Year: 2016
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    The Movie:

    It might seem like a long time ago but in the eighties there were such things as VCR games – you’d pop the tape into your player and what happened on the TV in front of you would affect how you played the game laid out on the board that accompanied it. Probably the most famous of these was Nightmare, a 1991 game that say players try to collect keys in a race against time – if you didn’t get all the keys in time a character called The Gate Keeper would keep you on ‘the other side.’

    It’s clear that this game was a big influence on Jackson Stewart’s 2016 film, Beyond The Gates. Here we meet two brothers, a slacker named John Hardesty (Chase Williamson) and his more successful brother Gordon (Graham Skipper). Gordon left town a while ago to start his own life and when their dad disappeared, he wasn’t really there for John. Seven months later, Gordon and John assume their father is dead and start packing up the dusty old video store that the old man opened in 1992. There’s clearly tension between the two brothers but despite all of this, they soldier on. When Gordon’s ridiculously cute girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) shows up that night, however, things get awkward when John and his obnoxious pal Hank (Justin Welborn) wind up inadvertently crashing their dinner date.

    That night, when Gordon sleeps in his father’s old bed, he finds the key to the store’s back office, a room that was always locked. When he and John open it up the next day, they find inside a strange old VCR game called Beyond The Gates. Out of curiosity, they pop in the tape and find a ‘seizure inducing’ video featuring a woman made up to look like a corpse (Barbara Crampton). It seems that this game was the last thing their missing father was involved with before he disappeared. So of course, they bring it back to the house and give it a spin – but soon find that the world of the game and their own world are starting to collide in strange, and sometimes very gory, ways. The track down the antiquities dealer who sold their dad the game, a strange man named Elric (Jesse Merlin), but he’s no help and neither is their cop friend Derek (Matt Mercer). If John, Gordon and Margot want to find the four keys that the woman in the game keeps talking about, they’re going to have to do it themselves.

    Set to a seriously cool synth-heavy score composed by Wojciech Golczewski, Beyond The Gates takes a little bit of time to get going but once it hits its stride in the second half of its running time, it proves to be a pretty entertaining picture. If it’s never particularly scary it is at least engaging enough thanks to some quality performances from the three main leads. Graham Skipper is quite good as Gordon. At first we’re not sure if we like him or not, he’s a bit distant in dealing with his brother and he’s a little cold, but as the walls come down, and Skipper’s performance reflects this, we get to understand him a bit better. Chase Williamson as the other brother is a bit of a layabout, he doesn’t seem to have a job and he winds up needing (not wanting, but needing) to stay at his late father’s place when he’s kicked out by a girlfriend who may or may not even exist. That said, he’s got a good sense of humor and a laid back attitude about things, he comes across as easy going if not all that motivated. Williamson brings this character to life effectively. Brea Grant is really good too. She comes across as good natured and is basically nice to everyone. Grant’s fairly bubbly here, but not in an obnoxious way – she just seems friendly and we like her. Supporting work from Justin Welborn, Matt Mercer and Jesse Merlin is decent too, and Barbara Crampton is a whole lot of fun as the horror game hostess, even if she spends all her time on the TV screen in the movie. She’s still recognizably Barbara Crampton but seeing her in high contrast black and white made up the way she is, it’s pretty cool.

    The last half of the movie is where things start to pick up and it’s here that the movie gets pretty gory as well. The effects work here in the film’s few murder set pieces is impressive – things get pretty splattery and if it takes a while to get here, the payoff is worth it. There’s also some very cool set design and use of color in the later part of the film, once the characters actually go ‘beyond the gates’ as we knew they would based off of the movie’s cover art.


    Beyond The Gates arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.40.1 widescreen. No complaints here. Shot digitally obviously the movie is free of any grain or print damage, as such the picture is very clean. Skin tones look nice, colors look excellent especially once the characters go ‘beyond the gates’ and black levels are nice and solid. There are no obvious compression artifacts or edge enhancement to note, while detail and texture are both strong throughout.

    English language options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo Master Audio tracks with optional subtitles provided in English and Spanish. The 5.1 track is the way to go here as there are some fun surround sound effects that help boost tension a bit during some of the more intense scenes in the film. Having said that, both tracks offer clean, clear dialogue, nicely balanced levels and a solid amount of depth.

    Extras start off with the first of three audio commentary tracks, this one with director Jackson Stewart, Jesse Merlin, Brian Sowell and Stephen Scarlata. The second commentary features Stewart, Chase Williams, Brea Grant and Graham Skipper. Not to be outdone, the third track is a ‘Junk Food Dinner Audio Commentary’ featuring Kevin Moss, Parker Bowman and Sean Byron. There’s a fair bit of crossover here but a lot of information is available between the three tracks. The first one is a bit more technical, covering the making of the picture, some of the effects work and the locations and the writing of the film. The second track lets the cast chime in with their stories, talking about their experiences working together on the picture and their thoughts on their characters. The Junk Food Dinner is more of an observational track as the folks behind the podcast of the same name offer up their thoughts on the film as it plays out in front of them.

    From there, check out the eleven minute long Behind The Scenes featurette. Some cool footage from the shoot is in here along with some interviews with the cast and crew. They straight up admit it’s an eighties throwback, no sense denying the obvious, but they talk about their influences and what they tried to do differently here. Up next is a seventeen minute Q&A session from the film’s premiere moderated by none other than Stuart Gordon. All the principal cast and crew members are here. This covers some of the same ground as the commentary and making of featurette but it’s worth checking out because it is a more impromptu format, you get to see them think on their feet as they take questions.

    Rounding out the extras are three minutes of deleted scenes, a six minute short film called Sex Boss also directed by Jackson Stewart and starring some of the same cast members (it’s a fairly twisted and quite funny look at ‘office work’) and the film’s theatrical trailer. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included and as a nice touch, the back of the cover sleeve replicates the board used to play the game featured in the movie.

    The Final Word:

    Beyond The Gates takes a little while to really hit its stride but even during the slower first half the characters are interesting enough to hold our attention despite some occasional pacing quirks. The film benefits from a fun premise and some really solid splatter effects – and hey, it’s never a bad thing to have Barbara in your movie either! Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray looks and sounds really nice and it has a lot of supplemental material on it as well. A fine release for a fun film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!