Beyond The Gates


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Beyond The Gates
"Crampton is clearly having a whale of a time."

If you’re in your forties or older – or perhaps in your thirties but an incorrigible geek – you may remember the phenomenon that was the VHS board game. The Nightmare (Atmosfear) series, in particular, was a big hit with horror fans, albeit not quite for the reasons its creators might have hoped. If the concept is new to you, here’s a quick precis: you and a group of friends place your pieces on a board, then turn on your VCR to be given instructions by a supposedly sinister figure. Supposedly scary noises issue forth from the tape as you try to complete a quest. There are further messages, cackling and the occasional jump scare. It works best if it’s a dark and stormy night to begin with and you’ve had quite a lot to drink.

Brothers Gordon (Graham Skipper) and John (Chase Williamson) come across such a game when they’re reunited, after years of estrangement, by the need to settle their father’s estate. He might not be dead, but as he’s been missing for four years, keeping his video store no longer makes much sense. Curious about the game and that fact it was the last thing for which he used his own VCR, they take it back to his house and, together with Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant), find themselves playing. But the game’s hostess, camped up to the nines by Barbara Crampton (who looks stunningly seductive at 57) seems to know a little too much about their personal lives, and her hints that the game may have something to do with their father’s disappearance lead to the feeling that something is very, very wrong.

Copy picture

At this point the film starts to resemble early dangers of role playing games like Tom Hanks starrer Mazes And Monsters – the more amusing in an age when filmmakers are recycling that panic in relation to contemporary social media games. Elements of the fantasy world start to intrude on reality, complete with coloured lighting and special effects of dubious quality. There’s more overt nastiness and considerably more gore, but the essential, acknowledged cheesiness is still there, and the film is better for it.

Beyond The Gates is not destined to become a genre classic. Beyond that cute central gimmick, its plot isn’t very developed, the ending is flat and the young cast’s performances are somewhat lacklustre (though that’s not inappropriate). Crampton is clearly having a whale of a time, however, and there’s also great turn from Jesse Merlin as the suavely sinister owner of a curiosity shop where the game seems to have been purchased. There’s also Wojciech Golczewski’s soundtrack, which bears a striking resemblance to Goblin’s work in Suspiria but is perfectly suited to the overall style of the piece. This is a film destined to find its natural home on DVD, where it really needs the game among its extras.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2016
Share this with others on...
Beyond The Gates packshot
Two brothers get into trouble playing the old VCR board game that led to their father's disappearance.

Director: Jackson Stewart

Writer: Stephen Scarlata, Jackson Stewart

Starring: Graham Skipper, Sara Malakul Lane, Brea Grant, Justin Welborn, Barbara Crampton

Year: 2016

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: US

Search database: