I saw this film as a young teen. Rewatched it last night, not remembering much about it. From start to finish, I was overwhelmed with a sense of nostalgia for 1980s suburbia where I grew up (even though some actors' accents and the end credits revealed this was shot in Canada). From the houses with giant lawns to the nerd kid with a punk rock jacket to the bright red phone hanging on the wall and the spacious home interiors with bright colors everywhere, this movie reminded me of all the things that seemed comfortable to me when I was growing up. I really enjoyed this movie, but it's hard to tell if I'm being objective about the film as a whole, or if I mainly enjoyed it because it took me back in time.
It seems like there were a lot of these movies coming out in the mid to late 80s that built their story around the idea of summoning demons by uttering magic words. My friends and I were into all of them, especially Evil Dead or anything that involved demonic possession. I like how in this movie the full extent of knowlege the kids need to learn to battle the demons can all be found in the liner notes of one heavy metal album. People really did think metal was the devil's music back then. It's funny to see something so ridiculous being taken seriously in the plot.
The three main child actors were pretty good, though a bit mumbly at times. Not as annoying or full of attitude as I think modern child actors would come across. The friends that show up at the party all get irritating quickly though. Their bickering with the main characters seemed like it was set up to be comedy, but it was just annoying listening to these kids whine at each other.
The special effects are amazing. When you consider they weren't using computers back then, but actually cutting film to splice moving images together with matte backgrounds, and using stop motion animation to animate the creatures, it's all very impressive. I still can't figure out how they got the floor of the house to collapse under the kid when he ran across it while the camera held still on a wide overhead shot. It must have been some sort of superimposed effect, but it was pretty seamless.
The little demons look great and are a good mix of creepy and silly. The head demon that shows up later is impressively well-animated and expressive. I can't imagine how the animators kept track of all the moving parts. The movie did a great job with camera angles to make the giant demon seem huge and terrifying, and the interaction between it and the kid worked well, even though some of the effects in that section looked a little dated.
The Gate has a lot of deadpan humor and unexpected surreal moments, and also manages to be surprisingly atmospheric. There are parts of the plot that left me feeling uneasy, like the whole dead dog plot, and the father's face getting ripped off. Even the eyeball on the kid's hand was handled as a serious moment instead of taking it to a humorous place, which I thought worked well. A joke isn't necessary when something is just... so... weird! For me, watching this movie was like having a bizarre nightmare about my own childhood. Yeah, I like it.