Last summer, I was so captivated by Stephen Dorff’s performance in one of the best television dramas of all-time (HBO’s True Detective, Season 3) that I wanted to see more of his work in film. In the horror column, I found two I hadn’t seen before: FearDotCom (2002) and The Gate (1987).
FearDotCom (2002) Viewings Tally: This is my first viewing!
Origin/Director: UK, Germany, USA, Canada/William Malone
Synopsis: With four corpses on his hands, New York City gumshoe Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff) teams with Department of Health worker Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone) to track down a homicidal sadist who telecasts shocking acts of torture on the Internet. But they have their work cut out: It seems the victims’ only link is that they all went toes up 48 hours after logging on a site known as feardotcom.com. [Letterboxd]
Reely Bernie’s Take: This year, I tried to cover as many horror tropes and hybrids as I could from B-movie trash to home invasion to supernatural. This entry encompasses the torture horror, or what Stephen King calls “splatter film.” From the Saw series to Hostel manifestations, these are not for the faint of heart, and they’re not necessarily my favorite either. FearDotCom is like a Mickey Mouse fun ride compared to others out there, so I was more susceptible to possibly “enjoying” it.
I regret to inform you that I truly did not.
FearDotCom is a horror movie that tries desperately to be a horror movie. The fog and smoke machines are amped to 11, some scenes are so dark, you wonder if the actors needed a flashlight to go to the restroom, and the film score is so over the top that I thought I was watching a parody or dream sequence. (I was wrong on both.)
Between her impressive performances in The Truman Show (1998) and Solaris (2002), Natascha McElhone seems to be sedated in her role as a Department of Health rep (who might be experimenting with confiscated hallucinogens). Dorff barely holds this thing together with his detective “coolness,” but when you’re facing a puny villain disguised by Rammstein death metal and a bunch of flickering lights, there’s not much to be proud of when the case gets cracked.
Or, does it even get solved?
I regret to say that I do not know because I could not go on with this thing…
Final Score: Incompletable
Origin/Director: Canada/Tibor Takacs
The Gate (1987) Viewings Tally: This is my first viewing! I remember seeing the VHS box cover at video stores as a kid and thinking, “That looks scaaaaaaaary.”
Synopsis: Three young children accidentally release a horde of nasty, pint-sized demons from a hole in a suburban backyard. What follows is a classic battle between good and evil as the three kids struggle to overcome a nightmarish hell that is literally taking over the Earth. [Letterboxd]
Reely Bernie’s Take: The salvageable elements of this silly movie are found in the late 80s Spielbergian atmosphere. Borrowing the clueless suburban adolescent perspective in the earlier success of The Goonies (1985) and the unpleasant and gooey Invaders from Mars (1986), The Gate feels like amateur screenwriting scraps left in an “ideas” journal (“Maybe I’ll consider this in the future,” the writer scribbles on the bottom of the page).
The unduly simple plot blows up into events of randomness and any excuse for pyrotechnics, slimy prosthetics, and scrappy special effects. Young Dorff plays a likable kid among other kids who are so irritating, they should have been fed to the demons much earlier in the movie. It is a sloppy mess, but the nostalgic, dreamy lens of the late 80s reminds us that movies like this only get worse today, except for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019), which I thought was a decent example of the same trope.
With The Gate, you can blame Canada.
The Shot that Won’t Let Go:
Final Score: 2 random ooey gooey lumps of demon flesh (prosthetics) under the bed out of 5
Fear not, Stephen Dorff: I think you’re still a heck of a good actor, even though some of your screenplay choices are questionable. If I were in your shoes in 1987, I’d probably still sign off on The Gate. It was your second movie, after all. And, we all need work and a paycheck, so, yeah, if my agent placed the FearDotCom script in my box, I’d pay my bills too.