Reely Bernie Horror Fest: A Stephen Dorff Double Feature

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:

Stephen, the inexplicable “Workman” corpse come to life that bursts out of the wall for no reason whatsoever is actually behind you.

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.

“I’m proud of my second movie”/”I’ve seen better days.”

16 thoughts on “Reely Bernie Horror Fest: A Stephen Dorff Double Feature

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  1. I saw the Gate in the 80s…yep that cover brought me in but by that time…I wanted real horror…not commercial horror like Spielberg gave…I don’t remember the details but seeing some of those pics brought it back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You see, this is why I blog in the first place: The nostalgia I can share with good people like you around the nation and world, reminding me I’m not alone in my trivial but very important passions in life, including 80s B-movies like The Gate 🙂 God, I miss the video store days. I remember the independent Video Plus, Blockbuster/Hollywood, and then that infamous trend into Netflix, which I’m both overjoyed by but saddened at the same time. The smell of those video stores…priceless.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We had mom and pops in the small city I lived…I loved it.
        I did move to Nashville when I was around 20 and went to Blockbuster…I agree…I do miss it. I watched movies that I would never have watched because the ones everyone wanted were out…it led me to some great movies.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Now that would be a cool job…it’s too bad kids have lost out on that as well. I even miss going to get concert tickets…hanging out with people who like the artists and chatting.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Natascha McElhone. She looks more like a young Meryl Streep than Streep’s own daughter. ʕ •́؈•̀ ₎

    Stephen Dorff was probably my first celebrity crush. He was on TV show called “What a Dummy” and had a fan club, to which I wrote a letter expressing my utter adoration and I received an autographed picture. And then he did Backbeat followed by S.F.W.; he hasn’t had the most obvious acting trajectory given his rugged matinee idol looks (compared to his similar aesthetic peers), but his projects span a considerable range of budgets and storylines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. McElhone was my favorite part in Ronin. She just sticks out among all of those men and testosterone, haha!

      That is such a great story about Stephen Dorff! I completely agree about your analysis of his film career, and I think it plays out personally and metaphorically in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, which is my favorite Dorff movie – so empathetic and endearing!

      Of course, my little blog feature all began because of Dorff’s astounding performance in three decades of portrayal in True Detective, Season 3. He just blew my mind and made me want to hug him at the same time 🙂

      Like

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