Justin Welborn

Beyond the Gates

It was the 80’s retro throwback feel that initially drew me to Beyond the Gates. Well that and Brea Grant, who I have been having a bit of video love affair with and is once again delightful. Beyond Brea Grant, Beyond the Gates also features famous scream queen Barbara Crampton in a different kind of role for her. Which is a refreshing change, it’s nice to see director Jackson Stewart placing her in the strange role of the video host. Though Beyond the Gates isn’t all roses, as it takes a while for the retro feel to start going and the film’s bare bones, low-budget quality of the film at times feels like it’s holding the film back.

Estranged brothers, John (Chase Williamson) and Gordon Hardesty (Graham Skipper) reunite to clean out their alcoholic fathers video store after his latest disappearance. Which has lasted so long that he’s thought dead. While cleaning out the shop, Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) comes to visit and help. They break for the day and have an awkward run in with John’s friend Hank (Justin Welborn) while at the restaurant, eventually leaving rather than get into a confrontation. While in bed that night Gordon refuses Margot’s advances as he feels awkward about having sex in his fathers bed. While turning the lights out to go to sleep Gordon finds the missing key to the office. Which he explores the next day with John, inside they find a VHS board game, Beyond the Gates. They take the game home and along with Margot start playing. The video host (Barbara Crampton) spurs on the players and the players realize that by completing the game they may find John and Gordon;s father. But fist they have to survive the game and move beyond the gates…

While the film was overall okay, I found a few aspects lacking. Mainly it was how bland and apathetic feel. From the bar confrontation, to the brothers discussions on the father, to killing people for keys for the board game. None of them feel conflicted or even bothered by events that are happening. They just all roll along with what’s happening. Which makes them feel a bit like sociopaths.

The other issue the game, which overall I really like as I’m a fan of the VHS games being introduced to them via Atmosfear by a close friend back in high school. So as far as a game goes Beyond the Gates looks fun, you know, other than it being supernatural and would likely get me killed. My issue is the lack of why with the game. It’s origins are never explored nor is the purpose that it’s suppose to serve. Other than a cryptic warning at the end of the film.

I love the visuals in the film, the neon pinks and blues give a great atmosphere. One that’s as memorable as it is engaging. It was these moments that I found to be the most interesting, both for looks as well as tone. These visual elements are perfectly paired with the synthesizer music. Which is without a doubt is my favorite element of the film. I just with that it had been used more.

Final thoughts, it’s okay. Bland at times, but visually rich at others. The characters are hard to relate to due the emotional vacancy they possess. A lot of the films themes, family, alcoholism, among others is often touched on but never truly explored. Sadly to the films determent. If you’re looking for a terrifying horror film, I wouldn’t recommend Beyond the Gates. But if you’re looking for a low budget horror film with elements of an 80’s throwback then you might just enjoy this film. 6/10

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V/H/S Viral

vhsviral_poster_web-1V/H/S Viral is the final installment of the V/H/S series. Which is sad given how much the series has downgraded over time. The first V/H/S was great, the second was alright, but this one was either of those things. Horror anthologies are hard to get right. Here we see a lot of the problems I have with the idea along with some of the issues I have with found footage films rearing up as well. Not that Viral is completely without merit, I found myself enjoying one of the entries, but just the one. My main issue is the story that intertwines the film felt out-of-place and would have worked better as its own solid entry.

Viral opens with the wrap-around story Vicious Circles. Kevin (Patrick Lawrie) and Iris (Celia K. Milius) are a young couple in love. Kevin loves filming Iris, something that she seems to enjoy as well. One night a high-speed pursuit goes past their home and Kevin runs out to film it, hoping that the footage would go viral. While waiting for the chase to loop back around as the chase is going in literal circles, Iris gets a message are her phone that places her into a trance, during which she walks into the road. During the pass she’s abducted and Kevin chases after her, first on foot than later on a bicycle. The point between segments focus on small portions of the chase, gang members killing one another after receiving the same message which ends in an explosion. A woman trying to take a revenge on a man who posted a revenge porn video of her. Until Kevin is finally able to reach the vehicle containing Iris after is successfully evades police.

The first story Dante The Great, is about Dante (Justin Welborn) an elite illusionist and magician. His current assistant Scarlet (Emmy Argo) goes to the police after finding videos implicating the Dante has been killing is assistants, and Scarlet’s ex-boyfriend. The police go to arrest Dante after reviewing the evidence, only for Dante to start killing with magic. Magic bestowed by his cloak, one that one was once owned by Harry Houdini. Dante pulls Scarlet from the police station via magic to the stage of the theater where he performs. Scarlet manages to get her hand on the cape, while Dante holds the other end. Resulting in a magic battle.

The Second story Parallel Monsters, inventor Alfonso (Gustavo Salmeron) powers up his greatest invention. One that bridges two parallel universes. On the other side is another Alfonso. The two have a quick interaction before deciding to swap universes for fifteen minutes…

The final story Bonestorm, two skateboarders Danny (Nick Blanco) and Jason (Chase Newton) keep getting pushed into increasingly dangerous stunts by their videographer Taylor (Shane Brady).  Taylor talks Danny and Jason into going Tijuana, one they recruit Gas Money Kid (Peter Villalba). After buying fireworks the group gets lost eventually finding a place to shoot their skateboarding video. Unfortunately the site is covered with religious markings and the worshipers show up mysteriously after one of the skateboarders bleeds on the symbols. The worshipers attack them, forcing them to fight back for their lives.

My main issue is most of the stories, Dante the Great and Parallel Monsters feel far too polished to be found footage. This gripe is mostly reserved for Dante the Great and the magic fight at the end of the segment. It feels like a normal film and nothing like found footage. I have the same issue with Parallel Monsters. It looks too nice.

The stories themselves feel lacking. I liked Dante the Great, other than my previous mentioned gripe, and feel it was the strongest entry. Emmy Argo delivers the best performance in the whole film here. I find her incredibly sympathetic and she plays of the megalomania of Justin Welborn’s Dante amazingly.

Final thoughts, I wish I had more to say, but I just found this entry in the V/H/S series to be incredibly underwhelming. The series decline is a real shame as the first entry really showed what could be done with found footage anthologies and the second film experimented with the ideas but were off the mark on delivery. Viral on the other hand felt like a lazy finish at best. 5/10