Hollow Gate 1988
Directed by: Ray Di Zazzo
Starring: Addison Randall, Katrina Alexy, Richard Dry
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I delayed posting a review of Hollow Gate for quite a while, because I was convinced that it had been produced sometime earlier than 1988 and I wanted to do some research in order to find out the truth. I eventually discovered that it was mostly shot in ’86 and spent longer than expected in the transition from the editing suite to VHS cassette. It was a launch film from Richard Pepin and Joseph Toufik Merhi who would go on to start the PM Entertainment Group. PM were a production company that began life as a smaller version of Cannon films and then went on to circulate a whole heap of low budget schlock busters right up until the new millennium when they finally sold off the brand and its 150+ catalogue of titles.
I must confess that the reason that I believed that this had been put together earlier, was simply because by ’88 the genre had adapted from the initial rip-off Halloween plan that was the standard at the start of the decade. It was an evolution that led from strong silent antagonists to wise-cracking killers and then we ended up with altogether more supernatural villains like those from Maniac Cop, Child’s Play or even Demon Warrior.
Like most ’86 entries, Hollow Gate includes a quick-witted bogeyman, only this one has been turned to the ‘dark side’ by the age-old slasher cliché of an abusive parent. We see in the opening that his dad is disappointed with his apple bobbin’ skills at a Halloween party, so he gets humiliated in front of all of his friends. Obviously that’s a bad move in slasher land, so a few years later, the kid has grown into a maniacal murderer. Four teens that are on their way to a party are about to find out the extent of his insanity because they get abandoned on the grounds of his house. Guess what happens next…
When the screen lights up, we see a china doll sitting in a window and a magnificent childlike score begins playing as the camera slowly pans in a downward trajectory. Underneath the figurine is a creepy jack-o-lantern and as soon as it appears in our view, we hear the chime of a low chord as the musical accompaniment becomes darker and more suited to the horror that we are expecting to witness. I was seriously impressed by this credit sequence, because I felt that without saying anything it had given us so much. Could the obvious collision of the two tones signify the ‘taking over’ of the young child that turned his innocence into psychotic delusion after the abuse of his father? Or was it a reference to the innocent teenagers being stalked by the ruthless assailant? With such a stylistic opening, I was really thinking that I could be in for a treat with this flick. On recollection though, I now believe that the credits were made by someone otherwise uninvolved with the production; and the director most probably disliked or completely failed to understand the idea. What makes me so sure that this is the case? Well there are a few reasons…
Most of us know that all good horror films need a central character, otherwise known as a protagonist. Someone like a Laurie Strode, Ginny Fields, R.J. MacCready or Reiko Asakawa. As this is a slasher film that’s based on the 31st of October, we can use Laurie Strode as a perfect example. She was shy, fairly withdrawn, insecure about her popularity with the opposite sex but devoted to those around her. In other words she is someone that most people can bond with. In a film that has superhuman killers, screaming victims and gruesome terror, it is important to include one person that is far more ‘normal’ to the everyday Joe or Joanna. They can then act as our own personal avatar of the story and guide us through to the end, which creates drama and tension because we want them to survive
It takes thirty minutes of Hollow Gate, before we meet four youngsters that are on their way to a party and I just can’t think of anything that I can tell you about them at all. I could find very little that made any of them even the slightest bit appealing or memorable. No style of speech, unique characteristic, catchphrase, gimmick or information on their relationships or where they were from. They were just four young people that we learned absolutely nothing about. The problem is that when a movie is populated with cardboard cut-outs, then it’s almost impossible to give a damn about what happens to them. So we are left with a guy who is nothing more than a total loony stalking four kids that are complete strangers. It could of course be argued that the psycho is the main player, but not much time is spent on his background either.
Character development is probably one of the most important things in filmmaking and you’d think that anyone with even the slightest intention of creating a motion picture would recognise that. But hold on a minute, what is this? An hour into the story, two cops join the party. We see them sitting in a café where they discuss their histories, how long they’ve been on the force and why they decided to sign up. Their banter shows some warmth in their friendship (didn’t like the racist joke though) and because of this, we become drawn to their part of the goings on. So lets get to grips with Hollow Gate logic then. The characters that we should care about get zilch backstory, whilst two police officers that feature for ten-minutes tops, tell us about their entire lives??? #HollowGateLogic
The director doesn’t even attempt to build any pizazz in the framing and most shots are long, wide and boring. It’s no surprise that Ray Di Zazzo is not the first name on anyone’s lips when discussing icons of horror and this was to be his first and last attempt in the movies. On top of that there are pacing issues because the runtime is so poorly edited and the flow is plagued by serious flaws in continuity. Alfred Hitchcock once said that there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation. Those words are totally lost in a film that not only lacks the anticipation part but also the bang.
There was an early discussion featured amongst lawyers and legal men about the nutjob’s psychotic state after he had become a concern, but not yet committed the massacre. Obviously hinting at President Reagan’s budget cuts of the eighties, the group agreed that he should be locked away, but hinted that it would be tough to do so in the current climate. It was a smart snippet of social reference and I could barely believe that it was from the same hand that let an unarmed teen hiding in a bush from the deranged madman state that he, ‘had the advantage’ over his assailant. Eh? It’s like the film has two seconds of credibility and then absolutely demolishes them with fifty minutes of asininity.
Despite much amateurism spread throughout, there were a couple of things that I quite liked about the picture. The bogeyman changes costume for each killing, and not only does he don a different disguise, he also performs for each role. For example as a cowboy he offers an off-kilter John Wayne and then he becomes something of an evil quipping doctor a bit later. Perhaps it was because I had my serious horror head on when I was watching Hollow Gate that I disliked it so much and maybe I should’ve given it a chance as an inadvertent comedy. There’s enough rubbish dialogue, horrendous acting and the like for it to satisfy cheese fans, but for me it was irredeemable. The bad news is that I’m not prepared to watch it again and see if my opinion can be swayed. In fact, I’d rather place my hand in a vat of acid.
Alexander Pushkin once wrote that there is no bigger tragedy than wasted love or wasted talent. I’d like to add ‘wasted time’ on top of that and blame Hollow Gate for me doing so. With no blood, suspense or action, I really can’t see why or how you’d enjoy it
Killer Guise: √√