LAFF Review: Beyond the Gates – A Horror Jumanji

You may know me as Franchise Fred because I love sequels, but I am also Format Fred because I am obsessed with outdated viewing formats. My real Jones is for things far more obscure than VHS, like RCA Selectavision, but Beyond the Gates found an obscure corner of VHS that really captivated me: The VCR board game.

After their father goes missing, John (Chase Williamson) and Graham (Graham Skipper) start going through his things at his old video store (the real Eddie Brandt’s in Los Angeles). They find a VCR board game called Beyond the Gates and play it for old times sake. The host (Barbara Crampton) seems to be talking to them directly and may have the key to their father’s disappearance.

So this is a horror Jumanji as each level of the game brings with it a new scenario and a new gory kill shot. Of course, Beyond the Gates does have $100 million for special effects, so they have to pick their moments. You can forgive the small scale. It is micro budget and they do their best to fill the widescreen frame. There are some fun gore gags attached to each step of the game, and in between an endearing family drama.

The dialogue can feel like filler about long flights and seeing the town, but most of it ends up revealing important backstory about the family. Graham and his girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) have a substantial past trauma that gets exploited by the supernatural game.

Of course I enjoyed the VHS nostalgia sprinkled into the story, going through Dad’s old things and finding rare tapes, or just seeing the shelves packed with videos. The mythology of the game is strong too.

Crampton is sultry as hell as the game master, vamping it up in black and white which makes her look all the more like the horror femme fatale she is. Grant, Skipper and Williamson are sincere, and supporting players make fun A-hole victims to be dispatched by the game.

Beyond the Gates may make VCR board games look more involving than they ever were, but it makes the most of limited resources and a good premise. I will be interested to see what director Jackson Stewart and co-writer Stephen Scarlata do next.