The Black Gate (2004) – By Timothy Martinez

 Generally speaking, haunted house movies appear to be some of the most inexpensive types of films to produce in the horror field. All you really need is a creepy house. With enough talent to establish mood and atmosphere, the special FX need not be too elaborate. A good story to tell and the skill necessary to translate it to the screen doesn’t hurt, either. Note the use of such words as “talent,” “skill” and “good story” in those sentences. They make all the difference between an effective haunted house film like The Haunting (original version of course and not that CGI nightmare of a remake) or The Legend of Hell House; and such boring pieces of work like…well, like this film.

The story centers on an old house somewhere along the Californian coast that is being used as a Bed and Breakfast Inn by the current owner. Unfortunately for her, guests pack up and leave in just a few hours without even bothering to spend the night. The cause? The house has some serious supernatural mojo at work. So the owner calls in a Psychic detective named Scott to help her find out why the place has become ghost central as of late. Scott brings along a dork named Justin, who aside from being there to help document things, is also the biggest skeptic this side of The Amazing Randy. They are barely in the door when psychic visions lead Scott to an upper room where, among piles of junk, he locates some ancient thingamabob which looks like a medium sized wooden box and which he authoritatively says is the Asmodean – an artifact of evil that is mucho, mucho old and is used in ceremonies for the opening of gates to hell. Lovely. Why couldn’t it have just been an old dusty stack of Archie comics he found? Isn’t that evil enough, without having to invent some silly arcane doodad? Evidently not. Soon enough, Justin the doubting Thomas is seeing a ghost in his room…but not just any ghost, but the sad ghost of a hot chick! He feels that he knows her and all to soon is proclaiming his love for her. UGH. Meanwhile, Scott has uncovered another ghost, that of a really pissed of guy decked out in black. Scott does some digging into the history of the house, which includes grilling a former housekeeper, and the whole sordid story behind the origins of the ghosts is revealed. From that point on, it’s a race to stop evil from triumphing.

Do not watch this film unless you are prepared to see people talking and talking and talking and talking in the same locations over and over again. Every now and then things are stirred up by the occasional ghostly apparition, spooky dream or vision (which look more like old Heavy Metal videos), eerie sound or cheap camera effect, but these seem to be there only to remind the rapidly dozing audience that hey, this is a haunted house you know! The characters are flat and annoying while the supernatural threat has all the menace of an overworked school yard teacher. The “twist” at the end almost comes out of nowhere unless you recall a single cryptic line spoken earlier in the film, which chances are you may not…you’ll be long asleep by then. The only positive point about this film is that it re-enforces the horror film rule that states: when any character announces long term plans, they will not live to realize them…hell, they’ll be lucky to last another five minutes! Skip this one unless you are absolutely jonesing for a haunted house film.

Final Score: 2 out of 5