Wednesday, February 24

Some quick thoughts on Encounter at Raven's Gate (1988)

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Eddie (Steven Vidler), just released from prison, is trying to walk the straight-and-narrow working for his brother Richard (Ritchie Singer) and his fiancee Rachel (Celine O'Leary) in the Australian outback. Richard is struggling to run a hydroponics farm while also trying to find sustainable ground water. Eddie is still a bit wild, and while in a chase with the local sheriff on a dirt road, both he and his pursuer's cars suddenly die. Though that's only the beginning of strange occurrences in the area. An unexplained force is sapping powerlines, instantaneously draining water tanks, burning crop circles, and terrifying an elder couple in a homestead by name of the Raven's Gate. After witnessing fledgling infidelity between Eddie and Rachel, Richard tries keep his cool but soon starts blaming the two for his livelihood failing. All this just as Eddie makes his way up to Raven's Gate and discovers water rapidly running across every surface, electricity in the air, and the occupants now petrified beef jerky.

Rolf de Heer's Encounter at Raven's Gate boils down to a bit of lukewarm sci-fi hokum. It's like a strictly decent episode of The X-Files in terms of paced atmosphere protracted to feature-length and without the investigative aspect. I guess Mulder and Scully showed up after the credits. A bit slow in the beginning, but once the mild suspense starts rolling, you hold out for some grander resolution behind all the disturbances. That explaination never really arrives and de Heer doesn't throw on enough strangeness or characterization to make his film worth pondering beyond the screen. The closest I could come was that Eddie's life wasn't what fate had originally planned and the only thing that could right the ship was this extraordinary incident. There's not much reason to believe that theory though. The horror elements are slim besides a few dried corpses, an hallucination involving two of these deadmen hitching a ride on the hood of a police car, and some characters going nuts after witnessing Raven's Gate. You can pass on this one, unless you're a hard-up sci-fi diehard and lover of filmmaking down under.

Still, there some nice scenery (how couldn't there be?), cinematography, and the sense of de Heer utilizing the entire 2.35:1 scope. The problem is Hemdale/HBO Video's VHS is a painful dead center crop to full screen brimming with off-screen talking bodies and half faces. Some of the middle-of-the-road appreciation for Encounter at Raven's Gate would probably be derived from the widescreen vistas. A shame I had to use my imagination. The sound quality also sucks featuring extremely loud highs and many pretty much inaudible passages of dialogue. There is an anamorphic widescreen DVD available from Australia, entitled "Incident at Raven's Gate", but it only appears included in a six film set of the director's work.
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1 comment:

Drunketh said...

This one seems pretty obscure... even for you.

Nothing can compare to Fire In The Sky though. Scared the shit out me actually. Haunted my buddy Mike who I grew up with and then had a huge falling out with later. He told me a story of when he was young and taking a piss at night, only to feel dizzy and look up at the window outside and see an alien with green skin and huge black eyes. His mother was abusive and dated many hardcore drug users and alcoholics. I'd hate to see his face if he ever saw the film Mysterious Skin. Uhg! But yeah, after he saw Fire In The Sky he talked about it for like two years straight and made me watch it on Cinemax with him. Freaky stuff. No other alien film, besides the Blob remake and ET ever scared me like that one.

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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