(Tibor Takacs, 1987)
A remarkably charming and successful little movie about a couple pre-pubescent pals who discover a gateway to hell in the back yard. The tone is deadpan-funny when it aims to be, which is usually, and it is also remarkably kind: these nice, normal kids form a tight unit whose affection is not shaken by bickering exchanges with sister Al's hilariously dumb teenager friends. Every element from the treehouse to the model rocket to the death-metal album gets put to ingenious use, and that goes double for the dead dog, an unusual device that generates a range of emotional responses in various situations. The effects are startlingly good, especially the army of tiny Shrek-like demons who manage to be amusing and menacing at the same time, and the look of the film is remarkably controlled and textured. I only wish that the ending could have been a little more kinetic and better integrated; with one kid facing off against a big special effect, I find myself missing both the character interactions and the sense of purpose of the rest of the film. But that's a small quibble; overall this is exactly the kids-eye-view fantasia of malevolence that it sets out to be.