Gargoyles (1972)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-05-27 00:27

Written by: Elinor Karpf and Steven Karpf
Directed by: Bill L. Norton
Starring: Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt, and Bernie Casey

Reviewed by: Brett G.

“So you and your old man, you're not afraid of them gar-things, huh? ”

The word “Gothic” carries a lot of connotations and associations for different people, but my mind goes to one place: gargoyles. And I’m not just saying that because it’s convenient for this review either because if you know your history, Gothic architecture wasn’t complete if you didn’t have a big fucking stone gargoyle overlooking your creepy abode. Perhaps surprisingly, there haven’t been a whole lot of horror flicks to use these creatures; however, here’s one called (you guessed it) Gargoyles, which came from a pretty unexpected place: the 1970s made-for-television horror cycle (which I guess was the “golden age” for those movies).

Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) is an anthropologist who gets a message from a seemingly crazy old geezer (Woody Chambliss) who operates a roadside tourist trap. Old uncle Willie claims he’s got some kind of weird thing that Boley would be interested in, so he makes the trek along with his daughter (Jennifer Salt). The weirdness in question is the skeletal remains of something that resembles a gargoyle. Boley laughs it off for about 4 seconds until some actual gargoyles do attack, and it turns out there’s a whole colony living nearby that’s just emerged after a five hundred year slumber.

Gargoyles is basically like a 50s monster movie dressed up in 70s clothes. The made-for-television aspect shows through in its limited production budget, which probably explains why this coven of gargoyles is forced to hang around a rural town (population of 12, apparently) and clash with a bunch of yokels (cops and dirt-bike-riding hooligans alike). Things actually start out pretty ominously, with some exposition that explains that they’re the spawn of Satan and all that good stuff. Pretty apocalyptic, hell-fire and brimstone stuff, really; too bad it gets lost rather quickly as the movie moves into silliness. It’s a fun kind of silly, though; I suppose you’d call it campy, but the movie actually seems to be taking itself rather seriously. However, I can’t imagine anyone taking it that way even back then, much less now.

That said, there are some nifty scenes. The producers seemed to make the gargoyle action a priority to keep viewers from channel surfing, as it comes early and often. Early scenes are sort of reminiscent of Jeepers Creepers, as our two protagonists are rambling down a lonely highway and are attacked by one of the flying creatures. As you can imagine, most of the carnage is kept off-screen with minimal gore, but one scene manages to be pretty eerie because of this. The gargoyles themselves are pretty cool looking--imagine if the Gillman mated with a bird, and you’ve got a general idea. The nicely detailed effects makeup effects are compliments of a young Stan Winston, who captured an Emmy award for his work on this film. Not too bad for a first-timer--it seems he was destined to hear his name called during awards season.

In a bit of a twist, the gargoyles don’t just show up to terrorize, as they talk and interact with the humans. Their leader is actually portrayed by an unrecognizable Bernie Casey, who you might remember from Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde, which made its DVD debut earlier this year (it’s been a banner year for the Casey fan club!). This is where Gargoyles is at its goofiest, as the creatures’ voices are processed with a robotic sound effect, almost like a primitive form of auto-tune. Combine that with the stilted, wooden dialogue and the poor lip syncing, and you’ve got quite a B-movie treat. The rest of cast is pretty non-descript, but I did get a kick out of Cornel Wilde’s perpetual sternness, as if he were constantly struggling to keep a straight face. I can’t imagine why that’d be the case.

There’s not much else to speak of--don’t expect much stylistic flourish, unless you count the gratuitous instances of slow-motion, which were probably there to fill in the run-time that commercials couldn’t fill. I especially chuckled at the scene where you’re watching a pack of the gargoyles lumber around and grunt because it felt like I was watching some documentary nature footage. Gargoyles is now back on DVD courtesy of Hen’s Tooth’s Video (the previous VCI release has been out of print). The disc is solid, as the print used is pristine and colorful--this has to be the best the movie has ever looked, as something tells me 1970s airwaves didn’t quite do it justice (or maybe it did). The lone special feature is a commentary from director Norton. This flick is sort of a quaint reminder that made-for-television horror was pretty cheesy even back before SyFy made it a weekly tradition. If you like your monster movies to come with dudes in rubber suits and consider a dude flying in a rubber suit to be a money shot, then Gargoyles is made just for you. Rent it!

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