When I was a kid, I remember asking my dad what movies he thought were scary. He answered Night of the Living Dead and Gargoyles, so I was always nervous to watch this movie. It just looked strange and in the late 70s, it wasn’t like I could on demand find it. Even today, it’s hard to find on DVD (but YouTube is a whole different story).
Originally airing on CBS on November 21st, 1972, it was directed by Bill L. Norton (Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend, More American Graffiti) and written by Steven and Elinor Karpf (Devil Dog: The Hound from Hell, The Jayne Mansfield Story), Gargoyles may be uneven, but has moments of pure joy.
It’s one of the first films Stan Winston (Terminator, Aliens) worked on, providing a variety of gargoyle makeup. The look of the creatures is wonderful, as they don’t all look the same. And the leader (Bernie Casey (Felix Leiter in Never Say Never Again, UN Washington in Revenge of the Nerds) has the perfect look that balances a regal bearing with an otherworldly aura. You can see why this won an Emmy. It’s big budget worthy work on a shoestring budget.
Speaking of budget, the film was shot with just one camera over 18 days; a fact that chased away the original director. Temperatures at the Carlsbad, NM location baked the cast and crew, reaching 100 degrees or more the entire shoot. So it’s amazing that what emerged is so interesting.
The opening dialogue informs us that Satan lost the war in Heaven, with his children being the gargoyles, who rise against man every six hundred years (there’s even an image from Haxan to symbolize the devil). This dialogue is by Vic Perrin (Tharg from the Mirror, Mirror episode of Star Trek, as well as the voice of Metron and Nomad), who also provides the crazy VO for the head Gargoyle.
We join an Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornell Wilde, No Blade of Grass), author of the occult, and his daughter, Diana (Jennifer Salt of Sisters and Son of Sam TV movie Out of the Darkness) as they head off to the desert — and Uncle Willie’s Museum — where they find a skeleton of a creature that Willie (Woody Chambliss of Zero Hour! and The Devil’s Rain) claims he found in the hills. The doctor doesn’t believe a word, but his daughter listens to his tales, only to be cut off by the sound of wings and something trying to get into the museum. Whatever it is, it sets off a fire that kills Uncle Willie.
They head to a local motel, run by Mrs. Parks (Grayson Hall, who played Dr. Julia Hoffman in Dark Shadows and Carlotta Drake in Night of Dark Shadows), who is never without a drink in her hand (an acting choice by Hall that we can endorse). Two of the gargoyles try to take back the skeleton that they’ve rescued from the inferno, but one of them is hit by a truck. Seems like the doctor sees money in the bodies of these gargoyles — alerting the leader of the group to his plan. He kidnaps Diana, showing her the eggs that his people care for and explains that they just want to live in peace with humans.
Throw in a bunch of motorcycle riders (including Scott Glenn of The Right Stuff and The Silence of the Lambs), cops who can’t understand what is going on, the finest hound dogs in the area, an all out war between humans and Gargoyles with way too much talking and you have this movie. But I can’t dislike it — it’s filled with too many great moments, like the leader making Diana read to him about the historical account of an incubus seducing a woman and the speech that he gives to the humans at the end. Him flying away, clutching a wounded female of his species? Amazing.
It’s worth seeking out, if only to see how horror used to be all over 70s TV. If you came from that era, you have less of a chance of dismissing this movie as something dumb.