7:19 a.m. - 2018-11-08
Cornel Wilde plays Dr Mercer Boley, an anthropologist with an interest in the supernatural. He and his photographer daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) pay a visit to an old desert rat called Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss), who claims to have discovered something that will be of scientific interest and worthy of publication. Dr Mercer is more than a bit skeptical, particularly when Uncle Willie shows him a highly suspicious skeleton and demands to be co-author on Boley's next book. But subsequent events prove that there is more to Uncle Willie's story than even he imagined: a gargoyle invasion that recurs every 600 years and threatens the very existence of humankind.
It's obvious that GARGOYLES was made on a low budget in a time before CGI, but the script isn't all that bad, and there are a couple of fairly scary moments. The director used a slow reveal technique to gradually introduce us to the gargoyles, so some of the early scenes are more effective for us not knowing the full nature of the menace. Probably the most compelling scene is in Willie's isolated shack late at night in the desert, when something unseen but very powerful attacks. This is followed by a decent car chase in the dead of night, and later Diana--in true horror movie tradition--decides to walk alone at night in a scene which might have been very effective if played out a bit longer. The creature effects in GARGOYLES were designed by Stan Winston early in his career, and the head gargoyle is well done and menacing, particularly in an "evil laugh" closeup. The hatching of the gargoyle eggs is also a pretty decent special effect.
Unfortunately there are also a lot of weak points that will be distractions to the modern viewer. Probably because of budget limitations, the gargoyles don't fly until one brief scene at the end. They walk or run--often in slow motion, which was a popular visual technique in that era (e.g. THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, a popular sci fi series from the 1970s), and in one scene the head gargoyle even rides horseback. The gargoyle costumes aren't all equally effective, and some of them made me think of the flying monkeys in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Much of the second half of the movie takes place in a cave where the gargoyles have hidden their eggs, and I couldn't help but feel that these scenes could have been darker and creepier.
As the cliche expression goes, cliches abound. Of course Dr Boley owns a car with a defective starter, a predictable dramatic device which is used several times. Diana seems to have nothing in her wardrobe but halter tops: less blatant than recent horror movies, but still in the scantily clad female character tradition. Grayson Hall of DARK SHADOWS fame plays the hard-drinking owner of a local motel, and--just in case we might forget the hard-drinking aspect of her character--is almost never seen without a beverage in her hand. And GARGOYLES is yet another horror movie in which interspecies lust plays an important role (think back to KING KONG and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON). There is a bit more justification here, because the appearance of gargoyles in the Middle Ages is referenced more than once, with the suggestion that stories of evil seductive incubi could be attributed to them. The head gargoyle's appearance makes one think of a satyr.
It's fun to speculate that GARGOYLES might have had an influence on later horror movies. The monster in JEEPERS CREEPERS bears a physical resemblance to the gargoyles, and there is a scene in the 1972 movie in which one of the gargoyles lands on the roof of Dr Boley's car during a night chase--echoed in the attack on the police car in JEEPERS CREEPERS. The 600-year cycle of the gargoyles is similar to the creeper's 23-year recurrence. The burning of the gargoyle eggs in GARGOYLES is a forerunner of Ripley's destruction of the alien eggs in ALIENS, though it might been have influenced by a similar scene in the 1954 movie THEM!
My take away is that GARGOYLES is a better than average TV movie from the 1970s that would have been a pretty decent theatrical film with a few changes to the script and a bigger budget.