Director – Bill Norton
Cast – Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt, Grayson Hall, Bernie Casey, Scott Glenn, William Stevens, John Gruber, Woody Chambliss
Release Year – 1972
Reviewed by John of the Dead
For years I had been meaning to check out this TV movie but I always passed it over for other efforts. After updating my Netflix DVD queue I quickly gave this a watch and was pretty impressed with the end result. The winner of a Primetime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Achievement In Makeup”, this marks the first film under the belt of legendary FX artist Stan Winston. The horror hits hard, and even though it ultimately falters near the end I still enjoyed this thanks to the great FX and 70s charm.
While traveling the American southwest, anthropologist Dr. Mercer Boley and his daughter Diana come across the skeletal remains of an unidentified desert creature, and the hoard of gargoyles who will stop at nothing to see the bones returned.
Written by television writers Steven Karpf and Elinor Karpf, this brisk 74-minute effort may serve as the best of horror’s gargoyle movies. Sadly, there are very few I can compare this one too and every one of them has been pretty terrible except for this TV film. The story begins with a bit of history, informing us that gargoyles are mankind’s most ancient adversaries, where a battle between the two foes occurs every 600 years. We begin with Dr. Mercer and Diana answering the call of a wacky old man in the desert who claims to have come across an unexplainable desert monster. Dr. Mercer is skeptical of the man’s claims, while Diana is the dreamer of the two, so they give him a chance and boy does he deliver. Inside a dusty shed hangs the skeletal remains of a gargoyle, although they don’t know what it is as the time. It isn’t until the beasts attack them in the middle of the night that they know they have stumbled onto something bigger than they’d ever imagined. From then on out they are bombarded by gargoyle attacks as they try to recover their deceased that are now in the possession of Mercer and Diana. The usual clichés are at play here, like the two keeping the ruckus a secret from the local police who likely would not believe them anyway. Thankfully, things eventually erupt to the point where the police find out first-hand that the gargoyles said to reside in the desert have now made their way to town and are killing the locals. With a major story revelation at about the 44 minute mark, things slow down for a bit as the locals regroup and form a counter-offensive. Mercer, the small police force, and a group of ragtag bikers lead by the “Daredevil” TV show’s Scott Glenn (“Stick”) lead the fight until a lackluster climax leaves you wanting more.
For a TV movie I especially enjoyed the horror seen early in the film. The first act is incredible, with the gargoyle skeleton genuinely creeping me out. As the attacks grow in severity we see how the gargoyles look in the flesh and I was pleased with the result. We learn that only the authoritative ones can fly, and naturally they look the spookiest. I did notice that as the film progressed are more gargoyles were appearing on screen the look of them diminished greatly. The heavily detailed antagonists of the first act transformed into guys in green onesies by the third act, which is luckily quite short and anticlimactic. Even though the flick gradually loses its steam I still enjoyed it. It gets a lot of things right and like I said earlier, it may be the best gargoyle movie we have.
Overall, Gargoyles is a good TV film sure to please those who enjoy creature flicks and the appeal of 70s TV films. It isn’t perfect and it loses steam, but in the end it’s a brisk watch with some worthwhile horror.