Robin Pierce OnLine
Addressing the Geek Nation......
Shocktober 2021 13. The Witch (2015)
Shocktober 2021 12. The Frighteners (1996)
Shocktober 2021 11. The Others (2001)
Shocktober 2021 10 The Horror at 37,000 feet
Shocktober 2021 9. Van Helsing (2004)
Shocktober 2021 8. Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
Shocktober 2021 7 The Frozen Dead (1966)
Shocktober 2021 6. Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
Shocktober 2021 5. Race With the Devil (1975)
Shocktober 2021 4. The Return of the Vampire (1943)
Shocktober 2021 3. The Sorcerers (1967)
Shocktober 2021 1. The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Shocktober 2021 2. Gargoyles (1972)

“Oh, don’t worry dear. It gets worse” – Doctor Mercer Boley

It Came From The Tube: GARGOYLES (1972) - Daily Dead

Is anybody else old enough to remember the sudden influx of TV movies that made the rounds on television in the seventies? The Tuesday night Mystery Movies that showcased on a rota, characters like McCloud, Columbo and (my own favourite) Banacek? Among all the detective movies there were a few notable horror movies like Spielberg’s Duel, his lesser known Something Evil. There was also Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Trilogy of Terror – both of which have been covered in previous Shocktobers.

These were very effective and made a lasting impression on young me. Especially the little gremlins in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, terrorising Kim Darby and I’ll never forget the Zuni tribal doll terrorising Karen Black in Trilogy of Terror. These films have withstood the test of time, and are still watchable today, despite constraints of budget and the whims of the TV networks standards and practices. In fact, although we’re talking about the early seventies, I’ll add a superb TV movie from the 1981 to the list – Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Exceptional.

Gargoyles came to my attention in the early seventies. I saw a brief article in a magazine, (I can’t remember which) that showed a photo of the Gargoyles and immediately my then-twelve-year-old monster-fevered imagination was alight. Sadly, I wouldn’t see the film for a few years yet, and that was on a late night showing in my teens. But fond memories remained along the years and in last year, I finally managed to track the film down on DVD to add to the archive.

Big questions needed answering – was it still effective? Had the intervening decades of watching horror and SF movies numbed me? And lastly – was it worth tracking down and importing?

Well, what’s usual about Gargoyles is that it’s a made-for-TV monster movie. Often, the “monsters” were implied rather than shown outright (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’s gremlins being an exception). And what older me had discovered that kid me had no idea was that Gargoyles was make-up and effects genius Stan Winston’s first showcase for his incredible talents. His work would later be seen in Terminator, Aliens, Pumpkinhead, Jurassic Park, Edward Scissorhands, Galaxy Quest, Avatar – the list is legendary. It was also an early entry in the film career of Scott Glenn – so a film with some historical significance for us nerds.

As the film opens, a grave narrator gives us what amounts to a brief history of evil. Gargoyles are descended from Satan himself and are locked in battle with mankind for dominion over the Earth. It’s notable that among all the wood carvings and drawings of demons and gargoyles is a brief, 2 second clip from the silent movie Haxan: A History of Witchcraft Through the Ages, which again, has been covered in an earlier Shocktober.

Okay, so with only a seventy-four-minute running time, there’s no time to waste.

We’re in New Mexico, with anthropologist Doctor Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter, Diana (Jennifer Salt, who later in her career would produce the American Horror Story TV series). They’re researching for his new book and are following up on a lead in the middle of the desert. Unnervingly, they’re being watch from the high ground as they drive. And although we don’t see what’s watching, those shadows aren’t human. Add some theremin music and you’ve got a chill.

It seems that a crazy old coot called Uncle Willie (Woodrow Chambliss) has made a discovery that he wants to share with the Boleys – an unusual skeleton, around man sized, with wings and a beak-like structure to the skull. He insists it’s real, despite Mercer’s belittling dismissal, and begins to tell the old Native American legend.

An unseen force attacks the shack, setting the place on fire and the Boleys barely escape, but not before saving the demon-like skull. But poor Uncle Willie isn’t so lucky. But as they drive away in their station wagon, they too are subjected to a second attack. This is the first we see of the demonic gargoyles. They want the skull back and will stop at nothing to get it.

Finding refuge in a small town, the gargoyles have found them and are still after skull, but one of them is run over by a truck (there are different species of gargoyles and that particular one doesn’t have wings). So now, the Mercers have tangible evidence. Fat lot of good it’ll do them; the local redneck cops think that a gang of dirt bikers attacked and killed Uncle Willie and that’s that – until the gargoyles come for their fallen comrade and abduct Diana.

Up to this point, the film does what it does very effectively – we have caught long-shot glimpses of the gargoyles, and when they move, they’re shown in slow motion, which, in the half-light that we see them, gives them an aura of menace and weirdness. The suits and marks worn by the gargoyle actors are a step above what we would’ve been used to seeing on Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space or on Doctor Who back then.

They carry Diana back to their cave lair – and we discover the plot. The gargoyles breed every 500 years, and their egg hatchery is about to start popping. (This was the point where I started wondering if this film, featuring winged demonic creature appearing at intervals to terrorise the locality, inspired Jeepers Creepers at all. Worth considering.)

We’re led to believe there are thousands of eggs, but we only see a dozen or so. The leader of the gargoyles (Bernie Casey) has some of the good Doctor’s books and he wants Diana to read them to him. (When she reads a passage about a woman being raped by a demon, he gets creepily close to her and reassured her he has no interest in humans.)

So, the doctor, the local law and the acquitted and immediately deputised dirt bikers are on the trail, with sniffer dogs and find the cavern. (To be fair, it’s really the inside of a cave, not a studio set, but is the brightest lit dark, dank cave I’ve ever seen, lovely red hues here and there…)

The leader explains their plot for world domination to Mercer (or their plot as soon as the eggs hatch) while the search party set the strangely flammable eggs on fire, wiping out all but the leader and one female.

His final exchange with Mercer; “How clever you are. Your choice has allowed you and your daughter to survive. It also allows me and my kind to survive. Perhaps at the price of your supremacy on Earth one day” didn’t fill me with dread – he’s not going to be around for another five centuries. Unlike me. I’ll be returning with another long unseen made for TV gem from around this era later in the month.

Next time, we ask- is youth wasted on the young? 

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