Gargoyles (1972): United States – directed by Bill L. Norton

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some violent content

One might be forgiven for not having heard of Gargoyles, and their ignorance would be understandable.  Gargoyles is a made-for-TV movie, not a category that I will generally review.  But in this case Stan Winston is responsible for the gargoyle makeup, and it is certainly interesting to see where a legend got his start.

And, while the film is not particularly good, it is a mere 74 minutes long.  One of the most interesting parts of the film is the opening credits, which look like they belong in a Simpsons Halloween special, made of goofy, gooey green letters.  Unfortunately, most of the rest of the film is dreadful.

The movie starts with a girl getting off a plane.  Her outfit is strange, with a bikini-like top thing similar to what it looks like when you take the middle of the bottom of your shirt and tuck it into the neck so as to pretend that it’s a bikini.  It just seems a bit odd, and it is a bad sign when one of the film’s most memorable moments has to do with a strange wardrobe choice.

The girl, whose name is Diana (Jennifer Salt), is visiting her father, Dr. Boley (Cornel Wilde), who is an author/professor/archeologist specializing in debunking old myths about demons.  In an hilarious prologue a narrator discusses old myths about Gargoyles, how they’re not really only stone things, they’re also demons that wake up every 600 years to attempt to destroy humanity. They must not be very good at their job, because we’re still here.

The father and daughter team head out into the southwestern desert to visit an old coot who claims to have some proof of old demons.  He has procured a funny-looking skeleton, but suddenly giant creatures break into the barn and the old man dies.  Dr. Boley and Diana drive off, get attacked by more creatures, stay in a motel thing for a couple nights, and find themselves caught up with the mystery of the old man’s death and the giant creatures.

The story is rather plain and dull.  An extra element is added with a biker gang who are suspected for the murder and a crazy motel owner who drinks too much, but even these are slight.  Production-wise, the directing and acting aren’t too dreadful, but with a poor script it’s hard for anyone to shine.  Fortunately, the gargoyles get a large amount of screen time. Unfortunately, they are men wearing lizard suits.  Most of them look dreadful, absolutely awful.  The main one, however, sometimes looks sort of cool, almost like the Creeper from Jeepers Creepers.

The gargoyles plan is rather stupid.  They are plotting a war against humankind, but first they have to gather up the bones of their dead (like the skeleton the old man had found) and the dead bodies of anyone else that dies (like one gargoyle that gets hit by a semi and whose body is stolen by the author/professor/archeologist).  After a while they kidnap the girl, but the main gargoyle doesn’t want to kill her.  Instead he has a bunch of books that he makes her read to him so that the gargoyles can learn about the history of the world and grow stronger so they can defeat the humans.  I am not making this up.

As a horror film, Gargoyles fails on most levels.  There is some violence, but it consists primarily of shooting gargoyles and watching them fall over.  As a made-for-TV movie the filmmakers weren’t allowed to show anything too graphic.  Diana spends much of the movie in her bikini-like thing, but one shouldn’t expect anything titillating.  It’s interesting to note that Salt is now one of the writers and producers for “Nip/Tuck.”  Other than offering an early look at Stan Winston’s make-up effects, Gargoyles won’t be of much interest to anyone but those who saw it on television back in the 1970’s.

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