Friday, May 22, 2015


Bill L. Nolton

Dr. Boley (Cornel Wilde), is an anthropologist specializing in demons.  He and his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) are traveling to see a man who claims to have something Dr. Boley would be interested in. The man has a complete skeleton of some kind of monster. Suddenly, the building they are in collapses. The old man is killed but, Dr. Boyle and Diana escape with the skull of the monster. They hope to get back to civilization with their find, but things from the desert are closing in to retrieve what is theirs.

Network television produced movies often face an uphill battle. They tend to be under very tight restrictions in budget and content. They often feel small and constricted on the 4:3 screen. A number of them were hurriedly produced to capitalize on a popular film or trend, and in that way they share a kinship with exploitation films. When films like this managed to surpass their heavy limitations, they made huge impressions on their viewers and would be remembered for a long time afterwards. TV movies are often relegated to time fillers and used as pilots for a series, so it’s cause for celebration when one can evoke some atmosphere and an interesting story.

The distinct look of 1970s caves.
The desert setting is the single biggest asset in Gargoyles. It immediately gives the story a desolate isolated feeling. As characters cast furtive glances out into the vast expanse of sand, there is the ever present feeling that something is watching them. The motel and the small town that Dr. Boley and Diana encounter feel half abandoned and offer little shelter for the unseen menace that pursues them.

"Can I climb into bed with you? I'm scared."
The gargoyles themselves are impressive creations, especially for a tiny budgeted feature made in 1972. This shouldn’t come as surprise seeing as the legendary Stan Winston is behind them. Aside from a less than convincing flying scene near the end, the gargoyles hold-up very well, even today. They are often shot in slow motion giving them a dreamlike effect. The fact that the lead gargoyle can speak, and is in fact, eloquent, is a wonderful moment that turns them from one dimensional monsters into legitimate characters.

One of the things that surprised me about Gargoyles was the fact there is a certain moral ambiguity. Dr. Boley is willing to throw some bikers to the cops, and has little problem with killing off gargoyles in an effort to rescue his daughter. The gargoyles are set-up as the eternal enemies of mankind, but when we meet them they are in a weak position, barely crawling back from extinction. It not only gives their actions some clear motivation, but a measure of sympathy. Throw in a weird gargoyle/Diana love triangle and you have more story than expected from a seventy minute long TV movie.

Those who saw Gargoyles when they were young have it etched in their minds. I was born a little too late to have that pleasure, but viewing it now, I can see why it's remained alive in the minds of so many. It surpasses expectations, and delivers a creepy, albeit short horror experience, that still works more than four decades later.

No comments:

Post a Comment