Directed by Bill Norton
November 21, 1972
The New CBS Tuesday Night Movies
A mythology expert and his daughter stumble across gargoyles that are ready to hatch their army and devastate the earth after centuries of waiting.
I remember seeing this movie when I was a very small child in reruns. Since this is a 1972 release and I was not born quite then it had to of been. It is one of those movies that has always lingered in the back of my mind. It grabbed ahold of the imagination of my inner child and never quite let go of it well into my adulthood.
Whether or not this copy I stumbled across on YouTube is the complete film I do not know because it has been decades since I last watched it but what there is of the movie here still holds up quite well. At least for a 70s television film. The production values are on par with lower budget horror films of the time up into the mid-80s. This was a dark time for horror with generally low production values, bad acting, and stories heavy in questionable logic. This has them all and I like it mostly.
This film is a midpoint between more modern horror and very old-school horror films. The setting is not some vaguely European land or some mysterious countryside in some New England state but rather the California desert. That puts it with one foot firmly in modern horror. It also has one foot in older horror films with such things as the easily frightened woman, a man who was too old to be a father but clearly is with a pipe in his mouth more often than not, and a monster whose eye was caught by her for one reason or another.
I applaud the effort here even if they were limited by budget and tropes of the time. For one thing the use of a skeleton I found intriguing. And maybe that is another thing that helped stick in my mind because I clearly remember the moment when the old prospector type character Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss) shows off the gargoyle skeleton and what happens immediately afterwards. It is an interesting prop for any horror film and especially stands out in a TV movie of the time.
The creature effects also took ahold of my mind. This was the first film to feature the work of the legendary Stan Winston and for the time he created some mind-blowing monstrosities. I admit by modern standards they look a bit dated but by and large they hold up. My only issue is with wing size. It even bothered me as a child with a smattering of knowledge. The wings were just too small for them to look as if they could fly.
I do give Winston some props though. He tried to make the creatures look like they were gargoyle statues. Or I should say that gargoyle statues were modeled on them. At least all but the lead gargoyle who had the most human appearance and was performed by the great Bernie Casey and voiced by Vic Perrin. The prosthetics technology of the time limited their ability to make something more than a static face, but they were menacing enough.
The story itself is not too bad. It is an interesting idea that gargoyles are real creatures that because of their gestation time have been relegated to myth. These creatures not being seen for so long that they became stories would be used to better effect in the later animated series also called Gargoyles but here we see the grains of that idea used well.
Gargoyles is directed with a surprising level of menace for a TV movie of the time. I am not saying you will be genuinely frightened, but it has an atmosphere and a level of tension as well as a level of creep that seems higher than you would normally find in a movie from the 70s. There was potential here for something frightening. I think this might be a movie/idea that could benefit from a reboot.
The acting here is better than most even though the young daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) is there just to scream in horror. She does not do too bad though her part is probably the weakest written but what they did with her was unfortunately common at the time. Females in horror films were there to scream. The man just generally looked in shock and then saved the day.
Something sticks with me concerning Diana. I am still not sure what possessed her to leave the safety of the hotel after that one gargoyle attack to go talk to the police. The creatures were in the area and after her and her father but for some reason she thought it was safe enough to go walk across town to plead for the release of a group of youth with Scott Glenn in an early roll as local youth James Reeger who was part of a group that were arrested because the police assumed, they had destroyed the shack when Uncle Willie was killed.
I also draw issue with the gargoyle leader capturing her. It is such an annoying cliché that the only female in the movie no matter how good or bad looking she is gets captured by the films monster. In this case it does not appear to be so much because he thought she was hot but rather to educate his fellow monsters so they are prepared to face modern humans. It would have made more sense to capture the dad but for some reason they did not. There is an implication of an attraction but not as strong as in older films like Frankenstein.
And for some reason the gargoyles are able to easily track Dr. Boley (Cornel Wilde) and Diana wherever they go. They find them in their hotel with little to no explanation. It really bothers me.
The movie was original for its time. It tried something different and I think it mostly worked. The story is smooth enough and original enough that it overcomes its flaws. You will be entertained, and it will hold your attention.
Gargoyles is a fun and entertaining television movie entry from the early 70s. You can either watch it on the link below or from what I understand it is available for purchase. However just watch it!