Move over Universals Monster Classicstheres a new kid in town! Say hello to VCI HomeVideos horror collection, perhaps one of the best low-budget DVD purchases for the horror enthusiast who thought that they had it all. Forget all those extra DVD freebies and gamessit back and enjoy the best of the bargain bin. Of their titles, one of my favorites is Gargoyles, the directorial debut of seasoned television horror, sci-fi and suspense director B.W.L. Norton. Nortons twenty years of television directing have peaked in recent years. His credits include FreakyLinks, The Fugitive, Roswell and episodes of The Invisible Man and Angel. But it all started with Gargoyles.
Gargoyles is one of those obscure made-for-T.V. movies that no one has seen, and no one has missed. Well, no one except for me. I didnt see a lot of films in 1972, the year Gargoyles premiered. I had a good excuse, though. I was four years old. But after a mere glimpse of the cover of the new VCI DVD, I immediately recognized it as one of my favorite horror films from childhood. Who could forget the incredible makeup and costumes of this Saturday matinée classic? The lead gargoyle had fantastic wings and extraordinary facial features, and his minions were uniquely designed to represent Hells amazing diversity. In fact, Gargoyles won an Emmy 1972-1973 for Outstanding Makeup, pretty impressive for a low budget, 70s made-for-TV horror movie. And the story isnt bad either.
The story begins with anthopologist Dr. Mercer Boley (forty years into the career of actor Cornel Wilde) picking up his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt of Soap notoriety) from the airport. Together, they speed off to collect material for his upcoming coffee table book, 5000 Years of Demonology, a follow-up to a similar previous oeuvre on “monsters for fun and profit.” Their first interview is with Uncle Willie at his infamous Desert Museum, a classic roadside animal freak show. The conversation moves quickly from cool-beer discussion to a hot-headed interrogation of old Uncle Willie by the doubting Dr. Boley. The confrontation climaxes in the surprising, and surprisingly spooky, unveiling of a gargoyle skeleton. While Dr. Boley is busy playing the scientific skeptic, gargoyles ambush the barn. The resulting inferno destroys Uncle Willie, his freak show and almost all of the evidence. Dr. Boley and his daughter take the gargoyle skull and speed off into the night in their wood-paneled hot rod station wagon.
Perhaps my favorite scene as a child was when the gargoyles attack the station wagon during the Boleys desperate nighttime getaway. The dramatic clawing of the wagon by the gargoyle and Dr. Boyles wacky driving (evidenced by dusty desert road tire squeals) cause tremendous damage to this classic car. They manage to escape, however, and hightail it for the nearest small town. They drop off their claw-marked vehicle for repair and shack up at the downtrodden Cactus Hotel, managed by a colorful, curler-laden, lush of a caretaker, Mrs. Parker (Grayson Hall). “We get a lot of dooseys on the road,” explains Mrs. Parker, when she learns of their demolished vehicle.
The next day, with police in tow, Dr. Boley and his daughter return to the ashes of the barn. Dirt bikers who happen to be poking through the wreckage are immediatly suspect, (including lead biker James Reeger played by a young, frisky Scott Glenn), and run from the fuzz in a good ol cops n bikers chase scene.
That night, the Boleys hotel room is visited by thieving gargoyles who come for the horned gargoyle skull. In their escape from the conflict with the ever-vigilant Dr. Boley, one of the gargoyles is hit on the highway by a semi truck, and becoming yet another collectors item for the curious Dr. Boley. The gargoyles return that night to collect their dead friend, and a little something extraDiana Boley. Our first glimpse of the head, winged gargoyle comes as he fondles the fainted Diana, and then carries her away. Its not long until the skeptical police, James and his dirt bike gang, and Dr. Boyle join forces to find Diana in the clandestine gargoyle lair in the desert cliffs. Does Diana marry the gargoyle king, or even worse, read her fathers books to them? Do the dirt bikers save the day with their wheelie prowess? Are gargoyles really born by hatching from giant eggs?
I will spare you the spoilersbut suffice it to say that this horror film is a great period piece. Interesting dialogue, excellent sound editing, interesting film speed techniques, reasonable pacing, compelling costumes, and a tight story keep the viewer interested in what could easily have been a rather tedious film. Bernie Casey as the lead Gargoyle is fantasticdemonstrative of a tremendous acting range that he has developed over thirty years work and fifty film and television programs. Casey displayed his talent as an actor primarily in the 70s in films such as Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976), The Martian Chronicles (1979), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), among others. He continues to perform in speculative genres, albeit less frequently, including John Carpenters In the Mouth of Madness (1985). Wilde and Casey together provide commanding performances that lift this C-movie story to a B-movie classic.