TV Terror Guide: Gargoyles (1972)




Air Date: Nov. 21, 1972 (The New CBS Tuesday Night Movies)

Production Companies: Tomorrow Entertainment

Running Time: 74 min.

Available on: Henstooth Video (DVD)

Written by: Stephen Karpf and Elinor Karpf

Directed by: Bill Norton

Cast: Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt, Grayson Hall, Bernie Casey, Scott Glenn

Beloved as it may be, part of me wishes I had left Gargoyles (1972) to live in my memory. Yes, the leader of the beasts, with Emmy award-winning makeup by Stan Winston, still looks amazing. However, I had forgotten (or didn’t notice when I last watched this as a “kid”) that he’s outnumbered three-to-one by creatures wearing inferior masks and spotted leotards.

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The other gargoyles range from a decent-looking descendant of a Land of the Lost Sleestak, to a pitiful-looking tribute to a vintage Ben Cooper Halloween costume. You don’t see these pictures when you search on Google Images! I exaggerate, but the point is, the movie isn’t full of gargoyles like I remembered it was.

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I hate to criticize it for that; I love a good, bad monster costume. It’s just that when there are both good and bad, you notice the difference. I’ve read that the slow motion shots frequently used were designed “to give the gargoyles an unnatural jerky quality.” No, it just looks like bad slo-mo to me and provides extra time to examine the shortcomings of the creatures.

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By far, my favorite thing about Gargoyles is the appearance of Grayson Hall, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Dark Shadows) herself. She plays a boozy motel manager with a drink in her hand in literally every scene. When she enters the police station, she goes right to the sheriff’s desk and knows in which drawer he hides his bottle, so she can fill her empty glass.

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She doesn’t deserve her fate of hanging upside down from a telephone pole, but that’s what happens when you try to leave town to get help during a gargoyle infestation. She’s part of a tidy plot in which anthropologist Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde), and his daughter, Diana (Jennifer Salt) arrive in the small New Mexico town researching his new book…

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...the subject of which coincidentally happens to be demonology. (The gargoyles here are considered to be ancient demons.) They visit Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss) at his desert museum when the old man promises them he has something they’ll want to see. Boley comments that he smells old bones and is soon staring at the skeleton of a winged creature.

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Without wasting one of its 74 minutes, live winged creatures are soon attacking. The scenes where we don’t see them are chilling. We hear flapping noises or see shadows, leaving the actions of their mayhem to our imaginations. Director Bill Norton handles the atmosphere of these scenes well, but the film suffers from too much other daylight location shooting.

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In an early screen role, Scott Glenn appears as James Reeger, a youngster who is accused, with his “gang,” of wreaking the havoc for which we know they’re not really responsible. Diana takes a shine to Reeger and tries to convince the police chief that they’re innocent. Unfortunately, head gargoyle (Bernie Casey) takes a shine to Diana.

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He/it abducts her and takes her to his cave hideout where we see an egg chamber with a few eggs that will later be quantified as “hundreds and hundreds… there must be thousands.” We also learn that the gargoyles aren’t bad. They’re just misunderstood. While we don’t see a gargoyle actually fly until the very end, we do see one ride a horse. Who knew they knew how?

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I’m making fun of Gargoyles, but it really is an entertaining movie. Compact and efficient with a simple, yet purposeful plot, I have no trouble imagining how special it must have been in 1972. (I don’t remember specifically watching it, but I sure remember the commercials.) Now it’s just quaint. Deep in my heart, I love those “giant lizards with beaks.” Well, one of them anyway.

Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Gargoyles as well as all the great movies from this series...

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