Thursday, August 25, 2022

#2,805. Gargoyles (1972) - Cornel Wilde Triple Feature


Gargoyles has a few things going for it, chief among them the excellent make-up effects by a young Stan Winston, working on his very first film. But there are individual scenes in this 1972 made-for-TV horror movie that also stand out, executed perfectly by director Bill Norton and his crew.

Scientist / researcher Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt), a photographer, tour the Southwest to research a book Dr. Boley is writing on Demonology. Their first stop is at a roadside attraction owned and operated by Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss), who shows Dr. Boley and Diana what he claims is the actual skeleton of a gargoyle, an ancient race of creatures sent to earth by Satan to do his bidding. At first believing the skeleton is fake, Dr. Boley and Diana have a change of heart when Willie’s “Desert Museum” is attacked from the air… by gargoyles!

As father and daughter scramble to find a safe place to hide, the lead gargoyle (Bernie Casey) and his minions are doing what they can to track the good doctor down, all the while protecting their eggs, which, once hatched, could result in gargoyles becoming the dominant species on earth.

Not all of the make-up effects in Gargoyles are perfect. Some of the creatures look exactly like what they are – actors in a suit. Bernie Casey’s gargoyle, however, is damn near flawless, and the combination of his sinister appearance and creepy-as-hell voice (enhanced by a sort of echo effect) helped land Winston his first ever major award, a 1973 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup (which he shared with Del Armstrong and Ellis Burmen Jr.).

Along with its monsters, Gargoyles features several stand-out moments, all of which enhance the inherent horror in its story. I was especially impressed by a nighttime scene in which Dr. Boley and Diana are speeding away from Willie’s museum, only to be attacked by a gargoyle that had dropped onto the roof of their car, tearing it to pieces as its potential victims attempt to shake it loose. Equally strong is a sequence in which two gargoyles track Boley to a roadside motel and surprise him and Diana as they are lying in bed. And while the final showdown in the gargoyle’s lair, situated deep in a desert cave, is hit-and-miss (on their home turf, the creatures just don’t seem as threatening), it does end the movie on an exciting note.

The performances are quite good. Wilde and Salt make for likable leads, but its Woody Chambliss (as the nearly-senile Willie) and Casey (as the evil gargoyle) who steal their respective scenes. Also appearing is a young Scott Glenn, who plays Reeger, a biker who agrees to help Dr. Boley during a key scene in the movie's final act.

All this, plus the film’s frantic pace and Robert Prince’s effective (if slightly overused) musical score, helped turn Gargoyles into one the most memorable TV horror movies of the seventies.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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