An appreciation by Bob Ignizio
In the nineteen-seventies there were a number of Made For TV horror films that, despite low budgets and the constraints of network standards and practices, really did their best to scare the crap out of audiences: Dan Curtis'THE NIGHT STALKER and TRILOGY OF TERROR, Steven Spielberg's DUEL, and John Newland's recently remade DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK are probably the best known examples. For me, though, the most memorable example of this short lived trend was a surprisingly effective creature feature called GARGOYLES.
After a brief but cool sequence laying out a phony baloney history of gargoyles as spawns of Satan meant to inherit the earth, the film introduces us to Professor Boley (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter Diana (Jeniffer Salt) as they stop at a roadside tourist trap. The proprietor, a classic “crazy old coot” type of the sort that used to be mandatory for movies like this named “Uncle Willie” (Woody Chamblis), claims he has the skeleton of a real gargoyle kept in his shed. Boyle, being skeptical of the supernatural to begin with, is dismissive of the man's claims at first, but when the shed comes under attack from real live gargoyles intent on retrieving the remains of their fallen comrade, there's little room left for skepticism.
GARGOYLES offers up slow motion rubber suit monster attacks, a gang of bad-boy bikers led by Scott Glenn, a stereotypical redneck sheriff (William Stevens), a notable lack of fabric in the wardrobe of Ms. Salt, and former NFL star Bernie Casey as the King Gargoyle. The gargoyle costumes are surprisingly effective, and while they might not come across as convincing by today's standards, they have a certain creepiness about them that can't be denied. Even in the seventies, there was only so much you could get away with on TV. That said, there are some genuinely intense and effective scare scenes, and a slight aura of sleaze permeates the whole affair. In short, what's not to like?
Make no mistake, the seams in the film do show, especially to modern audiences used to more realistic special effects. Whatever power to frighten the film might have once possessed has faded, at least for jaded adult viewers. But just as I caught GARGOYLES at the right time as a feature on WUAB Channel 43's 'Superhost' program, those younger viewers who haven't yet lost the capacity for imagination and wonder might still find the film giving them fodder for nightmares. And even those who can only see it as camp these days will at least be thoroughly entertained.