Release Date: November 21st, 1972 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: B.W.L. Norton Actors: Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt, Grayson Hall, Bernie Casey, Scott Glenn, William Stevens, Woody Chambliss
he devil was once the most favored of the host of angels attending to the Lord. But with his abundant pride, he soon thought it unseemly to oblige. “It is better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” And so, after an uprising, the devil was banished to the outermost depths of Hell, where he remained, still swollen with superiority, to groom his army of spawn: the gargoyles. One day, these minions will rule the Earth – though they bide their time lurking, waiting, and being reborn every 600 years to engage in historic battles to gain control of mankind.
In present day, man has all but forgotten his most ancient adversary. But Professor Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde), the author of the upcoming novel “5000 Years of Demonology,” still believes in the mythology of these hellions. When he’s not lecturing or appearing in television interviews, he’s collecting demon sculptures and researching wild claims by eccentric recluses. His daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) accompanies him on his latest trip, to Mexico, where he hopes to look at some Indian artifacts and transcripts of exorcism rites unearthed by the elderly, batty Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss). Instead, Willie shows them a fully intact skeleton of a gargoyle hung up in the barn, which Mercer immediately laughs at, positive that it’s a fake.
Nevertheless, Boley is still interested in hearing about the legends of Indian chiefs and their rituals concerning winged devils inhabiting the mountains. What begins as an unnerving chat turns into sudden chaos; in a particularly well assembled sequence, claws rip through the barn ceiling, wood beams crash down upon Willie’s head, flames tear apart the dwelling, and the Boleys’ escape vehicle just won’t seem to start smoothly. With a piercing scream from Diana, the sound of heavy bodies scurrying across the roof, and finally a furry claw clamping down on the window of their car, the stage is set for an effective horror picture – even if it was made for TV and with a clearly limited budget.
Although there’s a seriousness to the characters and their actions (coupled with an innocence or carelessness), without any frivolous comic relief, there’s some unintentional humor from Mercer continually replaying a recording of Diana’s scream, as well as the fact that Diana wears conspicuously skimpy outfits during the first half of the film. As if the thrills weren’t enough – or horror movie tropes were obeyed too closely – “Gargoyles” pointedly includes unsubtle sexuality, highlighted by the fondling of Diana while she’s unconscious, and one of the creatures (a jealous female) ripping away clothing from her torso. Additionally, Wilde goes shirtless for a number of scenes, and even a bit part by Scott Glenn reveals sweaty musculature. Plus, the sound effects of the lead gargoyle (Bernie Casey) are unmistakably sexually agitated.
Further following with a generic formula, there’s a creepy hotel with a drunk proprietor (Grayson Hall), disbelieving policemen, and music that tries earnestly to be eerie but occasionally chimes with fluttering notes of silliness. Diana also makes a point of wandering off at night alone, while her father insists upon protecting a gargoyle corpse rather than his own daughter – who exclaims earnestly that their lives are in danger. Despite the faults, which carry over into the less-than-convincing creature costumes (designed in part by Stan Winston in his makeup department debut) and a dependence on misplaced slow-motion, the consistent tone of severity can’t be overlooked. There’s mediocrity here, but also some obvious monster movie fun.
– Mike Massie