Archive for the 'Horror' Category


Patrick (1978)

I once had a quest to watch all the Australian horror I could get my hands on. Then I saw a Mark Savage movie and decided perhaps I didn’t have to be so completist about everything. This is going to sound strange coming from me, but sometimes it is in fact good to have standards. At any rate, this quest first introduced me to Patrick, and it blew me away the first time I saw it. Now, I don’t want to spoil things for you, but the second time it wasn’t as awesome as I’d remembered it, but it still stands up as a pretty decent horror flick. Anyway, they’re always better with Aussie accents.

Brain-dead Patrick. Or is he?

Brain-dead Patrick. Or is he?

Patrick is one of those guys who kills his mom and her lover and never quite recovers from it. The boy’s been in a coma ever since the “accident” happened. The doctor and nurses at the hospital where he resides believe him to be brain dead, and some of them even debate on whether or not it’s a good thing to keep him alive. That all changes when Kathy, a young woman recently separated from her husband, gets a job there. Though the battle-axe head nurse Matron Cassidy begrudgingly offers her the position, she makes no secret of her distaste for the newly ‘liberated’ woman’s situation. Kathy takes what she can get though, in the name of independence.

Clearly Cassidy has it out for her, because she assigns Kathy to room 15, a room she won’t even consider going into herself. This, of course, turns out to be Patrick’s room. Most of the nurses are used to Patrick’s room by now, what with the weird, seemingly random spitting episodes and his empty stare. They have no trouble going about their business while watching him, changing his bed, administering medications, etc. But Kathy is a little different; in fact, she thinks Patrick’s brain is still very much alive.

Kathy doesn't know what she's in for.

Kathy doesn’t know what she’s in for.

First, it’s just a feeling Kathy has. Patrick seems to be listening. Then, suddenly, her typewriter starts sending her messages that claim to be from Patrick himself. Soon, she asks Patrick to communicate with her; a spit twice if yes, once if no kinda deal. When Patrick follows her directions, Kathy has a hell of a time getting any of the staff to listen to her concerns. It doesn’t help that her personal life is in such disarray; the neurologist she’s dating can be kind of a dick, and her husband keeps turning up in her apartment! But things are weirder than that; it almost seems as though Patrick is jealous of the men in her life as strange things start happening to them. Can Kathy prove Patrick is using telekinetic powers to control his environment, or will everyone think she’s just a tramp and a quack?

A surprisingly good little flick, which might be the reason why it stood out in my head as really good the first time I saw it. I wouldn’t say it’s really good, but

Nurse nasty nun.

Nurse nasty nun.

it is better than average, and definitely worth a watch. What it is really good at is creating a legitimately creepy atmosphere with plenty of what-the-fuck moments, which is always a nice thing to have in a horror movie. Patrick’s stare is definitely the stuff of nightmares, and the filmmakers do a great job of maintaining the atmosphere throughout the whole film. A fast-paced gore-fest this is not; it shouldn’t surprise you to hear it’s more of the psychological thriller than a straight-up horror flick. The plot reminded me a bit of Romero’s Monkey Shines, which wasn’t made until a decade after Patrick. It definitely does different things, and scares in different ways, but there is an undeniable similarity there.

The drag is, I’ve only ever seen the film with the original score. It looks like there’s an Italian version out there with Goblin doing the soundtrack, and I can only imagine that makes the movie 10 times better, especially considering there are moments where the original score isn’t so great. So, if possible, get your hands on that version, and let me know how it is!


Hellbenders (2012)

Few things please me more than browsing a used-dvd horror section; I’ve stolen away with quite a few gems in my day, attracted by an actor’s name, art on the box, or an intriguing plot. Seeing as how I don’t keep up with the times and have no idea what’s good or bad in horror these days, I’m shooting in the dark when it comes to picking the good from the bad. So, when I saw Clancy Brown’s name in a film called Hellbenders about priests who sin like crazy so they can drag demons into hell, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Some priests kiss the crucifix. These kiss razorblades!

Some priests kiss the crucifix. These kiss razorblades!

It’s really too bad you can only sort of tell a film’s tone by its packaging. I knew we were in trouble once we watched the trailer; an in-your-face punch-fest with too-cool one-liners. Uh oh. Turns out Hellbenders is like a post-Boondock Saints version of Ghostbusters with a hard-on for The Big Lebowski. A strange trio of influences, but they’re all there in spades.

So as I briefly mentioned before, the movie is about a group of priests called The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints. Their job is to blaspheme and sin their way through life so they’re always “damnation ready” in preparation for that big exorcism where they may have to kill themselves in order to drag the demon at hand into hell. Stephen keeps the books, tracking each sin committed by the group. The sins have to be bad enough and frequent enough so that they’d be damned to eternal hellfire any time they might die. Though they may take many bonghits and fornicate day and night, some are better at sinning than others.

Angus (Clancy Brown) is their leader, perpetually dressed like Jeffrey Lebowski, he swears his way through the

I think they got the wrong Lebowski.

I think they got the wrong Lebowski.

movie, counseling the lesser sinners in the art of damnation. Then there’s Larry (Clifton Collins Jr.) a rather milquetoast guy who seems to think drinking constantly and cheating on his wife with fellow Hellbound Saint Elizabeth will be enough to get him into Hell. There’s a few others, but they aren’t given enough substance to write about here, except I will mention one of them is a Polish dude who’s always wearing sunglasses that reminds me an awful lot of Walter Sobchak.

When they’re not toking away at the bong, taking shots off each-other’s bellies or fornicating, they’re off fighting demons. Occasionally the bishop line rings and they’re off to the races – but only if they’re damnation ready. It’s too bad the b-team got sent on what seemed to be a routine exorcism but ended up being a real doozy of a demon! Elizabeth and Macon (quiet, least badass priest who unfortunately spends the rest of the film in a body cast) try to cast the demon out, but find out they’re dealing with far more than your garden-variety evil. In fact, it’s Surtr they’re fighting: killer of gods, bringer of Ragnarok! Oh, shit! Surtr has no trouble possessing Elizabeth and soon the demon is loose in New York City, wreaking a lot of Ghostbusters-like havoc.

Clint is not down with all the blaspheming and sinning.

Clint is not down with all the blaspheming and sinning.

Angus is pissed off that Elizabeth wasn’t ready to take a demon down into hell, but all Larry can do is whine and moan that this chick he slept with a year ago is gone. He wants to save her! What a terrible time for the pope to die and the bishops to send out their auditing crew! In walks Clint, a mix between Walter Peck from Ghostbusters and Brandt from Lebowski who is just appalled by the blasphemy and insists on shutting down the group, even though they’re the only ones who can save the world from the fire of Ragnarok! How will they get out of this one?

Ooof, this movie is a confused mess! I think it’s trying a little too hard to pander to a crowd thirsty for cult hits and ultraviolence; there are many scenes where someone is being beaten senseless, and then when they’re a bloody pulp, they’re beaten again. It’s almost as if JT Petty, the writer/director of the thing, thought he heard someone somewhere once say “I wish Ghostbusters had more senseless violence and cursing but none of the charm!” The problem is, I don’t think anyone ever said that. That’s where the “post-Boondock Saints” comment comes from; while I can’t say I

Elizabeth's looking a little rough these days.

Elizabeth’s looking a little rough these days.

remember much from that movie (in fact, I’m pretty sure I turned it off because it’s a stupid piece of shit) I do remember a lot of stupid violence played for laughs and a curse word every ten seconds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a square, but there’s a time and a place for violence and pottymouths, and the answer isn’t always everywhere, all the time. It just comes out forced, weak and insincere.

I guess I understand why someone would want to make a movie like Ghostbusters; it is after all one of the most entertaining movies ever made. But all of the things that make it good are lacking in Hellbenders. Add to it the weird fetish with The Big Lebowski; one look at Angus and Jeff Bridges’ Lebowski is immediately evident: the long hair in the face, the shitty robe, the weird pants. There’s even a scene where Angus pisses in a carton of half-and-half. There are other Lebowski-like moments, but no need to catalog them here. Suffice it to say if you watch it, take a shot after every Lebowski reference and you won’t be able to drive home.

This look pretty much sums up Collins Jr.'s performance. Wha? Meh.

This look pretty much sums up Collins Jr.’s performance. Wha? Meh.

But perhaps the weakest link of the film is Clifton Collins Jr., an actor I’ve never seen or heard of before, but turns out stars in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. You don’t say! His performance is completely anemic; there’s no gusto behind his curse words, which makes their frequency seem all the more forced. Q thinks his role would have been played better by Lou Diamond Phillips, but personally I think it was meant for Robert Beltran!

Sadly, this selection is going to be sold back to the store where it came from. Clancy Brown, you’ve failed me, but I won’t lose faith in you. Just make better decisions next time!


The Faculty (1998)

The Faculty is one of those movies that had been lying in wait for me to watch for a long time. I’d always heard, though I can’t for the life of me name the sources, that it was much better than anticipated; a smarter than the average horror movie. So, when we came across one of those 8-in-one DVDs with it on there we figured it was worth a gamble.

Poor Casey, he's just so misunderstood! If only the whole school knew what a great guy he was!

Poor Casey, he’s just so misunderstood! If only the whole school knew what a great guy he was!

All I gotta say is: ugh. I’m sure I’ve written this before, perhaps even in the very same words, but there is nothing worse than a movie that thinks it’s clever, but in reality is predictable and exhausting. I guess Kevin Williamson, the guy that wrote the screenplay, figured he could use the same formula he did for Scream, only this time it’s not a horror movie, it’s a sci-fi movie!

Welcome to Herrington High. It’s one of those high schools that’s exactly like adults think high schools are like: Delilah (Jordana Brewster) the captain of the cheerleading team and editor of the school newspaper is a total fucking bitch, but we’re still supposed to root for her. There’s Casey (Elijah Wood), a dork who crushes hard on her, even though she treats him like shit. There’s Stokely, an angsty loner who reads science-fiction novels (those will come in handy later!) who everyone calls a lesbian because… it’s 1998? There’s Stan the quarterback, who is tired of being loved for his athletic skill and wants to quit the team so he can focus on his… studies. There’s Deke (Josh Hartnett) the entrepreneurial drug and porn dealer who’s repeating his senior year, to sell more drugs, I guess. Finally there’s Marybeth Louise (Laura Harris, that blonde chick from Fifteen, remember that shit?), the new girl who’s bright, cheery, blonde and friendly.

So angsty. Wouldn't she look better in lavender?

So angsty. Wouldn’t she look better in lavender?

The only thing that could bring this unlikely group of cliches together is aliens taking over the school! No, seriously, like Casey and Delilah totally saw Piper Laurie and Robert Patrick suck the life out of Salma Hayek in the faculty lounge! Casey gets the cops involved, but of course they don’t believe him (he’s so misunderstood!) and Delilah goes “incognito” by, you know, putting on a pair of glasses or whatever, and won’t back him up because, uh, I don’t know, it’s not good for her reputation or something?

Could it be the faculty’s strange behavior and a weird, new species Casey finds on the football field are related? It certainly seems that way when the creature bites everyone’s favorite teacher Mr. Furlong (Jon Stewart), Mr. Edward Furlong (ha ha, get it! Get it?) and dude goes apeshit trying to infect Deke! That’s right, it’s this alien creature that’s been infecting the faculty, and the students one by one, in hopes of taking over the whole town! It’s a damn good thing Deke’s drugs are nothing more than No-Doz in powder form;

Eddie Furlong goes apeshit.

Eddie Furlong goes apeshit.

see, the aliens thrive on water, and the diuretic drug dries them out! Now the ragtag group of shitty teens has their weapon. Can they defeat the alien invaders?

Well there’s certainly no way they’d be able to win if it weren’t for Stokely and her vast knowledge of science fiction stories. She knows deep in her geek brain if they kill the mother alien, all the rest of the folks who have been inhabited by the alien will turn back to normal and everyone can be happy again! In theory. Now the trick is to find the mother of them all…

I don’t find Williamson’s cast of characters or how they relate to one-another interesting or innovative in any way. I suppose it’s possible the film just hasn’t aged well; perhaps in 1998 his choice was, oh, I dunno, edgy or some bullshit like that, but now it seems boring, flat, tired and predictable. Worse still is what happens to the kids after everything’s over: Casey is heralded a town hero, and only then does Delilah find him acceptable to be around. Am I supposed to cheer that Casey gets the girl; the bitchy, shitty girl that I fucking hate, in the end? Perhaps worse, Stokely, the black-clad geek kisses her new boyfriend Stan at the end of the film. Am I supposed to be happy that she’s not a lesbian? Now that she’s got a man, I guess the dreariness of life has lifted and it shows; she’s wearing a fucking lavender sweater. What the fuck are you trying to tell us,

She's infected... with bitchiness!

She’s infected… with bitchiness!

Williamson? If we use our geek knowledge for good we can be happy? That in the end no one really wants to wear black? Fuck it, let’s all go out and buy fucking lavender cardigans! I call fucking bullshit. It’s pretty much Ally Sheedy’s transformation at the end of the Breakfast Club; “you know, you look a lot better without all that black shit under your eyes.” At least she had the balls to say she liked all that black shit. This is all the more troubling being that the alien’s reason for attempting to take over the high school was because it knew the students wanted to belong; all it needed to do was exploit their lack of self-confidence in order to gain their submission. And what happens in the end? The alien hasn’t won their submission, but society has; they’ve given up their individual strangeness in favor for playing for team normal. And that is some lame-ass bullshit.

Perhaps Williamson was going for some sort of irony with the ending; a weak attempt at turning the genre on its head and pointing out all the faults with horror, sci-fi and teen films. But I don’t buy that. By the time we get to the ending, it’s far too late to attempt this kind of recovery. While Scream may have been a clear shot at meta filmmaking, The Faculty isn’t as much. It’s much more of a straight-forward horror/sci-fi flick that just happens to reference its source material. It makes its stabs at humor, but they rarely work and they certainly don’t color the movie as some sort of self-aware horror/comedy. Nope, I think this is just a shitty movie more interested in gaining the approval of the normal kids than appealing to the weirdos. It lost me. I think I hated it. Yes, pretty sure I hated it.



Freaks (1932)

FreaksPosterDear readers, welcome to Schlock Wave’s 300th post! I never thought we’d make it this far, especially given the forty-film backlog that sits mockingly on my computer’s desktop, but here we are. Having so many films to choose from I felt I had to pick the one that was just right for #300, and the choice was quite easy. While the films covered on this blog are by no means consistently cult-y, b, or horror, that was my initial intent, and as a result I felt Tod Browning’s Freaks was a most appropriate choice for this landmark post. So, here goes, and thanks for reading!

I’m not quite sure how I first caught wind of Freaks. How the heck did anyone learn about anything before the internet? The answer is probably USA’s Up All Night, or some other such nonsense that has, for good or for ill, shaped the person I am today. At any rate, I probably didn’t know the weight of what I was watching the first time I saw it. As an adult with the wisdom of a small handful of decades behind me (and a husband who teaches a cult film class) I have at least some sense of the importance of Freaks in the cult film canon. That adds an interesting bit to the brain while watching Freaks today, and ultimately makes it a more interesting movie than it would be standing on its own.

The film tells the story of Cleopatra, a beautiful but detestable trapeze artist traveling with a carnival. She’s having a torrid and secret love affair with Hercules the strong man, and together they laugh and mock the sideshow freaks. But publicly, Cleopatra claims to love Hans, a little person with a large inheritance. Despite the fact that Hans is quite loved by his fiancee (another little person) Frieda, he ignores her and the warnings of the other ‘freaks’ and agrees to marry Cleopatra.

Although Hans’ cohort has their suspicions about Cleopatra, the flowing champagne must have got to their collective head, and in an effort to show they have embraced Cleopatra in all her normalcy, they offer her up a toast. Their chant of “We accept her, we accept her! One of us! One of us! Gobble-gobble!” is anything but welcoming to the nasty Cleopatra, and she flips the fuck out, throwing wine in their faces and shouting about how disgusting they are. But Hans sticks with her, and though she mocks him and his crew, he heads back to the wagon with his new wife.

It doesn’t take much for the freaky crew, and Hans himself, to discover that Cleopatra is slowly trying to poison Hans to death. Hercules has plans of his own for some of the nosier “normals” who are sympathetic to the freaks. Once the freaks catch wind of it all, they plan their final, horrible revenge: as the carnival heads out to their next destination, under cover of storm, they amass and attack the nasty Cleopatra and turn her into a freak show of epic proportions.

I think it is pretty safe to say that Freaks is the quintessential cult film, not just because its subject matter relegates it to the weirder corners of film, but also because its main focus can arguably be said to describe its audience. After all, we’re the rejected weirdos who sought out such a thing. What’s freakier than wanting to watch a bunch of freaks band together and exact a terrible revenge on an uppity normal?

That, of course, could not have been Browning’s objective in making this film. But what was? Browning himself joined the circus at a young age, so perhaps part of what he wanted to show his audience was that a carnival’s sideshow freaks are just as normal as you and me; they eat, sleep, dream, and love. This would explain Browning’s focus on the ‘freaks’ going about their everyday lives (rolling cigarettes with their mouths because they have no limbs, using a fork with their toes because they have no arms, etc.) eating up a lot of screen time. In the end, though, it feels pretty exploitative, like the sideshow itself must have been, and certainly marks Freaks a product of its era. A film such as this couldn’t be made today, at least not in the same ways, and if it were, it would most likely be reviled by all, even perhaps the small subset of cultists who were meant to embrace it.

But if Browning had intended to humanize these ‘freaks,’ why then would he turn them into vengeful monsters at the end? And really, does it matter what Browning’s intention was? I would argue it’s the cult audience that lends the true meaning to a film. And while I wouldn’t dare speak for an entire group of people, I will venture to say I’m probably not the only one to cheer when the freaks overtake Cleopatra and indeed make her “one of us.” And being the type of person who actively attempts to convert “normal” people into freaks every day by forcing them to sit down and watch a cult film, of course I’d celebrate Cleopatra’s metamorphosis!


It’s Alive (1973)

What’s that you say? Larry Cohen directs a horror film steeped in social commentary bordering on black comedy? Oh, yes, and this time it’s your new baby in focus!

Honestly, the first time I saw It’s Alive I was underwhelmed. That is likely because I watched it at a time in my life where all I wanted to see was technicolor gore. We get a little bit of that here, but most of the horror in It’s Alive is psychological.

They say nursing is a thankless job.

They say nursing is a thankless job.

Frank and Lenore Davis weren’t so sure they were going to go through with this pregnancy; they already have an eleven-year-old boy (Chris), and Lenore had been taking contraceptives prior to this “accident.” But together they came to the decision to give it another go, and when the big day finally arrives, the whole family is sweetly excited. After dropping Chris off at a family friend’s home, Frank and Lenore innocently drive to the hospital. That’s where the nightmare begins.

Lenore knows it before the baby is even born: this one is different. Her doctor insists it’s just a very large baby, and after heavily sedating and numbing her up, thinks the birth should be a piece of cake. Well, it was easier on Lenore than it was the doctors and nurses; none of them survived, after all. Seeing the Davis baby in all its malformed glory, the doctor tries suffocating it to no avail. After the massacre, the baby escapes and Lenore, tied to her hospital bed, is scared, confused, and drugged the hell up.

This baby's made Frank famous!  He loves it.

This baby’s made Frank famous! He loves it.

It’s not long before the police arrive, with a “doctor” in tow, who offers great medical advice, and is quite interested in discovering exactly how long Lenore had been taking her contraceptives, and if, perhaps, she’d been extensively x-rayed in recent months. Rather than consider Lenore’s opinion in her baby’s future, the lieutenant, doctor and husband alike agree it’s easier to sedate her than listen to her prattle on about motherly instincts and other such nonsense.

Frank experiences a different kind of torture. When he and his wife are named the progenitors of the murderous beast, his job at a public relations firm is lost to him, and he numbly accepts the responsibility of killing his own progeny. In hopes of showing the world how “normal” he is, he feverishly hunts down his own flesh and blood.

I'd be 'hysterical' too, if I gave birth to a monster.

I’d be ‘hysterical’ too, if I gave birth to a monster.

What can I say, I just love Larry Cohen’s style. His takedown of society’s shit attitude and expectations in this flick is so perfect. The Davis baby is simply a product of society; good old American marketing and consumption – everyone agrees its deformities must be a result of smog, medicine, tainted food, or some other untested evil unleashed upon the American public by companies hoping to gain a buck. The hunt for the child, and the father’s apparent zest to be the one to destroy it all point to how American society tends to reject the very monstrosities it is responsible for creating.

I’m not sure Q is completely convinced that Frank’s character isn’t a total dick. He is pretty dicky throughout the whole movie, but I think that’s because the man really had no choice: you’re either for us or against us, right? And if he blithely accepts the symbol of American fucked-upedness, he’ll surely never get his job back, let alone the respect of his neighbors and peers. That’s not to say I excuse his behavior, but maybe I pity the guy.

"It kills like an animal. When we find it, we're going to have to destroy it like one."

“It kills like an animal. When we find it, we’re going to have to destroy it like one.”

And let’s talk about Lenore for a second: the woman is nearly mute. Never do the doctors or cops ask her how she feels about the tragedy of birthing a monster, or how she feels about that monster’s right to live. Instead, she’s expected to stay within the confines of her bedroom, forbidden even to walk downstairs in her own home, and questioned as to why she doesn’t keep taking the sedatives the kind doctor has prescribed her. Now, I’ve never been pregnant or given birth, but there are certainly a great number of folks who accuse the medical establishment of treating pregnant women and babies as commodities. I think Cohen captures that pretty perfectly here, not to mention how women were (in 1973) and still are (in different ways, perhaps) considered secondary players in their own lives.

So, yes, I really liked this movie. It’s not amazing, but if you’re familiar with anything else Larry Cohen has made, you can guess what to expect. And if you haven’t seen any of Cohen’s stuff, this is as good a place to start as any. But, perhaps you should hold off watching it if you’re in your third trimester.



Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Only LoversPeople tend to have strong feelings when it comes to Jim Jarmusch. He’s one of those love-him-or-hate-him guys. For me though, I guess I’ve always found myself somewhere in the middle; I loved Down by Law and enjoyed Coffee and Cigarettes well enough, but was left so cold by Dead Man I never gave him another chance. But all it took to spark my interest in his latest, Only Lovers Left Alive, was Tilda Swinton’s mass of white, vampiric hair on the poster. Nothing could be cheesier than saying “I’m a sucker for vampires,” but I’ll be damned if it isn’t true. Yes, even today, when digging on vamps is probably at its lamest, I can’t help but find them irresistible.

And maybe that last point is what made me so interested in this film; why make a vampire movie now? We’re still reeling from the dreaded Twilight saga and stuffed to the gills with sexy vampires in True Blood (uh, is that show still on?). Oh, wait: maybe that’s exactly why Jarmusch chose to do such a film now; to bring some depth and life back into the genre! Well whether that’s what Jarmusch intended, I’d say that’s what he did. And, dear Jim, I am ever so grateful!

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a moody musician living alone in a dilapidated house in Detroit. His bibliophilic wife of centuries, Eve (Swinton) lives an ocean away in Tangier, where she hangs out with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), her connection to the sweetest French blood around. Marlowe can’t seem to understand why the two live apart when they so very clearly need each-other to survive, a fact which is made painfully clear after the two have themselves a little video chat and Adam reveals that he’s depressed. Like, suicidally so.

And so Eve books a night flight or two to Detroit. It’s pretty much bliss when Adam and Eve are reunited; a sweeter on-screen couple I can’t say I’ve ever seen. But this is a movie, so you know things can’t be pleasant forever. One evening after a long drive around Detroit, Adam and Eve come home to their worst nightmare: Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska). And that’s where things start to heat up.

As one might expect from a Jarmusch film, this is not action-packed. These aren’t vicious, blood-sucking monsters, nor are they dripping with lust at their prey (heck, they rarely even see the source of their sustenance). That’s precisely what is so great about it. It is perhaps the perfect antidote to that dreadful blockbuster I’ve now mentioned three times in a row and won’t mention by name here out of respect for this film. I know, the civilized, cultured vampire is not new territory, but these vamps are passionate in their art consumption. What would you do if you lived forever? Learn to play all the instruments, read all the languages, know all the books? With all this beauty around, perhaps the human infestation is worth living through?

What’s that, an inspirational vampire movie? Uh, yeah, I guess it is. It is sweet, and charming, and makes me want to touch old guitars. On top of the great acting and writing, Only Lovers Left Alive is also gorgeously shot and has a killer fucking soundtrack. Holy shit, I loved this movie. I can’t wait to hoard it on my movie shelves and make people watch it!


Gargoyles (1972)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle

Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle

Gargoyles is a better-than-average TV-movie monster flick — no more, no less. That’s not a bad thing… but it’s not really good, either.

Dr. Mercer Boley is an anthropologist-professor-type who’s made a career out of publishing pop-science books about the real-world roots of old-time superstitions and monsters. The doctor’s headed to the southwest (they say to Mexico, but I can’t help think they must mean New Mexico, seemingly, given that everyone’s white and speaks English) to follow up on a hot tip. He’s joined by his perpetually-halter-topped college-aged daughter Diana, who hopes to get some good face-time in with her dad while he’s accessible. This “hot tip” comes from an old codger who’s presiding over a dying roadsite museum and general store. Seems he wants to co-write a book with the good doctor about his amazing discovery, rather than cough up the evidence he’s got, just ’cause. Naturally, father and daughter are suspicious, and are not much less so when the codger shows off a winged, horned skeleton that he’s re-assembled in his shed. Seems the local Indians had a legend about winged beasts, and… right then there are terrible noises, something outside breaks down the roof, crushing the codger and a broken lantern sets the place aflame.

Codgerin' it up over the mystery skeleton

Codgerin’ it up over the mystery skeleton

Diana’s really freaked out by this terrible death they’ve just witnessed, and the doctor seems singularly obsessed, playing the death-screams of the codger over and over, along with the horrible growling and rending noises that accompanied the collapse of the roof, and staring long and hard at the strange skull, which they managed to recover from the wreckage. They dare not tell the local police that they think whatever the things were that knocked in the shed might be related to this weird skull… not, at least, until more of these things — and living ones at that — come for the corpse of their brother…

So, these are the titular gargoyles, who appear once every few hundred years to menace humanity. They are the source of all kinds of the imagery that mankind associates with evil, and they are very well physically-executed by a young Stan Winston. Sure, they’re rubber suits — but what rubber suits! And there are different suit designs for each monster, rather than that old stand-by budget-saver of casting the same mold over and over again, or of showing the same two creatures and pretending they are legion.

Gargoyles love their babies too! Just like you & me...

Gargoyles love their babies too! Just like you & me…

By the end, the movie’s fallen into the King Kong monster trap: the thing’s got our women — in this case Diana — and the “decent white folk” have got to get her back. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that this, like so many monster flicks before it, is a not-especially-subtle cautionary about miscegenation, perhaps the moreso because of its casting of Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle, and the post-Civil Rights/Watts riots date of production. Even the hooligan bikers menacing the town (including a young, long-haired Scott Glenn) band with the police and the doctor — Establishment writ large! — to get Diana back. But, however reactionary those politics might seem to be on the surface, there is useful nuance here: we spend some time with the hatchling gargoyles, and see that these folks care for their young just like we do! Though the lead gargoyle talks a lot in all-or-nothing terms about one species ultimately winning out, it seems pretty clear that given the track record for extermination so far — generations of gargoyles, and the aforementioned Indians — the American society is the monstrous exterminator here, and not the gargoyles (though both sides have shed about equal blood by the time things are over). At the very end, there is a rather uneasy sense that maybe things can change in the future, but it’s a strange coda to a movie that seems to want to please both ends of the political spectrum that might be watching this as the movie of the week.

Maybe don’t run to seek out a copy of Gargoyles, but don’t turn it off if you run across it, either. It’s not super-remarkable, but there’s some stuff here worth the hour-and-a half investment too, all said.


Old Wave


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