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.


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