Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Night Fright Flix presents: "GARGOYLES! (1972)"

I was four years old back in 1972, when GARGOYLES, a TV movie, premiered on ABC’s Movie of the Week. Let me tell you folk's, this movie scared the crap out of me! Even now, over three decades later, when the King Gargoyle (Bernie Casey) comes onto the screen I recall that terror and fear from my childhood. The thing about this cheesey b-movie that is so frightening is the rubbery creations of Stan Winston and Emmy-winning monster make-up from Ellis Burman Jr. Winston later went on to fame by designing the effects chores for ALIENS, PREDATOR, THE TERMINATOR and other big budget films. His gargoyle designs steal the show and are actually more fun to watch than today's more photorealistic CG creatures. You can see the zippers on some of the gargoyles in some scenes. Yeah, they have a certain cheesiness to the costumes, but that is part of their charm. There's a reason a whole generation was moved to nightmare by these guys:

We open with divorced professor Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) picking up his adult daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) at the airport. The professor has apparently written a series of best-selling books about how religion is a load of bunk--much like Richard Moll's character in the recently reviewed The Nightmare Never Ends--and has recruited his daughter to take photos for his next book, 5000 Years of Demonology. As the Richard Dawkins of his day, Professor Boley doesn't believe in the supernatural, and hopes to show how man's conception of evil beings through the ages has really just been the result of ignorance, superstition, and one too many bowls of pre-sleepytime gruel.

On their way to Mexico for research, the pair stop at Uncle Willie's Desert Museum, a dust-covered roadside attraction whose owner claims to have found a valuable supernatural artifact. Crusty old Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss) first comes off as a charlatan, but when the prof threatens to bolt he takes them out the the shed to show them what he's uncovered: the skeleton of a demonic humanoid beast, with horns, wings, and a saurian beak!

Intrigued, Mercer and Diana ply the old man with liquor and listen to his tales of ancient Indian rituals as night falls on the desert. Soon, though, the beating of leathery wings disturbs their symposium, and a marauding group of living gargoyles on a mission to retrieve their dead tear the shed apart and set it on fire! Diana and Mercer grab the skull and escape, leaving poor old Uncle Willie to perish in the fiery cataclysm.

On the run from the monsters, Mercer and Diana hole up in a local motel run by drunk dowager Mrs. Parks (the scene-stealing Grayson Hall). A pair of wingless gargoyles who look like the offspring of Lou Gossett and a Sleestak invade the Boleys ' room and grab the skull, but when one of them is struck on the highway by a passing semi (that keeps right on truckin', despite having just creamed a freakin' dinosaur-man!), the professor scoops up the body and throws it in his station wagon, hoping to get it back to L.A. in time for the next taping of That's Incredible!--which will be about 8 years later. Unfortunately this brings out the King Gargoyle (Bernie Casey), a winged nightmare who seems less interested in reclaiming his fallen subject's body than in staking a new claim on Diana's--emphasis on "stake."
After some shenanigans, rigmarole, and assorted brouhaha, King G kidnaps Diana, taking her back to the Gargoyle HQ where a dozen other scaly horrors are tending to an Alien-style cache of eggs in preparation for exponential reproduction and the eradication of humanity. While Professor Mercer, the local police, and a group of recreational dirt-bike enthusiasts (led by a stonier-than-usual Scott Glenn) comb the desert and engage in periodic skirmishes with the wingless drones (only the winged gargoyles are "breeders"), the head gargoyle forces Diana to read to him from her father's books, passages about medieval women being raped by incubi. Of course this makes King G horny--well, hornier--and he starts putting the moves on his new little pink-skinned petunia. Unfortunately this puts him on the outs with his Muppet-reject winged old lady, whose jealousy leads her to allow the humans into the cave and sets up the final confrontation and another 600 years of thinking about what could have been.

Man, they just don't make TV movies like they used to!

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