Let’s get the obvious out of the way right up front. Gargoyles is a straight up stone cold classic TV movie. It isn’t because of the story tough. Monsters hiding out in the desert who appear every 600 years or so? If you couldn’t get the job done back in the Middle Ages when our ancestors were pooping in the streets and probably chased you off with nothing more lethal than a garden hoe, I’m not worried about you going up against us now. Even when, as here, it’s some small town cops and dirt bikers.
There aren’t any performances that are going to win any Emmys happening here either (though the monster make up rightfully did win the legendary Stan Winston and others an Emmy!) with the aging and slumming screen icon Cornel Wilde essaying the role of Dr. Mercer Boley in such a stilted, aloof fashion, you can’t help but think of Seinfeld‘s J. Peterman whenever he drops his gargoyles knowledge on the disbelieving local yokels.
But Gargoyles is one of those experiences where story and acting are simply irrelevant due to what is unfolding on screen. When Boley chases a couple of gargoyles out of his hotel room and right into the highway and one of those poor bastards gets pancaked by a semi becoming just another bit of forgotten desert roadkill, you don’t even have much of a chance to giggle at the absurdity of it all because there’s Boley rushing to the creature’s aid, cradling his bleeding head and having a freaking moment with it! (That he then drags its corpse back into his hotel room and lays it on the bed so he and his daughter can get a real good look at it is probably not surprising. I was waiting for him to ask the alcoholic motel owner to borrow a shovel to give it a proper burial out back!)
This wasn’t even the first or most awesome encounter with the gargoyles though! Boley and his daughter get mixed up with all this to begin with while talking old Indian legends with Uncle Willie, proprietor of Uncle Willie’s Desert Museum. Willie then shows them his prized possession, a one of a kind, gen-you-wine gargoyle skeleton! Boley is disbelieving until the gargoyles attack and kill poor old Willie!
Watching Boley make his escape with his halter top wearing daughter in a Ford Country Squire while a dude in a gargoyle suit is riding on top of the station wagon is surely the greatest of all 1970s monster movie moments! (When a couple of gargoyles later team up to roll the Country Squire over on its top while Boley is still inside and they kidnap his daughter, you involuntarily mutter “damn, shit just got real, bruh!”)
Initially, Boley and his daughter report the death of Willie to the local cops, leaving out the part about the gargoyles attacking knowing no one will believe them. When the cops and the Boleys return to Uncle Willie’s property though, a group of dirt bikers (including Scott Glenn in an early role!) are racing around and the police promptly arrest them for Willie’s death. Once it becomes clear though that the dirt bikers aren’t some evil motorcycle gang (“we ain’t riding choppers!” Glenn’s character wisely argues) and that something else was responsible for Willie’s death, the police chief does the only sensible thing – he releases them and deputizes them to battle the monsters!
Posse formed! Cops! Bikers! Dogs! Cornel Wilde! Against a dozen or so cave dwelling freaks with wings and horns! Has there been anything more manly committed to film than the sixty year old Wilde standing at his jeep unloading shotgun blast after shotgun blast into a bunch of pervert monsters who stole his sexy daughter? For God, country and busty hippie chicks, you scaly muthas!
Once he has his daughter though, Boley demonstrates the good old American value of fair play when after whacking the mate of the head gargoyle with a big rock (it was just her wing dude, she’ll be fine! Mostly.) by telling him to take her and leave before the authorities arrive and kill them. Oh yeah, we also just burned all your nasty eggs! See you in another six centuries, loser!
Gargoyles understands what it’s about and is eager to deliver, wasting no time in giving you the monsters you are here to see, taking the opposite tack of so many (much duller) films that ration out their poorly realized creatures. This film knows its titular characters look kick ass and want to rightfully show them off as much as possible. It even attempts to further set its creatures apart from the norm by shooting the monster action scenes in a herky jerky slow motion, like something that would be at home in an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man.
This is one 75 minute TV movie that flies right by, humans and gargoyles going hammer and tong the entire time, the audience finally fully rewarded for trawling through the depths of these old telefilms.
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