Friday, March 9, 2012

Gargoyles 1972, In Review

In the immortal words of Professor Farnsworth, "Good news everyone"!  And what could that good news be?  GARGOYLES IS FINALLY OUT ON DVD!  No, sadly I'm not talking about the still unreleased final episodes of the rightfully celebrated Disney action cartoon from the minds of Greg Weisman and others, I'm talking about the made-for-tv movie from 1972 starring Jennifer Salt (Soap, Terror Among Us), Cornel Wilde (A Thousand and One Nights, The Bandit of Sherwood Forest, Sword of Lancelot), ... 
 Cornel Wilde and Jennifer Salt in ... GARGOYLES!!!
 ... and NFL pro Bernie Casey (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure)!

 Bernie Casey as ... The Gargoyle!

Plot Summary Ahead

One of the best creature features from the decade of disco, Gargoyles tells the story of archeologist Dr. Mercer Boley (Wilde) and his daughter Diana (Salt) who reunite (in the aftermath of a barely mentioned separation between the good Dr. and his wife) for a research trip down to Mexico.  Along the way they're sidetracked by Uncle Willy the operator of a curiosity shop who has just uncovered an inhuman, winged skeleton out in the desert and as fate would have it that skeleton is a remnant from the last Gargoyle hatching.

See, it turns out that all those statues and images of gargoyles we find in art the world over were made to commemorate various invasions from those pesky critters.  It takes their eggs several hundred years to incubate and hatch, and wouldn't you know it, the new batch is fresh out of the oven just in time to shake things up for Uncle Willy and the Boleys.

Various gargoyles descend upon Uncle Willy's store to recover the body of their fallen ancestor.  Uncle Willy croaks pretty quick, but the Boyle's escape with the skeleton's skull.  Since the gargoyles are determined to recover the bodies of their dead (though out of respect or secrecy is never fully explained) they follow the two of them back to the small desert town where they're staying and begin the process of attack and recovery all over again leading to assorted attacks, a kidnapping, a failed rescue mission, and a climactic final stand of man vs. gargoyle.

Movies In Review

The greatest sin any film can commit is boredom and say what you will, Gargoyles is not boring!  It opens with cheesy slime-font credits, and jumps right to the point from there.

Immediately the movie tells us who Dr. Boley is, who his daughter is, why they're together and where they're going.  This means the first five or ten minutes are almost nothing but exposition, but the reasoning behind that seems to be "The sooner we know who everyone is, the sooner we can have the gargoyles attack them!"

The film has barely began when you catch your first glimpse of a shadow lingering over the road ... a strange inhuman shadow!  No sooner is that over and done with than we meet Uncle Willy who begins to talk about the strange skeleton he found in the desert and from there we move onto an ominous scene with an increasingly drunk Willy recounting Indian legends of strange beasts of yore.

Credit should go to Wilde and Salt who add enough skepticism to Uncle Willy's sideshow to remain believable while being creeped out enough by it to make their acceptance of the gargoyle's existence seem natural when the script calls on them to do so.  And let's be honest, as with all fantasy film that's a very tight rope to walk.

Once more, the film makers understand that the longer you actually go without seeing the monsters, the more frightening they become!  The attack by the gargoyles on Uncle Willy's store is not only effective and moves the story along, but it still manages to keep the beasties off camera the entire time!

The Boley's retreat back to small town U.S.A. (oddly enough even though Mexico is mentioned as their destination they never seem to make it there, either that or the whole country has mysteriously been repopulated with white people) gives us a break from the tension and introduces some local characters who at first provide enough color to keep the slower parts moving and later on make excellent canon fodder for the monster's attack!

Now to mention the gargoyles themselves.  The usual line I've heard from people who review this movie is that the monsters look impressive for their time and given the budget the creators had to work with, but you know what?  Screw that line!  I'm tried of apologizing for actual creative ingenuity from the yesteryear of film-dom, especially when the end results look like this:

  The monster at the foot of your bed!

No Escape for Mercer Boley!

 Even gargoyles need some lovin'

These are good ole fashioned makeup effects produced by sfx legend Stan Winston!  Yes, that Stan Winston!  The same man who oversaw makeup and sfx for movies like Monster Squad, Predator, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day!

After years of being subjugated to bad CGI renderings from big budget Hollywood, fake looking monsters, and unimaginative designs, I welcome this look!  I applaud this technique!  I glorify this process!  We need to go back to a time when monster movies were about imagination!  About the shadows creeping in from the corners and the unknown terrors of the night!  That is what Gargoyles is all about and that's what horror cinema should be about again!

Probing Deeper

One oft overlooked aspect of this film is the origin of the gargoyles as explained by the pre-title sequence.  Apparently they are literally the children of Satan and have been sent to destroy mankind and replace humanity as part of the war between Heaven and Hell.  The interesting part of that is the film's flimsy explanation is actually tied to a religious controversy dating back more than 1500 years!

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
Genesis 6:4

The word giants in the English KJV was taken from a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.  In the Septuagint the word is Gigantis which means 'earth born' and was taken from the original Hebrew word Nephilim which mean literally 'the fallen ones'!  The Sons of God mentioned here are rendered in the Hebrew as Ben Elohiym a term that is always used to refer to Angels.

A better reading of that verse would be:

There were Nephilim in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the (fallen) Angels came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

So in a nutshell, in days gone past, Satan's fallen Angels impregnated women and produced these Nephilim which were men and women possessed of super-human abilities.  They actually were giants as well, though simply designating them as ONLY giants in the English is an unfortunate mistake.
The Nephilim were all wiped out in Noah's flood, then later they reappeared and were killed off by various military campaigns overseen by Moses, Joshua, and King David.  This theory fell into obscurity when Celsus and Julius the Apostate (famous early Christian heretics) used this belief to mock Christian Orthodoxy.  Julius Africanus (160 - 240 A.D.) refuted them by claiming that the Sons of God referred to a family of heretics then living on the earth, and not Angels.  It's a flimsy excuse that's been oft refuted.

Well, the gargoyles in this film are lizard people with wings, not super-human giants, and I doubt seriously the filmmakers had a clue about any of this, otherwise the urge to include some reference to it as a means to substantiate their premise would have been too great to resist.  I find it amusing to no end that despite the reputation of the much more famous Omen films Gargoyles more or less stumbles into a more accurate interpretation of Biblical events than any of Damien's cinematic outings ever did!  Just one more reason why Gargoyles is such a great flick!

This movie has been out of print for years with used copies fetching ridiculous prices online, but thanks to the new release from our friends at Hen's Tooth Video Gargoyles is finally affordable again!  Don't miss your chance to own this monster movie masterwork today!

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