Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Gargoyles

They’re no more dangerous than a high school drop-out on a motorcycle. 

Gargoyles are something that I genuinely don’t understand. You’re an architect for the Catholic Church (could be any church, I don’t care), and you decide to place a load of ugly stone grotesqueries on corners and whatnot. I don’t understand why you would want to do this to  a place of worship. My best guess is that the architects had a hidden atheist streak and wanted to stick one to the man, but didn’t have the scruples to turn down the moolah. Which, to be honest, sounds exactly like something I would do as well. Regardless of my feelings on Baroque architecture, because they are, much like my opinion on a whole range of subjects from golf to soft furnishings, totally irrelevant, in 1972 Bill L. Norton made a little monster movie that has garnered a significant cult following called, you guessed it, Gargoyles.

Contains Men in Rubber Suits and Spoilers Below.

"This is your captain speaking, we're experiencing mild wobbly green writing, so if you can return to your seats and buckle your seatbelts then I will try to make the trip as easy as possible."

When I saw this as a kid it scared the bejesus out of me, but watching it as an adult, I felt little more than scorn for my younger self. This happens far too often to me actually: I dig something out that I loved as a child only to find out that not only has it not held up to the present day, but the quirky charm of it I loved as a nipper seems to have evaporated. I know that I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s akin to visiting a seaside town in the summer- you have a great time, the people are friendly, everywhere is busy, the beer is chilled and delicious, the sun is out and it’s all a blast. Then you go back again in February and it’s a desolate promenade with flyers for a long departed circus blowing across. The sky is grey and the people are more like the regulars in the Slaughtered Lamb than those smiling folk from the summer. And you get knifed. Gargoyles didn’t quite turn on me as much as that, but I watched it with a mild sense of disappointment, and one serious, serious problem with the writing that I simply could not get over.

"I call this one Mother"

The film opens with a helpful introduction on the nature of Gargoyles and all what they’re all about. Just in case you slept through Religion 101, it tells about Lucifer falling from Heaven etc. The Gargoyles are his children and he promised that every 600 or so years they would resume the war on God’s Children (i.e. us) and eventually he would win and wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. Given the sheer uselessness of the Gargoyles, I have to say that I think he was being a tad optimistic. Anyhoo, enter Dr. Boley (Cornell Wilde) and his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt- sporting a very fetching line in halter neck tops). He’s an academic on a research trip. Making the disastrous decision to purchase a gargoyle skeleton from a local con artist, he’s feeling optimistic about his next book. Before you can say “stone monster” all hell has broken loose and a lot of men in rubber turn up to retrieve the skeleton causing all sorts of havoc. The local police arrest two bikers for it, and he manages to capture/kill one. Diana tries to trade the bikers freedom for the corpse/ unconscious Gargoyle, but is herself taken by the higher ranking ones (you can tell because they have wings and can talk and whatnot). The rest of the film involves the war between the yokels and the monsters. However, while this is taking place, head Gargoyle is cozying up to her in the pretense of learning to read, which is pissing off Mama Gargoyle no end. Eventually, Boley and the locals torch the entire species, but he decides to only break Mama’s wing allowing the head Gargoyle to fly off into the sunset with his injured mate- but not before a promise that in 600 years his kind will triumph.

Ordering "company" for the evening is nothing like Secret Diary of a Call Girl would have you believe.

I’m just going to deal with my problem with the writing here. I totally understand the rationale for slaughtering the monsters, but the problem I have is that the Gargoyles a) aren’t any kind of threat at all, and b) are clearly sentient. Boley makes the call, and the locals jump all over it, to basically exterminate the entire species with very little provocation, and we aren’t talking about the adults- we’re talking about the spawn. Given that a handful of morons in the arse-end of nowhere has been able to thrash them with no real effort (Lucifer’s plan does, in fact, have a serious flaw), it strikes me as a touch, well, repellent to massacre the entire lot of them and to do it so blithely. The decision to bash the fuckers into extinction is taken in an almost blasé fashion- the academic lacks even base sympathy for an obviously backward race and is quite happy to eradicate the lot without even blinking. This then sits jarringly with the finale of the film- to allow the breeding pair to escape. I suppose, given the utter arse kicking handed out to the rubber freaks, he’s feeling fairly confident about Man’s ability to claim these fuckers, but it still strikes me as a bit, well, weird. As such, I honestly did not like the final act of the film at all, and it left me scratching my head in a bit of bemusement.

You can see why the Gargoyle is going to have a crack at her.

This inconsistency is a shame, because the first 2/3 of the film are great fun. Men in terrible costumes maraud around shitty motels, there’s a load of overacting from Bernie Casey as “Gargoyle” and the whole thing has a pleasant, fun feel to it. The acting, actually, from Wilde and Salt is also fairly good, and she must have been struggling not to laugh out loud as Gargoyle pulls the rubber demon equivalent of “do you want to come and see my etchings” on her. The book reading scene that I’m referring to is genuinely hilarious, and a clear high point in the movie.

As is to be expected from a film made in 1972 for TV with no money, the makeup, costumes and effects are crap. The Gargoyles flying is a lousy effect, and the suits look suspiciously like green trousers and a load of dodgy latex. The individual masks themselves, however, supplied by Stan Winston, are genuinely superb, and Ernst Blofeld Gargoyle’s in particular is practically a work of art. Just he’s wearing knock off camo trousers as well. However, this all adds to the charm of it, as the clear shoddiness makes the lumbering attempts by the lower ranked Gargoyles to even win a fight with an old codger like Boley hugely amusing. They crash hilariously through doors that all of a sudden seem to be made out of cardboard, hop around motel rooms and are honestly just an epic fail as the vanguard of Lucifer’s army. I confidently predict, based on this film, that if Armageddon ever comes, then Satan is going to be on the receiving end of the biggest kicking since Agincourt.

"Damn it, Dumbledore DOES die on page 692! I shall wreak mighty vengeance on you for that, J.K. Rowling!"

Despite my misgivings, though, there is a certain charm to the film. It is entertaining and for the most part, until the final third, our characters are kind of likeable. If there’s one description that I’d use for this film, and so many movies nowadays just don’t have this, then I’d say that Gargoyles has a lot of heart. It’s obvious that everyone involved in the film cared enough about it to go that little bit further, and the gentle atmosphere, and sense of fun really do go a long way with a film like this. Sure, the sets, costumes, makeup and other effects may be crap, but we’ve all sat through countless movies with spellbindingly good effects etc and been thoroughly underwhelmed (looking at you Star Wars Prequels). Gargoyles feels like a bit of a throwback in this regard, and that is quite a pleasant change from the soulless crap that we see so often today.

Fly, my pretty, fly! On wires.

Overall, I now feel totally ambivalent towards Gargoyles. While it isn’t hateful at all, and it certainly does have both heart and charm, I simply cannot get over the climax of the movie. I pray that I’m wrong about this, but it feels like a wee bit of a “man is the real monster” subtext, but if that is the case, then why on Earth does the Gargoyle get his “evil mastermind” final speech? If it isn’t the case, then why are they not more of a threat in the first half of the film? Because, seriously, they’re no danger to modern man at all, being out gunned (literally), stupid, clumsy and limited in number. I get that there is meant to be literally thousands of them hatching, but these are infants, and we number in the billions. Billions with guns, or at the very least sharp sticks and things. I’m not recommending Gargoyles, but nor am I slating it, and if you ever stumble across it on TV then it’s a totally adequate way to pass the time.

I just do wish the Gargoyles had been more of a menace in the first half of the film.

Until next time,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

51 responses to “Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Gargoyles”

  1. Droid says :

    It all sounds a bit shit to me. I think I’ll continue to live a Gargoyle-less existence if it’s all the same to you.

  2. Xiphos0311 says :

    Didn’t gargoyles mostly move water away the building during rainfall?

    • Jarv says :

      I have no idea. I wouldn’t be surprised, but surely there would be other ways of doing it.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I looked it up Masons hid the gutters in the body and figured out that if they projected the body out farther from the side of the building the less likely the water would be to pool and and mess up the foundation. The Church decided that gargoyles were a perfect way to remind people what was waiting for them if didn’t follow the dictates of the church. Win win for everybody.

      • Jarv says :

        Oh well, I’m massively ignorant on this front then.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        only reason I know that is i use to occasionally go out with with an architecture student while at university.

      • Jarv says :

        AS good a reason as any. I just thought they were a weird stylistic quirke.

  3. Toadkillerdog says :

    I have stated it before, but this movie was the very last movie that ever scared me. I saw it first run as a child, and the fear of a gargoyle in my bedroom (emerging from under the bed!) freaked me out so much that it triggered my genetic heritage of guns (really big guns) and Blue Dress Uniform.

    I loved this flick even though it scared me senseless. Just wired that way or weird that way.

    Really good review Jarv, I did not have the same problem you did when i revisited this as an adult.

    It was like seeing an old friend again. No, it no longer had the power and impact of forty years ago, but it still entertained and it reminded me of my childhood in a good way.

    I loved the design and loved Jennifer Salt who later appeared in one of the greatest sitcoms ever – Soap, although by that time she looked downright matronly.

    I recommend this as a slice of the seventies, but if you want a TV movie that still stands the test of time – albeit with a dated look, check out Trilogy of Terror

  4. Bartleby says :

    Xi is right on those counts with the gargoyles–dual purposes as rainspouts initially, and then when they realized they could put hell reminders on them, they did that. Although, there was also some belief that culturally they warded off evil by being graven images of the things you wanted away from your churches.

    I guess medieval understanding of demon group-think is similar to the way internet fanboys behave. If you have a harry knowles on your site/side of building than a mirajeff or a devin faraci won’t mess it with it. Territorial petty bitches the lot of them, demons and nerds.

  5. Bartleby says :

    I reviewed this a few weeks back, and like Toad, found it like visiting an old friend.

    I think you might be overthinking the last stand with the goyles. This is a small group of people living in a sparse, harsh environment and suddenly they are faced with things that look just like classical depictions of demons, who have presumably killed one man already and kidnapped a girl, and these same creatures have provoked and attacked them, ushering pronouncements about ending mankind. That they suck at it is almost besides the point.

    Obviously, the gargoyles are supposed to be more intimidating and represent a real threat. I agree they don’t.

    Also, there’s the creepy way they are shot. Because they are so cheap, they are shot in low light in slow motion and the result is very strange and almost hypnotic. The scenes of them cavorting through the bush reminded me of old wood carvings or medieval tapestries.

    And there was some decent camp in it too. How bout the scene where Casey slaps mama gargaloot on the ass in slo-motion?

    • Toadkillerdog says :

      Right On Bart! Ha!
      Yes, I totally agree.

      They were fighting against the Armageddon, and in that fight no quarter is asked or given although the basic humanity did come through (or a hoped for sequel) when Wilde allowed the mating pair to escape.

    • Jarv says :

      The scenes of them cavorting through the bush reminded me of old wood carvings or medieval tapestries.

      Reminded me of a classier version of Troll 2 this time.

      I may be overthinking it, but he’s clearly torching the infants of sentient beings that pose absolutely no threat.

      It passed the time for me, but I don’t think I’m likely to come back to it any time soon.

  6. MORBIUS says :

    Just to be sure we’re on the same page here (so to speak),
    Dumbledore died on page 596, but that’s in the American
    version, you’re mileage may differ.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    Good stuff, Jarvis.

    I read Bart’s take on it on PCN a few days ago. Some of the movie feels familiar so I reckon I’ve caught some (or all) of it ages ago. I’m gonna look out for it again though…

  8. tombando says :

    Never saw or heard of this before. I have a feeling a Harold on the side of Notre Dame would cause it to collapse. A Minor Jeff on the other hand would cause nothing but complete hilarity. Unintentional on his part. Bolling for dollars, anyone?

  9. Just Pillow Talk says :

    Saw this eons ago too, and yeah, it scared me too. I have not seen it in a very long time. I guarantee (and it sounds it) it’s loads better than all the syfy shitfests that have “Gargoyle” in the title.

  10. redfishybluefishy says :

    i love gargoyles, in general. this movie sounds like crap, but the photos are great. i kinda like the look of the gargoyle, especially the face, kind of like a Buffy monster. At first I thought you were writing about the horrid recent Gargoyle movie that was running in a loop on the Space channel a few years back. absolute trash and not even worth looking at. embarrassing really. REALLY bad cgi gargoyles. the one from your movie looks genius in comparison.

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