Oh, GARGOYLES…how much do I love you! It’s hard to believe I haven’t posted this movie here before…it must not have been available online…
This one runs deep into my childhood, but that doesn’t mean I have a tainted love distorted by nostalgia. Yes, it’s a television movie featuring people in rubber suits (very well made for the time…award winning, actually), but it’s also truly creepy: transcending with horror any of the camp elements that might amuse those not acclimated to early 70s television dialogue and acting.
It begins with a montage of artwork featuring images of the titular gargoyles…although many of the paintings and drawings, including the opening image of Austin Osman Spare’s most well know painting, by no means were originally intended to depict “gargoyles.” The voiceover (Vic Perrin, recognizable from the cult TV show “The Outer Limits”,) delivered in the manner of a stereotypical 70s documentary about the supernatural, equates gargoyles with fallen angels or, more specifically, the nephilim of the Book Of Enoch. Far from being just spooky appropriation, this intro is intended as a kind of universal theory on the origin of our genetic memory of “monsters.” There’s an eery suggestion, definitely appealing to my younger self, that this film is depicting the truth behind the legends: the secret of our genetic memory of “the fall” and instinctual horror of the buried unknown.
Documentaries just d0n’t seem to use artwork montages anymore. That’s too bad. I was exposed to a lot of important painting and drawings simply by watching documentaries about ghosts and aliens and monsters in the early 80s. Copyright laws have ruined everything.
Anyway, part of the reason GARGOYLES works is that it drives home, in several short, startling examples of gargoyles on attack, how the monsters may suddenly enter into our “n0rmal” day-to-day world at any time or in any place. They watch from above, or below, just outside our sight, and are able to enter and leave our lives as they wish. I’m not a huge fan of films that take place in the desert, but GARGOYLES certainly takes advantage of the desert landscape and the sense of vulnerability created by its wide open skies and long shadows of sunset. GARGOYLES has some of the feeling of a good alien abduction movie: that irrational vibe of agoraphobia that a sensitive person may get a whiff of when glimpsing, while traveling, a country house standing alone in an expansive, flat, midwestern landscape. Of course, in the mythology presented by gargoyles, “alien grays” and gargoyles are very likely the same thing, so this makes sense. Trigger warning for alien abductees…
GARGOYLES has a wonderful soundtrack, by the way, that intersperses traditional TV movie melodrama themes with driving electronic pulses and distorted sound-effects that, in juxtaposition, are as uncanny as the appearance of the gargoyles themselves.
The gargoyle costumes are “primitive,” by contemporary standards, but they were award winning at the time and I still find them convincing. I can’t imagine a remake in which the gargoyles are replaced by computer animated beasts. Part of what makes them effective is their earthiness…and their anthropomorphic form. They would not, in the least, be as disturbing were they depicted as more animalistic like some sort of dragon…or like moving replicas of the stone gargoyles on cathedrals. One would lose the sense of their consciousness…of their sentience and hidden intentions.
Oh, and…as an aside…the drunken, cynical motel owner in GARGOYLES is priceless. She shows up every once in a while just to say something sarcastic and life-hardened about all the shocking things she’s seen and low-life people she’s met in her wide experience as a motel owner. She’s a gem of a woman. She reminds me of the drunken neighbor lady in THE BAD SEED, a favorite comedic model for cinema savvy drag queens everywhere…
This movie scared me when I was a kid, but I can honestly say, then and now, that I’ve always been on the side of the gargoyles. At heart, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, this movie is about the revolution of the oppressed. Strangely, I find it both frightening and encouraging. Considering how quickly the human race is destroying itself, it’s heartening to consider another species of intelligent beings is ready to take over when we’ve reached the point of no return. Where are you, gargoyles? We need you now!
Come back! Come back! Come back!