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31 Days of Halloween: Gargoyles

Published Monday, October 18, 2021 at 10:07pm

It's tough to be a gargoyle these days. They used to be all over modern architecture (well, it was modern at the time), but they're hardly anybody's favorite monster anymore. The closest they got to being a Universal Monster was a brief cameo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Disney's Hunchback reduced them to singing comedians.

Neither has time been kind to Gargoyles, a TV movie which aired on CBS in November of 1972. It used to have a significant cult following, but that has dwindled to the point where the only people who seek it out are disproportionately represented by movie bloggers and baby boomers with podcasts.

The gargoyles in Gargoyles have a similar problem, but they're used to it; every 500 years they take another stab at ruling the planet and are forced back into the darkness by the human race. This has been going on for millenia, and the gargoyles, who are the spawn of Satan hisself, are sick of it.

Dr. Marcel Boley is a professor of folklore (I think; I was being distracted at the beginning of the movie) who has just picked up his daughter Diana at the airport. Driving through rural New Mexico, he mentions that he needs to make a quick stop at Uncle Willie's Desert Museum. Uncle Willie has contacted Dr. Boley with the promise of something exceptional.

Uncle Willie's Desert Museum turns out to be the sort of place Sam and Max probably would have avoided for its tackiness. Uncle Willie distributes beers to Dr. Boley and Diana and tries to make small talk, but Boley insists that he either deliver the goods or they walk. His find turns out to be a winged skeleton with an elongated snout. "Good joke!" says Boley, "we're done here." The guy insists that the skeleton was not assembled but was found in one piece. After some coaxing, Boley sits back down and Diana starts a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Uncle Willy speaks to them about local folklore and demons in native American legends. They are interrupted by a noise from outside. Something attacks the building, starts a fire, and kills Uncle Willy, but Boley and Diana escape with the skull from the skeleton.

From this point onward, the gargoyles pursue the Boleys until they finally kidnap Diana, and their king tells her that the human race is on its way out and that the gargoyles will be taking over any minute now.

I'm skipping parts of the plot, but there's not much plot to skip. Gargoyles is only 74 minutes long, and that's a serious liability. The Boleys are not likable characters, and they get no development. Bernie Casey plays the gargoyle king, but there's just not enough time for him to develop any pathos. That's unfortunate, because Bernie Casey is a great actor who might have saved the movie if he'd been given enough screentime.

About the only thing I do really like is the gargoyle costumes by Stan Winston, which look great. Otherwise I'd jettison the rest and cannot at all recommend it.

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