I also couldn’t resist picking a film that has remained a very special little nostalgic gem that shines in my brain, as it left a kind of strange impression on me as a kid growing up in the early 70s. With made-for-TV movies on both ABC and CBS, we had a slew of fright films and chillers to choose from, and I’ll be doing a special Halloween tribute to The ‘CBS Movie of the Week year in Fright is 1973′ with 10 incredibly memorable picks.
For now, the topic is GARGOYLES (1972) and it’s a lasting impression on the imagination, the mind, and the senses.
It aired on CBS on 11/21/1972 with a teleplay by Stephen and Elinor Karpf (Terror in the Sky 1971, Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell 1978, The Jayne Mansfield Story 1980).
From TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen by Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott-“The made-for TV movie, or single play, is a production mode that saw its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. In the USA it developed with ABC’s Movie of the Week, while in Britain it developed much earlier with ITV’s Armchair Theatre in 1956. In both cases, by the mid 1980s the made-for-TV movie was no longer a major television format, replace according to Creeber, by more tele-visual forms… The popularity of the TV movie in the 1970s, however led to the rise of the made-for-TV horror movie which experience its own golden age, with over 100 made-for-television horror movies… premiered on prime time [American] network television since 1968′ (Waller 1987) These films include adaptations of gothic novels such as Count Dracula (1977), Frankenstein (1973) and The Turn of the Screw (1974), or original contemporary horror such as Fear No Evil (1969), Duel (1971) and Gargoyles (1972) John Kenneth Muir argues that in this period television became increasingly graphic and that the ‘turn toward darkness’ in TV horror represented as with cinematic horror ‘a shift in national mood due, at least in part, to the shocking and graphic news footage coming back from the Vietnam War. It was as if for the first time American’s were aware of a darker worlds, and television reflected that shift in perspective… the tv format mimicking it’s cinematic counterpart.”
Gargoyles 1972 is directed by Bill Norton who also directed Baby, Secret of the Lost Legend 1985, Three for the Road 1987, Angel of Death 1990 tv movie, Deadly Whispers 1995 tv movie, Gone in the Night & Vows of Deception 1996 tv movies, A Deadly Vision, Bad to the Bone, Our Mother’s Murder 1997 tv movies, and episodes of Angel and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Medium, Ghost Whisperer, The Unit.
The cinematography was shot by Earl Rath who also wasn’t a stranger to television productions, for instance, Go Ask Alice 1973, The Horror at 37,000 Feet 1973, Can Ellen Be Saved? 1974, and Columbo’s A Deadly State of Mind 1975. The film was shot with one single camera which is why it has that comfortable Verité look amidst the mythological narrative.
I’m already a fan of the busy television & film composer Robert Prince (You’re a Big Boy Now 1966, tv shows, The Wild Wild West 1968-69, Mannix, The Bold Ones 1969-71, Land of the Giants 1970, Night Gallery 1970-71, The Name of the Game 1971, Alias Smith and Jones, Mission: Impossible, The Streets of San Francisco 1972, The Sixth Sense 1972, Circle of Fear 1972-1973, Columbo – episode The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case (1977), The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, ABC Movie of the Week– A Little Game 1971, Scream Pretty Peggy 1973, The Strange and Deadly Occurrence 1974, Where Have All the People Gone? (1974), The Dead Don’t Die 1975, Snowbeast 1977, The Violation of Sarah McDavid 1981 starring the incredible Patty Duke, who we lost recently, and one of my favorite 70s feature horror films-the highly underrated Squirm 1976, and then there’s the blaxploitation horror – J.D’s Revenge 1976.
Robert Prince is responsible for the eerie and melodic soundtracks to so many favorites, and his musical contribution to Gargoyles is a slick job with its atmospheric odd brew of ancient Gothicism and modern outlaw culture. The special effects are by Milt Rice (Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, Queen of Outer Space 1958, Damnation Alley 1977, Nightwing 1979, and George Peckham.
The Cast: Cornel Wilde (Leave Her to Heaven 1945) plays a professor of anthropology who writes literature debunking supernatural legends, demons, and ancient mythology Dr. Mercer Boley, Jennifer Salt (Who has produced American Horror Story from 2011-2015, and starred in Midnight Cowboy 1969, Sisters 1972) as his halter top wearing daughter Diana (Di-Ana) she will come to hear her name called in a sensuous yet menacing tone by the Patriarch of the Gargoyles (Bernie Casey)-– Brian’s Song 1971, Cleopatra Jones 1973. Fans of Grayson Hall (Dark Shadows Dr. Julia Hoffman 1966-1971, as Pepe in Satan In High Heels 1962, The Night of the Iguana 1964) will love her portrayal of motel owner and full-time drunk Mrs. Parks. It was fine actress Grayson Hall who actually thought of her character always having a drink in her hand in every scene she appears.
James Reeger: [Scott Glenn] “So you and your old man, you’re not afraid of them gar-things, huh?”
Diana Boley: “Gargoyles are a scientific fact. And they’re no more dangerous than a high school drop-out on a motorcycle.”
Scott Glenn plays bad boy dirt biker James Reeger, William Stevens plays the sheriff, Woody Chambliss (The Devil’s Rain 1975) plays Old Uncle Willie, who is not selling butter and eggs this time around (see The Andy Griffith Show’s Aunt Bea’s, Invisible Beau).
Part of the charm and interesting vibe of the film is Bernie Casey’s charismatic portrayal of this incubus that dwells in the caves,(shot once again at Carlsbad Caverns) leading his clan of Gargoyles til their eggs have hatched before they migrate away from the desert, so they can reign another 500 years. I remember being mesmerized by Casey’s costume and make-up by Emmy Award winners Stan Winston and Ellis Burman Jr, his piercing eyes showing through, his broad jaw and high cheekbones, and the tone of his commanding voice.
From The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters-edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’ Gargoyles is the first work to present gargoyles as a species as opposed to solitary creatures. A race of reptilian creatures created by Satan to harry mankind at centuries-long intervals hunts for a gargoyle skull found by an anthropologist in a roadside exhibit; gargoyle statues, the film explains, are folk memories and warnings. That same year the short story “Bleeding Stones” by Harlan Ellison depicted the gargoyles on St Patrick’s Cathedral suddenly brought to life by industrial pollution; they rapidly massacre New York City and fly east toward Rome. Less apocalyptically gargoyles appear as a species in the earliest 1974 Dungeons & Dragons rule-books. These cunning, reptilian, horned fanged monsters can only be hit with magic weapons. A similar rule obtains in Jim Wynorski’s film Gargoyle (2004): a face of demonic creatures driven almost to extinction in medieval times.”
The word Gargoyle in the classical art and literature sense is based on the French word ‘gargouille’ meaning ‘throat’ or “water-throat’ or water spouts, which were like wall fountains— the gaping mouths allowing the runoff from the rain on the roofs. These spouts were constructive as they were decorative ornamental fixtures of grotesquely featured characters that were prevalent along the ornate façades, the flying buttress or have what is called tracery; rose windows, towers, spires, and pinnacle all part of the ‘Flamboyant style’ of 14th century Classical Gothic cathedrals in the late medieval period seen in Italy and France. The Gargoyle can also be seen as nocturnal guardians over the cathedrals they ornamented, coming to life at night and then back into their stone visages by day. This flies in the face of the idea that they were Satans’s minions wreaking havoc among humankind —if they were placed there to indeed guard the churches.
The film opens up with narration by Vic Perrin who I have a huge soft spot as he is the Control Voice for the 1963-65 anthology sci-fi/fantasy television show The Outer Limits. He also narrated each episode’s thought-provoking prologue with a tranquil tone and ended by signing off with some philosophical epilogue that touched the heart and reached inside us, dreamers and thinkers. Perrin also worked on a few episodes of Star Trek just to mention a few of the shows he lent his wonderful voice to. In Gargoyles he enlightens us in a Miltonesque lead-in about the fall from grace by the angel Satan and a montage of classical images of demons and gargoyles from medieval gargoyles from Gothic Cathedrals, plus demonic images by vintage film images & painters–images from director Benjamin Christensen Häxan (1922) appear as well as artists William Blake, Hieronymus Bosch, and Pieter Bruegel.
We are told that these demons have managed to continue to survive in our culture over the centuries. Perrin also dubbed his voice for Bernie Casey’s sage winged dark horned/horny prince with the aquiline nose and burning eyes, he loves to be read to! and Casey’s manifestation of the lead Gargoyle with the use of audio electronics to create a metallic effect on his voice create the outré creepy style and provocative nature that transcends all the latex.
The winged leader of the gargoyles (Bernie Casey) makes it quite clear to Dr. Boley (Cornel Wilde) that the extinction of humanity is their ultimate goal. In a similar latex-looking mask, John Anderson played the Ebonite Interrogator in suitably scary prosthetic makeup in The Outer Limits episode entitled: Nightmare which aired December 2nd, 1963, with makeup work by Fred B. Phillips who also worked on House of Usher 1960 and Star Trek.
The prologue opens with its exquisite arresting soundtrack of percussive, harpsichord atonality and electronic sparks by composer Robert Prince contributes to the atmosphere right from the edge to set up the basis of the story as boldly recounted by the voice of Vic Perrin—That the battle between good and evil has existed for eons. That this battle continues and man’s own pride, curiosity and aggression will also bring him upon the devil’s minions, those fallen angels, the gargoyles who wish to conquer the lord’s favored human-kind. Begin the Milton prose from Paradise Lost.
“The devil was once the most favored of the host of angels serving the lord. But pride welled in his breast. He thought it unseemly for him to serve. The devil and his band of followers who likewise suffered the sin of pride were defeated in battle by the lord and his host, and were banished to the outer most depths of Hell, never to know the presence of the lord or look on heaven again. Smarting with his wounds but all the more swollen with pride the devil cried out from the depths, ‘it is better to rule in hell then serve in heaven.’ The devil proclaimed what was lost in heaven, would be gained on earth. He said, ‘my offspring, the gargoyles will one day rule the lord’s works, earth and man.’ And so it came to pass that while man ruled on earth the gargoyles waited, lurking hidden from the light. Reborn every 600 years in man’s reckoning of time the gargoyles joined battle against man to gain dominion over the earth. In each coming the gargoyles were nearly destroyed by men who flourished in greater numbers. Now it has been hundreds of so many years that it seems the ancient statues and paintings of gargoyles are just products of man’s imagination. In this year with man’s thoughts turned toward the many ills he has brought upon himself. Man has forgotten his most ancient adversary… the gargoyles.!”
Every 500 to 600 years laying dormant the Gargoyle’s eggs hatch and the Gargoyle patriarch intimates in the heat of verbal sparring with Prof. Boley that they will rise up and wage war on the human race. The war between humans and Gargoyles in the film speaks more of self-preservation than ruthless pugnacity. They want to act before humankind tries to wipe them out and make their kind extinct… People have never understood says the lead gargoyle. The gargoyles here come out as sympathetic anti-heroes.
After the formidably dark opening narration by Vic Perrin, the credits roll -Professor Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) an anthropologist is driving through the desert of New Mexico on his way to Mexico to finish his new coffee table book on demonology. Along for the journey is his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) who’s riding side saddle with her dad tracking down interesting stories and finding artifacts in his little creepy tourist trap to support his scientific research. As Diana gets off the plane and brings her dad a statue of a beast called Callamudre (no such demon in the list of demonology) who will complete his collection of demons. A harp plucks and wavers and pan pipes effervesce, it is the ethereal calm before the storm… the two get into the wonderful yellow 70s station wagon.
Diana “I saw you on that talk show”
Professor Mercer Boley- “I’m glad kind of hoped you were watching. What do you think of that self styled witch they had on?”
Diana –“You were as always the cool intellectual. She got pretty upset when you started telling her she was just being superstitious about the devil… Do you really think the world of evil is just fantasy? “
Professor Mercer Boley- “Who knows it sells my books You should have read some of the letters I got at the University after that one.”
Boley’s book –5000 years of Demonology will trace man’s conception of evil down through the ages. Boley-“More monsters for fun and profit… something colorful and expensive for the coffee tables of America.”
Diana-“Sure would hate to get stuck out here in the dark.”
He tells Diana he before they head to Mexico has to ‘check out this old guy’ referring to Old Uncle Willie. “I don’t know he’s got some wild story, maybe it’s nothing, but it’s only a bit out of our way.” As they stop along the open expanse of the alienating desert landscape figuring out that they are lost, a large winged shadow watches them from atop a cliff. Diana says “Sure would hate to get stuck out here in the dark.” Suddenly there’s the sound of giant wings flapping and another hint of a winged shadow moves over that delicious vintage yellow station wagon. It’s a very chilling moment as are many of the scenes in this made for tv movie. The soft colors of the 70s create a dream-like atmosphere or maybe I’m just sentimental.
Boley and his daughter Diana joke about what they will see at Uncle Willies Desert Museum, they see a myriad of signs promising two-headed lizards and desert fish… Boley wonders which strange item Willie will try to sell him, he’s only enthusiastic about the sign he saw about cold beer.
Uncle Willie: “I saw yuh on that television talk show, perfesser, and yuh impressed me with yer knowledge and yer know-how.”
The two are shown a grotesque skeleton by this desert rat side, a sideshow peddler of oddities Uncle Willie, who wants money and credit for his discovery. Uncle Willy wants to co-write a book with Boley, calling it Uncle Willie’s Tale of the Desert featuring stories about the devil monsters and the 2 headed calf and a Siamese twin chicken. ‘I pull them in off the road.”
Willie “I gotta make sure you’re not out here to steal my discovery… now wait I’ll show it to ya it’s in the shack over there. “
Diana asks her skeptical dad-“Cant we just take a look.”
Professor Boley-“Bones, I smell old bones”
Willie- “I knew I picked a smart one”
Diana “Sure is lonely out here”
Willie- “Oh I like it like that… I own this place now out right. Pass my time thinking about a book I’m going to write. You just wouldn’t believe the things I know. Things I never told nobody. Just been saving up for the right moment. You’ll see, You’ll see you’ll be glad you came to see Old Willie.”
Diana “What is it?”
Willie- “I just got it put back together again.”
Professor Boley- “What do you mean put back together again. That never was together… hahaha. You assembled that out of a pile of old junk bones.”
Willie- “ No! I found it whole over in the canyon. Carted it back in my pickup. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to match them bones.”
Professor Boley- “Oh come on Uncle Willie (He laughs) This is excellent work but it’s a concoction of unrelated bones. Some animal some human. If I had more time I’d ask you how you managed the joints for the wings. That took real imagination. Coming up with wings.”
Willie- “No… this is not a trick. This is not for them tourists. This is the REAL thing. (pauses) You don’t believe me.”
Boley laughs again- “Willie your talent is wasted out here.”
Willie “no wait Dr. Boley. I never showed this to nobody. I thought you’d be the one smart enough to understand. Listen to me. The Indians named this place DEVILS CROSSING in their own language, back when they had a camp here. They lived here for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Indians told all about these devils, these spirits. They were real. I’ve got all the stories.”
Professor Boley- “I’m sorry Willie.”
Willie “Dr Boley, them devils used to live up there in the rocks. Came all of a sudden like. Just played hell with the tribes. Then they chased them off with their sacrifices and their offerings. An old Indian told me. It was his tribes main legend for hundreds of years. Now ain’t that worth a book?… ain’t it!!!”
Diana snaps a photo and Willie gets riled “no free pictures! Now either you make a deal with me to write this book 50/50 with my picture on the cover or you just get out, get out!”
Professor Boley tells him, “Alright Willie you’re on… let’s hear the story”
Willie bolts the door and Boley starts the tape recorder. “I always bolt all the doors when the suns goes down.”
Professor –“Can you remember what the Indian word was for the devils in the legends?”
Willie – (drinking a pint of whisky) Nak—nakatekachinko,. That’s it. This great chief saw the ‘nocitichincos in the desert and he had the tribe make costumes for all the elders, like the noci-tocichincos for the ritual of manhood called, “nonataya, “nonataya.”
Professor Boley- “Uh what about, can you recall the ritual itself?”
Willie “Let me think, uh … “
Willie is interrupted by the flapping of giant wings and the sound of a great desert wind.
But Uncle Willie should not have challenged the nesting Gargoyles by threatening their existence with exposure and taking their skeleton which was a sacred object. -The music and soundtrack are fabulous before the gargoyles strike it’s like electronic whirring and clanging with the sound of echoing crickets and chorus frogs They attack, the night Willie takes Dr. Boley and his daughter into his back shack where he keeps all the special goodies he finds, in particular the skeleton of a creature he found out in the desert that the Indians referred to as Devil’s Crossing.