Made for TV Horror: Gargoyles (1972)

The episode of Made for TV Horror covering Gargoyles was Written and Narrated by Jessica Dwyer, Edited by Mike Conway, Produced by John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

Monster movies are mana for horror fans. Monster movies with really great mythology added into the mix is even better. Where you don’t normally expect to find these types of films are as part of the prime-time lineup of network television. But back in the days of no cable and a time of zero CSIs and Law and Orders, network TV would be the place to find a lot of original films. The TV Movie Of The Week was appointment viewing, especially when it came to the horror flicks. In 1972 a very unique in the annals of TV history film would air on CBS. The film would be special for a few reasons and would be one that would haunt the memories of viewers for years to come because they’d think they imagined it. That film is Gargoyles (watch it HERE), not to be confused with the cartoon series that would arrive over twenty years later.

Gargoyles featured numerous creatures all falling under the category of that specific monster. There were different designs for the type of Gargoyle that was shown, some female, some male, and one who ruled over all of them.

Gargoyles begins with a prologue which talks about the history of the Gargoyles on earth and over the centuries as the creatures have fought god and mankind to have their own kingdom. They are the offspring it is said of the demons who fell from heaven when Lucifer was cast out and who then mated with human women. This race became the Gargoyles who return every 500 years to attempt to take over mankind’s world after the hatchings of their eggs.

The film then cuts to the title in a great gooey font and a small airplane landing. We’re introduced quickly to our two leads, Cornel Wilde and Jennifer Salt as Dr. Mercer Boley and his daughter Diana. After thinking about it I wonder if Sam Raimi may have gotten some inspiration from these two for the characters of Doctor Knowby and Annie from Evil Dead 2. Mercer has a penchant for demons and folklore about them. This never ends well. Diana has brought him a new piece for his collection of said demons and while driving he’s taking them on a detour to meet Uncle Willie, a local supposed kook who has a Desert Museum filled with weird finds he’s collected.

Mercer is sort of a jerk here and pressures Willie, who really just wants someone to believe him, to show him the proof of his stories about the devil like entities spoken about by local Indians. He shows them a skeleton he’s assembled with massive wings and horns. Mercer is starting to be convinced this is actually real when the shack is attacked by a screeching force, eventually knocking the roof in and killing Willie in the process. Thinking fast, Mercer grabs the skull of the creature from the rubble and he and Diana make it out along with the tape recording of Willie’s story and the sounds of the attack.

The two go to a cheap motel ran by Mrs. Parks, a randy drinker who really is digging on Mercer. The next day they go to the police to report what happen and head back to Willie’s where they find a group of dirt bikers riding around the wreckage. The police arrest them because they’re police and this is a 70s movie where anyone who is young and has long hair is bad news. The cops are convinced the sounds that the Boley’s heard were the bikes and take them in.

That night the gargoyles come to take back the skull as they keep their own dead. This is really effective scene and I love how they film the creatures when they attack. While one gets away, the other is killed after being hit by a vehicle. Ever the grave robber, Mercer takes the body of this one back to the hotel room. Diana might want to have a talk with her dad.

Instead of talking to her dad, Diana heads back to the police to try and get the only other people under 30 released from prison in the film. Because youngster solidarity! She even tells the head of the group of bikers Reeger (played by Scott Glenn in one of his first roles) about the gargoyles but he doesn’t really believe her.

Another group of gargoyles return to get the newly dead body back from Mercer. Father and daughter run with the body to their car which is quickly attacked. The head Gargoyle appears, tall with massive wings and obviously the strongest of the bunch. He takes a liking to Diana and kidnaps her.

Diana is brought back to their lair where she sees that the gargoyles have a number of eggs different types of gargoyles who perform tasks. The leader can speak with a strange, otherworldly voice. He has books and wishes to learn more and asks her to read from them. When she does, she discovers a story much like that from the intro where demons mated with human women. As she’s reading the leader comes nearer to her and makes it pretty clear he’d be interested if she was. Diana is more than slightly freaked out by this. Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.

Meanwhile Dr. Boley has managed to convince the police with the help of the dirt bikers to go rescue Diana, even convincing the randy innkeeper Mrs. Parks to help out…which doesn’t go well for her.

In fact, after the gargoyles are alerted to the on coming humans it doesn’t really go well for any of them, including the gargoyles. Reeger pulls a Gorman/Vasquez and blows himself up, destroying what appears to be all the eggs. Nearly everyone is killed except for Diana, her father and a couple of law officers who are waiting for back up.

Doctor Boley confronts the gargoyle leader who, along with one female, are the only creatures left alive. Mercer makes, for lack of a better term, a devils bargain with the gargoyle leader. He injures the female, causing the leader to have to carry her to safety away from the oncoming attack. He lets them leave, giving them a chance to survive and keeping Diana safe. The leader begrudgingly accepts, approving of Mercer’s intelligence but stating it may be at the cost of humanity’s rule of the earth.

The film ends with the leader of the gargoyles flying away, carrying the injured female, and the possibility of their return.

Gargoyles was filmed around Carlsbad Caverns and was directed by Bill L Norton. Norton would go on to write the Kris Kristofferson film Convoy as well as write and direct More American Graffiti. He’d also go on to work and direct on numerous tv series over the years including Tour of Duty, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel to name a few with a number of them being genre fare.

Cornel Wilde was a classic film veteran who made the transition to TV successfully. The same year Gargoyles aired he’d star in an episode of Night Gallery and would continue working consistently until his death in 1989. Jennifer Salt would go on to become a successful producer in TV after having worked through the 80s as an actress on TV. She’s currently working as a producer on American Horror Story and Ratched. Scott Glenn who played the heroic biker has gone on to a massive career in film and TV, from Apocalypse Now to working with Norton again on More American Graffiti. The Right Stuff, Backdraft, Silence of the Lambs, and most recently his work as Stick in the Marvel series Daredevil and The Defenders, Glenn doesn’t seem to be stopping.

Grayson Hall who played the lusty innkeeper was a familiar face to fans of scary TV thanks to her work in Dark Shadows. She had a long career prior to Dark Shadows, having been nominated for an Academy Award for the 1964 film The Night of the Iguana. But it would be her turn as the lovelorn Julia Hoffman in Dark Shadows that would stick with fans of the genre. Uncle Willie was played by actor Woody Chambliss. He’d appeared in a number of westerns over the years, in film and television as well as turns in The Andy Griffith Show. One interesting tidbit for Woody was his appearance as Sgt. Pepper in the film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Genre fans may recognize him from the creepy horror film The Devil’s Rain.

Made for TV Horror Gargoyles

The lead Gargoyle was actually a combination of two actors (think Doug Jones and David Hyde Pierce in Hellboy.) Actor Bernie Casey was the man behind the lead Gargoyle. Casey was an ex-football player turned actor. He was in Guns of the Magnificent Seven in his first feature film role a few years prior and would be a part of a number of grindhouse and blaxploitation films along with major releases like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and In the Mouth of Madness as well as TV. Casey was handsome and tall at 6ft 4 and made an imposing and regal figure as the lead Gargoyle, but his voice didn’t quite fit what the filmmakers had in mind. Enter actor Vic Perrin who was known for a metric ton of cartoon voice work as well as TV roles. Odds are if you watched a cartoon from Hanna-Barbera, you heard him. And if you remember Nomad from the Changeling episode of Star Trek, you heard him too. Perrin actually was in three episodes of Star Trek as Nomad, as the voice of the Metron, and as Tharn. He was also the eerie voice that began every episode of The Outer Limits letting you know that they were in control of your television.

Gargoyles would be one of the first projects that the late great Stan Winston would do the special effects make up for. His work on the Gargoyles is truly stunning and part of the reason why this film sticks around in peoples memories. It’s well and beyond what would have been expected in an early 70s TV film and shows what would be on the horizon for the master of special effects in later years.

For a film that was shot with one camera over just 18 days, Gargoyles still holds up as an effective monster film. The slow-motion shots of the Gargoyles moving, the music, the monsters, it’s just an enjoyable flick and one that has gone down in TV horror history as a favorite of everyone who has seen it.

The film is available on DVD if you can find it. It’s also available to stream via Shout Factory’s streaming service and you can find it on YouTube as well. I highly recommend it. Welcome to the cult of the Gargoyles.

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