director Bill L. Norton
November 21, 1972, Gainesville, Florida. I was 3 years old. Some of my earliest memories are from this time. And strangely enough, Gargoyles is absolutely one of them.
I guess that this makes Gargoyles officially the first movie that I remember seeing. I’m sure that I’d already seen a number of others because the only reason that my mother would have allowed me to watch this movie was that I was already into monster movies.
Interestingly, skimming imdb.com commentaries on the film, I was not alone in how much of an impact this movie made on my psyche. It seems that lots of people remember it vividly and that it freaked them out. For me, I was 3! That kind of boggles my mind in a lot of ways. My memory is quite strong and clear. Lots of people don’t have memories of that age at all.
A scientist/researcher (Cornell Wilde) and his daughter/assistant (Jennifer Salt) journey to the Southwest in search of a wily old man and his mystery shack of artifacts, only to uncover an ancient race of demonic gargoyles living in the rocks and caves. This was a made-for-tv movie.
Three things about it that struck me:
1. The attack on the father and daughter’s car as they drive down the darkened road with a gargoyle on their roof, ripping it up. This truly frightened me. This is a pure memory for me.
2. The nobility of the monsters. Actually, after watching the film again just now with my daughter, I realize that the gargoyles aren’t just a noble race of creatures just trying to exist. They actually do want to destroy mankind if they can but their life cycles are super slow (it’s been like 300 years or something since the last eggs hatched?) For some reason I always thought that the gargoyles were kind of not exactly bad guys, but really, it’s the humans who end up being kind of noble. Wilde and the humans destroy most of the gargoyle eggs but allow the mating pair of monsters to escape to have a chance to breed and keep on living. It’s a kind of progressive attitude toward the monsters. Almost conservationist.
And the gargoyles are kind of noble, intelligent. I always remembered them that way and I think that was another notable aspect of the movie. The idea of the “good” monster. I liked monsters. I liked monsters that were noble, if doomed, tragic and cool.
Which brings me to:
3. Rick Baker and Stan Winston. Stan Winston is credited with the gargoyle make-up. But listening to the director commentary (which I did a bit — it was kind of boring), Bill L. Norton mentions that Rick Baker was also on set, working with the designs. The make-up for the monsters is pretty cool. As Norton mentions, the heads of the monsters were very good. Their shoulders were pretty good, torsos okay, and rest of the body costumes quite bad. I only paraphrase Norton’s comment to say that the gargoyle designs are very cool. I don’t know how many there are but there are several different masks that all look quite different from one another. And yet it’s true that maybe if you analyze the whole costume you’d say that they weren’t spectacular. I would say that the fact that the gargoyles look cool and actually get a lot of screen time as a result is another testament to why this movie made such an impact on me.
Clocking in at 74 minutes, I’ll be honest, it’s not by any means a great movie. It has definite charms and qualities. Some good character actor performances enhance this relatively low-budget shoot. But it’s got some chintzyness to it too. The slo-mo effects of the gargoyles’ movements was probably lame even in 1972. And the weird “snare drum” (as Clara described it) vocal effect on the head gargoyle’s voice is nothing but cheap.
But this movie is pretty much the origin of all my movie-watching. The very first film I remember watching at the time, in the back room den on a huge box black-and-white television (I remember fantasizing about seeing color occasionally on the old B&W). And I remember really, really loving this movie, and it stuck with me, here even 42 years later, watching it with my daughter, who at 10 is already three times older than I was when I first saw it.