Tuesday, June 10, 2014

TUNE IN JUNE: Gargoyles (1972)

Note: Here on Schlock to the System, June is TUNE IN JUNE, which is really just an excuse for me to catch up on some TV series I've been meaning to watch for a while. But I will also be watching a number of TV movies, particularly ones from the hey-day of the TV movie, the 70s and 80s.

Gargoyles (1972)
Director: Bill L Norton
Starring: Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt, Scott Glenn, Bernie Casey
Format: AVI

Plot: An anthropologist and his daughter travel into the desert of the southwest US to investigate a report of strange goings-on, and stumble upon a colony of living, breathing gargoyles who live in nearby caves. When the gargoyles attack, father and daughter must fight for survival.

Ah yes, the TV movie. Before the advent of the VCR, the only way most people could catch a movie was either at the cinema or later when it was broadcast on TV. During the 1960s, a new term was coined, the Made-for-TV movie. Throughout the 70s and 80s, the likes of the ABC Movie of the Week and NBC Saturday Night at the Movies became ratings winners.

Made-for-TV movies usually had low budgets, a small cast and a pacing all of their own, based around needing mini-cliffhangers running into commercial breaks. Some were good, plenty were bad, and some were controversial, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable on television.

Being that I was born in 1974 and outside of the US, I missed a lot of the 70s and early 80s made-for-TV movies. When I decided to do this theme for June, I turned to the internet to find what people considered some of the best of the genre. 1972's Gargoyles (which apparently premiered on CBS in the US) sprang up on a few lists, so I hunted it down.

It is directed by Bill L Norton, who went on to direct a lot of TV movies and series, everything from Tour of Duty to Angel to The Unit. It is written by TV movie vets Stephen and Elinor Karpf (ADAM AT SIX AM, TERROR IN THE SKY, DEVIL DOG: HOUND FROM HELL etc).

The cast is a good one. Cornel Wilde (something of a star in the 40s, 50s and 60s) is an adequate leading man, while attractive Jennifer Salt (who would go on to star on TV's SOAP) does a lot of screaming as his daughter. Scott Glenn (APOCALYPSE NOW) is a young dirt-biker who helps them battle the gargoyles, while former NFL player Bernie Casey is the head gargoyle (under heavy make-up and with vocal effects added by another actor) and former TV star Grayson Hall (DARK SHADOWS) is a hard-drinking motel owner.

Gargoyles is nicely shot, with the desert setting adding a level of suspense and creepiness to what is otherwise a rather-corny monster flick. Because it's a 70s made-for-TV movie we can cut the special effects some slack, but they're bad - the Gargoyle make-up kind of reminded me of the Sleestaks from the Land of the Lost TV series. I was surprised to read on IMDB that the make-up was done by the legendary Stan Winston, here making his debut.  But I guess everyone has to start somewhere.

Norton tries his best to give proceedings an air of suspense, with touches such as doing the gargoyles' scenes in slow motion. It's an attempt to make their movements seem other-wordly, but because the backgrounds go by in slow-motion too, it ultimately fails. One other thing of note is that the opening credits have a "green ooze" font, which instantly reminded me of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror credits (I was half expecting to see… Directed by Boogeyman Bill Norton).

If this movie was made today it would be hard to describe it as anything but mediocre. But given the era it was made, and the fact it was made for TV, I'm willing to cut it a little slack and give it a mild recommendation. I suspect it will mainly appeal to anyone who watched it as a kid, for nostalgic reasons.

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