Gargoyles
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Gargoyles

Occasionally some of your favorite movies enter your world through the most unexpected of sources. Although demonstrable in most types of flicks it does appear to be axiomatic in the case of Sci-Fi and fantasy movies. Perhaps it is the plethora of potential sources were the devotee can discover a little gem but if you attend and convention from these genres it will not take longs to locate people with similar sources for their favorites or even a few that share the small guilty pleases that are on your list. One movie that has held a spot on my personal list for almost forty years now is a simple little Sci-Fi thriller called ‘Gargoyles’. My late wife and I initially caught in by accident one evening after class in college and ten years later managed to grab a copy on our new VCR so we could revisit it quiet frequently thereafter. This flick never made it to critical acclaim or included in a montage of classic films but the movie has achieved the much lauded place as a cult classic. At those same Sci-Fi conventions you are certain to find an enthusiastic discussion or two over the merits of this film. I thought my wife and I were alone in our appreciation of this made for television movie that is until I made an off handed remark about it to my best friend. Immediately his eyes ignited as we both began to quote lines from the film. Yes, we are both certifiable cinephiles and science fiction geeks so that did greatly improve the odds of this scenario playing out. This lead up to a lot of excitement when I found out that at long last the movie is being released on DVD, legitimate DVD not the grey market copies I know a lot of you picked up at those aforementioned conventions. The release is through a small but dedicated distributor, Hen’s Tooth. If you take a look at their catalogue you’ll see some odd items you might never have thought were really available. They have everything from Beany and Cecil cartoons to Swedish ‘Pipi Longstockings’ films including the one featured on an episode of ‘The Gilmore Girls’, but that’s an entirely different sort of cult classic. The thing is you don’t need any justification to get this DVD other than it is still, four decades later, rip roaring fun and a perfect popcorn flick.

Gargoyles have been a steadfast source of horror and fantasy stories for centuries. Their prototypes can be found in the art of the ancient Greeks and Romans but the form most familiar most of rose in popular usage in statuary of 12th century Europe. These grotesque creatures crouch atop cathedrals around the world peering down at humanity below. Originally an ornamental faced for water drains modern examples can even be found in New York City adorning the famous Chrysler Building. In most cases the purpose for these hideous stone creatures is to ward off evil spirits during or after construction of the build on which they reside. One common version of the mythos surrounding them includes their ability to come to life by transforming out of their stone dormant state to a living flesh variation. Other story lines use the carvings as just an ancient reminder of mankind’s ancient, demonic adversary. This later incarnation of the mythology is at least in part the basis for the story here. The Gargoyles are the misbegotten spawn of the devil that comes out of their dormancy every six hundred years to battle mankind to dominance over the earth. Usually the overwhelming superior numbers of men defeat the gargoyle menace but this cycle could be different with Mankind kept diverted by disease, disaster and violence that pervades the globe. Anthropologist Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) is in the field researching his latest scholarly book, ‘Five Thousand Years of Demonology’ tracing the social changes in the perception of evil throughout time. Accompanying him on his travels is his research assistant and daughter, Diana (Jennifer Salt. They are returning from a trip to Mexico and decide to stop at a desert tourist trap, Uncle Willie's Desert Museum. Like many such places Boley is certain there offerings are nothing more than obvious fakes. One exhibit that Willie is anxious to show the scientist is the pride of his collection, a demonic skeleton. Initially Boley looks at the bones a feels the humanoid skeleton is a crude mixture of human and animal remains but Willie insists they are from a single creature, what the local natives referred to as devils that lived in the rocks. The old man wants to share his discovery for a hefty cut of the profits from the ensuing book. Well the old shack burns down but the professor grabs the skull just in time. Things pick up nicely the next day when a creature attacks the Professor and his beautiful daughter proving the veracity of the legends and giving the audience the first look at the creatures.

One aspect of flicks like this that provides the greatest amount of fun is watching the work of somebody that would go on to much greater projects. In this case this movie offers a glimpse at the special effects genius of Stan Winston, credited here with the creation of the Gargoyle makeup. He won Academy Awards for his creativity on such memorable and innovative films as ‘Aliens’, ‘Jurassic Park’,’ ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ and also was responsible for the makeup in ‘Avatar’. This is a great opportunity to see the work of a person who greatly influenced the current state of the art in the genre as held today. The film holds up four decades later largely because of this fact but also due to a strong story that has not been beaten to death by other movies and better than usual acting. There are some gaffs due to the special effects being practical instead of computer generated such as wires visible on the flying gargoyles but in some ways this only adds to the nostalgic feel of the production.

Posted 05/16/11

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