Very often I get asked: what do you think of the way in which the movie industry treats the world of Cryptozoology? Well, that’s an extremely good question! There’s no doubt that, in my opinion, there are some excellent creature-themed movies out there. Unlike a lot of my friends and colleagues in the field, I really enjoyed The Mothman Prophecies that starred Richard Gere, Laura Linney and Alan Bates. Bob “Bobcat” Goldthwait’s Bigfoot-themed movie, Willow Creek, is fantastic. And I have a lot of great memories of The Valley of Gwangi. But, my favorite all-time movie of the cryptozoological kind? Without doubt it’s Gargoyles.
Now, some might say that Gargoyles is not strictly cryptozoological. Instead, it might be argued that it’s a straightforward monster movie. I, however, disagree! And I’ll tell you why I disagree.
The field of Cryptozoology is absolutely littered with accounts of flying humanoids (which, of course, is a perfect description for a gargoyle). As well as the aforementioned Mothman, there is the infamous Owlman of Mawnan, England; the flying woman of Vietnam; the so-called “Batman” of Houston, Texas, and many more. And for the definitive study of such cases, see Ken Gerhard’s book, Encounters with Flying Humanoids, which makes for absolutely essential reading.
All of which brings me back to Gargoyles. Made in 1972, and directed by Bill L. Norton, it’s a movie that I consider not just a horror classic of that bygone era, but also a production that should make fans of Cryptozoology ponder deeply on the issue of flying humanoids.
In terms of quality, I place Gargoyles alongside the likes of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark (the 1973 original), Race with the Devil, The Night Stalker, and The Norliss Tapes. Starring Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt and Berney Casey, it’s masterfully atmospheric and, if you haven’t seen it, you really should.
The story revolves around Wilde’s character, Dr. Mercer Boley, and his daughter, Diana (played by Salt). Boley, a man who earns his living from writing books on the world of the paranormal, and Diana head off to Mexico – road-trip-style – to undertake research for the doctor’s next book.
As Boley tells Diana, however, before reaching the USA-Mexico border they have to first make a stop at a place that proves pivotal to the story: a roadside feast of entertainment run by one Uncle Willie (actor Woody Chambliss). We’re talking animal oddities, sideshow wonders, and freaky creatures – all of which look highly dubious in the extreme. There is, however, something else.
It turns out that grizzled, old Willie is sitting on the find of the century. And, astutely realizing that “find of the century” = “lots of money,” he suggests to Boley that they work together on a book, one guaranteed to become a gigantic bestseller. And why, exactly, should the book become a huge hit? Very simple: in his shed, Willie has nothing less than the skeleton of a gargoyle, one which he stumbled upon in a nearby canyon.
Boley, skeptical in the extreme, openly laughs when he sees the skeleton, accusing Willie of constructing it out of a variety of animal and human bones, albeit in admittedly skillful fashion.
A heated argument then begins, one which comes to an abrupt end when – with the Sun having set and overwhelming darkness now upon the desert – something monstrous attacks the shed, and Willie is killed when the roof caves in and the building becomes engulfed in flames. In an unintentional touch of humor, Boley is clearly far more concerned about retrieving the horned skull of the alleged gargoyle than he is of saving poor Willie from a fiery end!
It’s when Boley’s car is attacked by a marauding, humanoid creature – intent on retrieving the skull and, thereby, keeping secret the existence of both it and the rest of its kind – that both father and daughter realize Uncle Willie was telling the terrible truth all along. And that theme – of the gargoyles doing their utmost to ensure the Human Race does not realize they are not merely the stuff of folklore and mythology – runs through the entire production.
As the movie and the mayhem continues, Boley and Diana team-up with a group of bikers (led by Scott Glenn, in an early role) and various local cops, as they all endeavor to stay alive and destroy the gargoyles. Things come to a climax after Diana is abducted by the leader of the gargoyles – played in definitively creepy and menacing fashion by Berney Casey – and taken to the underground lair of the winged fiends.
Of course, Boley and Co. finally overcome the gargoyles in the underground, labyrinthine caves and prevent their reign of terror from escalating to a point where they become the dominant force over the Human Race. For now, at least, and as far as the world is concerned, gargoyles are still nothing more than the stuff of legend and lore. Foley and Diana, however, now know better.
Made for television, and with special-effects provided by the late FX-maestro Stan Winston, Gargoyles is overflowing with nostalgia for an era long gone, one where the main star – in this case, Cornel Wilde – didn’t have to be under twenty, gaunt and pale-faced.
But, to get back to my main point, if the flying humanoids aspect of Cryptozoology fascinates you, check out Gargoyles. Just perhaps, it’s far closer to the truth of the “winged thing” phenomenon than many might think…