A professor of anthropology runs afoul of the titular creatures while doing research in New Mexico in this made for television flick that scared plenty of seventies kids into watching from behind the couch.
One of the cool things about the seventies, besides free love, was the ABC Movie of the Week. These 90-minute gems (72 minutes without commercials) were mostly thrillers that went as far as the censors would allow. They tended to avoid putting on morality plays and always cast solid actors, who were often former film stars. They were usually suspense stories but this effort stands out as one of the few monster movies they made. This is too bad since the creature feature flicks they did make (Trilogy of Terror and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) have gone on to become classics of the genre.
We start with Dr. Boley picking up his daughter, Diana, at a remote desert airport. We are immediately clued in to strangeness as their car is shadowed by a an off screen creature whose flapping wings sound like Pterodactyl on steroids. Turns out Diana is a promising writer and her dad needs her help interviewing an old desert rat for a book project about the perception of evil throughout recorded history.
The source is a real character who runs a roadside museum and goes by ‘Uncle Willy.” At first glance it’s obvious this guy is a few bottles short of a six pack and his social skills are a bit one sided. He leads the pair to his tool shed where he keeps his” proof of evil.” The evidence he harbors s a bizarre skeleton with a huge head. Boley suspects that Willy pieced it together from scraps but Willy is convinced it’s real, claiming he found it in an area known as the “Devil’s Crossing, dun, dun, dun!”
Before they can examine the remains a racket ensues when something heavy lands on the tin roof. The whole shack shimmies(my apologies to The B-52’s)before collapsing. A lantern fall son Willy and lights him up like a roman candle . Luckily the smoking remains of this codger are probably a more reliable witness than the whiskey soaked live version ever could have been.
The doctor and Diana race away in their station wagon but they glimpse one of the gargoyles which claws at their roof . They make it to a hotel/gas station where they put in for the night . Making a report to the sheriff the next morning they wisely leave out the part about the flying demon. The sheriff investigates and arrests some dirt biker joyriding in the area. The false arrest compels Diana to spill their story but the law doesn’t believe her. She is promptly rewarded by getting kidnapped by the gargoyles who stop at her motel to collect the skull.
Boley manages to enlist the Sheriff and the bikers into forming a posse (these wild stories are easier to believe when you have Professor in front of your name). They head out into the desert. The gargoyles are ferocious foes who strike back hard. We learn that they hatch a new generation every five thousand years and this is when they are most vulnerable and dangerous. Boley realizes he must save his daughter and destroy the colony and he only has one night, and a tank of gasoline ,to the job leading to a daring midnight raid into the caves where the gargoyles are hatching an army.
Fun stuff that totally works despite a small budget. It helps that they manage to cast 50’s swashbuckler Cornel Wilde as Boley. He may be long in the tooth but he knows his way around an action scene and is a convincing hero. Jennifer Salt is also solid as Diana while Bernie Casey does a fine job as lead monster. The real star here, though, are the special effects by Stan Winston. He does a fine job on the creature costumes which foreshadow his work for ‘Aliens.’ Keen eyed movie lovers will spot a young Scott Glenn (currently seen on Netflix’s Daredevil) as a dirt biker with a conscience.
Best Lines: “Gargoyles are a scientific fact, and they’re no more dangerous than a high school drop-out on a motorcycle.”
“You’ve got a giant lizard, with a beak, in your hotel room?”
Tom Doty is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.