Made-for-TV horror movies got awfully strange in the early ’70s, sometimes diving deeper down the supernatural-cinema rabbit hole than their big-screen counterparts. Gargoyles is a prime example. Depicting exactly what its title suggests, the picture features an anthropologist running afoul of a tribe of real-life gargoyles, flying human/lizard hybrids who look as if they just emerged from the stonework of old buildings. Yet while the concept promises scares and spectacle, the makers of Gargoyles employ a moronic storyline that not only gets mired in trite monster-movie gimmicks but also contradicts itself. For most of the picture, it seems the gargoyles are misunderstood monsters trying to steer clear of human interference, but then the lead critter (Bernie Casey) announces a master plan to hatch thousands of baby monsters and take over the world. This indecision about how to present the titular creatures is unfortunately but one of Gargoyles’ problems.
Things get off to a bland start when macho scientist/author Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) recruits his grown daughter, Diana (Jennifer Salt), for an expedition through the American southwest. They travel to a novelty shop whose proprietor claims to have a gargoyle skeleton, and then the novelty shop is violently attacked by unseen creatures. After the requisite scenes of our heroes reporting the incident to disbelieving authorities, who blame the attack on a trio of dirt bikers led by James (Scott Glenn), Mercer and Diana get assaulted once more. This time, however, they see their assailants—who are played by stunt men running around in head-to-toe lizard suits complete with horns, devilish faces, and giant wings. And so it goes from there. As the first onscreen monsters created by legendary special-effects guy Stan Winston, the gargoyles have some geek-cinema historical importance, but they’re also thoroughly ridiculous, especially when Casey starts delivering dialogue from behind his goofy monster mask. It must have been trippy to stumble across this thing in 1972, but time has diminished whatever charm Gargoyles might once have possessed.