Gargoyles (1972) Retrospective

“The devil was once the most favored of the host of angels serving the lord. But pride welled in his breast. He thought it unseemly for him to serve. The devil and his band of followers who likewise suffered the sin of pride were defeated in battle by the lord and his host, and were banished to the outer most depths of Hell, never to know the presence of the lord or look on heaven again. Smarting with his wounds but all the more swollen with pride the devil cried out from the depths, ‘it is better to rule in hell then serve in heaven.’ The devil proclaimed what was lost in heaven, would be gained on earth. He said, ‘my offspring, the gargoyles will one day rule the lord’s works, earth and man.’ And so it came to pass that while man ruled on earth the gargoyles waited, lurking hidden from the light. Reborn every 600 years in man’s reckoning of time the gargoyles joined battle against man to gain dominion over the earth. In each coming the gargoyles were nearly destroyed by men who flourished in greater numbers. Now it has been hundreds of so many years that it seems the ancient statues and paintings of gargoyles are just products of man’s imagination. In this year with man’s thoughts turned toward the many ills he has brought upon himself. Man has forgotten his most ancient adversary… the gargoyles.!”


A made-for-TV flick that originally aired in the U.S. on CBS in November of 1972, GARGOYLES tells the story of an anthropology researcher (Cornel Wilde) who, with the assistance of his adult daughter (Jennifer Salt), travels to the Arizona desert to investigate an unusual skeleton discovered there. However, when the duo try to transport the bony remains away from the discovery site, they are pursued by a number of gargoyle-like creatures who want to reclaim the unearthed skeleton, and the scientist and his daughter soon find themselves at the locus of an age-old battle between mankind and an evil race of garrulous reptilians.

Gargoyles has become a classic TV horror movie since it’s 1972 showing It was one of the most frightening films of the genre.  Filmed on location in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. The excellent color photography and stylized cavern setting create an eerie effect, A strong cult following has developed and it is one of the best remembered TV movies of all time. Many of today’s horror fans have been heard to say,” Gargoyles scored me to death when I first saw it. It made me love horror movies.”

Gargoyles, most people visualize them, are those grotesque figures —part human, part animal—that function as rain spouts for roof gutters on many buildings throughout the world. The legendary creatures have been horrific subjects for paintings, carvings and literature from dozens of different cultures for centuries. But whoever in this day and age dreamed that they might actually exist? Stephen and Elinor Karpf, one of Hollywood’s most successful husband-and-wife writing teams, shared such a dream. “Elinor was apparently so fascinated by gargoyles that she had a nightmare about them taking over the earth,” says Karpf. I helped her elaborate on the dream for a short story. ”

Producers Rick Rosenberg and Robert Christiansen helped the Karpfs turn their story into one of the season’s most unusual television movies. The result was Gargoyles, a really fine tale of horror and suspense, recently broadcast on The New CBS Tuesday Night Movies on the CBS Television Network. Cornel Wilde starred as an anthropologist-author, who is menaced by hideous creatures.  “We filmed Gargoyles as a sort of valentine to that genre of horror movies that we used to enjoy in our neighborhood theatres when we were growing up, ” says Rosenberg. “We knew the monsters weren’t really, monsters but we didn’t care. They were simply fun to watch. That’s the same spirit we aimed for in Gargoyles. We don’t want to scare people. We just want them to have fun. ” Although gargoyles have been traced through centuries of art and architecture, Rosenberg, Christiansen and the Karpfs may be the first to collaborate on turning a nightmare about the creatures into a valentine.

What was an actor-artist-poet like Bemie Casey doing playing a gargoyle? Casey, who became a full-time actor after playing flanker-back with the Los Angeles Rams football team launched his movie career with a role in Guns of the Magnificent Seven, followed by a part in Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick. He is an artist of considerable talent, with eight art shows to his credit, and has published two books of poetry. Yet Casey didn’t have to think twice when offered the lead role of the monstrous head gargoyle in Gargoyles. “I consider myself a leading man,” says Casey. “But here was a chance to do a character part for the first time. I accepted the role as an acting challenge, to try to make a character with sensitivity come through.” The challenge was formidable. Casey’s body was camouflaged from head to toe with a scale-covered “gargoyle suit” (complete with claw-like hands and feet). His face was grotesquely distorted with makeup, his teeth were capped with fangs and even his eyes were covered with opaque contact lenses. “ Fortunately , I am not claustrophobic,” says Casey. “But the suit was as confining as a steam bath after I wore it for a few hours. The worst part of all was the contact lenses, which I could wear only a few minutes, less than a half-hour, without extreme pain. ” How did he make a sensitive character come through all that makeup?

“I thought of the gargoyle as a highly intelligent being, superior to man, not as a maniacal monster,” says Casey. “I tried to show this with body movement, the way I walked, in nuances of speech. This was about all I had left, with my physical features covered up by either costume or makeup. I’m glad that I did the part, ” he says. “But I probably wouldn’t want to play a monster again. It just involves too much physically. ” Casey didn’t say, but he seemed ready to agree that playing a gargoyle is probably tougher in many ways than playing professional football—the career that Casey gave up to become an actor.

Writers Elinor Karpf, Steven Karpf were responsible for the script

“Gargoyles” was one of the first productions that Stan Winston worked on as a special effects make-up artist.  He worked with Ellis Burman, Jr. and veteran make-up artist Del Armstrong in designing the “gargoyle” special effects makeup for Bernie Casey, Mickey Alzola, Rock Walker and Greg Walker’s gargoyle character roles. “Gargoyles:” An Emmy award-winning telefilm. Bill Norton’s “Gargoyles” won the 1973 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup (Ellis Burman, Jr.; Stan Winston and Del Armstrong).

It was after he had completed his apprenticeship and was a new journeyman makeup artist that Winston heard of Marlin Entertainments’ production of Gargoyles. Winston went to Del Armstrong, head of their Makeup Department, and asked Armstrong to allow Winston to work on the background creatures because that was what he wanted to do more than anything else.

Ellis Burman designed the leader of the gargoyles, who was portrayed by actor Bernie Casey, and Winston designed the background gargoyles, of which there were approximately twenty.

Although some sketches were done before Winston became involved, there were only two weeks of preproduction time allotted. The script called for creatures that were part man, part bird, part lizard, part animal.

“What it amounted to,” Winston related, “is that when I got my hands into the clay, my mind ’went bananas,’ so to speak. I had reptile books in front of me, bird books in front of me; and the gargoyle became more of a reptilian birdlike creature, rather than the gargoyle creatures of ancient times.”

Bernie Casey, leader of the gargoyles, was designed to look more like a devil/demon creature. His skin was of a reptilian quality, yet his face was more manlike. He had enormous wings that actually beat. It was a heavy, cumbersome, trying makeup. Casey and Winston became close friends, and because of their camaraderie and the stress Casey was under in portraying this creature, Winston took on the job of applying Burman’s creation. Winston did design the demon gargoyles’ teeth.

The background gargoyles wore slip-rubber (over-the-head) masks. Because they had only two weeks in which to accomplish the entire job, the suits themselves were designed by special effects man Ross Wheat. The suits were basically wet suits, and everyone pitched in to apply the scales. The heads, face, and hands of the gargoyles were what was designed by the Makeup Department, that is, Burman and Winston.

One sequence at the end of the film called for two baby gargoyles to crack forth from their eggs. The design of these little creatures fell to Winston. To Winston’s way of thinking, baby “anythings” are cute, and of anything he designed on the film, the most challenging for him was to design two “cute” baby gargoyles. One of the baby gargoyles was actually one of the producer’s sons.


Artist Concepts for Gargoyles by Wes Cook 1972

Ellis Burman Jr-Gargoyle makeup

Stan Winston-Gargoyle makeup

“The men in those suits were sweating like there was no tomorrow and at the end of the day buckets of water came off each of these guys as they peeled off those rubber outfits. They had to wear contact lenses as well so they were uncomfortable throughout the shoot. I am rather proud of that one since I still get fan mail about it even now.” – (David Del Valle Interview with Cornel Wilde)

Behind the Scene Shots

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Directed by B.W.L. Norton.
Teleplay by Stephen and Elinor Karpf

Makeup by Ellis Burman and Stan Winston.
Special Effects by Milt Rice and George Peckham

Cornel Wilde
Jennifer Salt
Grayson Hall
Scott Glenn
William Stevens
Bemie Casey as “The Gargoyle”.

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