Here’s a confession: if not for my affinity for Michael Pare, who dominated the direct-to-video action genre in the ’90s and was an A-list movie star in the ’80s (“Streets of Fire” being one of his more famous roles), the low-budget Creature Feature “Gargoyles” wouldn’t rate anywhere near a 2-star grade. But Pare is the star of this little ditty, and as such I’m prone to like it more than I would normally. As luck would have it, there’s a certain honesty, a willingness to entertain if you will, about “Gargoyles” that makes me not hate it the way I normally hate nonsensical direct-to-video Creature Features. After all, when a movie “premieres” on the dreaded Sci-Fi Channel, the wasteland of all illogical Creature Features, you know you’re in for a rough time since, as most viewers know, there is simply no room for coherent plotting at the Sci Fi Channel. I think it’s a network decree or something.
Even so, I should still break out my standby caveat of, “It is what it is, and if you watch ‘Gargoyles’ expecting more than what it is, it is entirely your fault for not liking it.” Oh sure, the special effects are nowhere near top notch, but this is a direct-to-video venture after all, and working within their limited budget, the filmmakers do just fine, even better than expected. That is, if you’re like me, and have very low expectations of DTV features to begin with.
Pare plays a CIA agent who has been dispatched to Romania to save some kidnapped brat, and ends up chasing a killer gargoyle that lives behind an old church where it was trapped many centuries ago. Sandra Hess, known to most genre fans as the hot blonde chick that replaced Bridgette Wilson, the other hot blonde chick, as Sonya Blade in the “Mortal Kombat” movies, is Pare’s platonic CIA partner. When we first meet the duo, they’re having a shootout with some Romanian kidnappers in a parking lot behind some abandon warehouses. One of the kidnappers ends up gargoyle bait, which should be a lesson to all you kids entertaining the idea of entering the kidnapping profession.
Speaking of gargoyles, they’re all over the place, snatching up people by the handful, apparently using them as food for its growing nest of newborn gargoyles. Well, actually, it’s just “gargoyle”, because there’s really just one of them until the end of the film, when a bunch of little baby gargoyles hatches and promptly gets fried by a flamethrower. But I digress. While investigating a disappearance at said old church, Pare meets pretty Kate Orsini, whose character is, I believe, some sort of art restorer or archaeologist or some such. Her character has one of those small brushes that she uses on walls and paintings, so you figure it out.
Long story short, there are some filler material involving a cult of personality, a struggle between two priests (one played by Tim Abell, another familiar face of ’90s DTV films), and a lot of supposedly clever dialogue between Pare and Hess, including a running gag involving cell phones that managed to elicit some chuckles. Of course it’s all filler material, because everyone’s waiting for the inevitable mano-a-mano slugfest between Pare and the gargoyle for the heavyweight title of, well, Romania, I guess. And you really haven’t seen good gargoyle action until you’ve seen a gargoyle engage a little European car in a high-speed pursuit along a dangerous mountain road. It’s all glorious stuff, and worth more than a few laughs for fans of the genre.
The man behind it all is the ubiquitous Jim Wynorski, credited here as Jay Andrews, the name Wynorski uses for his non-erotic thrillers. As that last statement may have implied, aside from killer animal movies, Wynorski’s name was synonymous with low-budget DTV erotic thrillers in the ’90s. While Shannon Tweed and Shannon Whirry (“Private Obsession”) ruled the marquee, Wynorski ruled the director’s chair. In the last few years, Wynorski has been associated with some of the worst DTV offerings in recent memory, counting among his oeuvre titles such as, “The Curse of the Komodo”, “Cheerleader Massacre”, “The Bare Wench Project” franchise (not just one movie, or two, but three), and “Raptor”. Needless to say, one doesn’t associate the name Andrews, or Wynorski, with quality, unless one has really, really low standards.
Still, to give credit where credit is due, Wynorski acquits himself pretty well with “Gargoyles”, even if the movie, clocking in at a brisk 80-odd minutes, has a jumbled script that tries to cram in way too many subplots, including a lengthy interlude with some guy name Lex who worships demons, runs a nightclub, and whose side interests include gang warfare on rooftops. By himself, Lex probably pads the running time by about 15 minutes, which leaves most of the movie with Pare and Hess going about Romania exchanging quips in a very Mulder and Scully like fashion. There’s also William Langlois as the world’s most forgiving police inspector. Pare destroys half of Downtown Romania, and Langois’ only response is a mild, “Oh, you rascal” look.
The gargoyle itself looks decent, at least in comparison to the usual killer creatures that populate these DTV Creature Features. At least the gargoyle is no worst than what the folks at “Van Helsing” were able to achieve with their gigantic budget, so that should say something. For the most part, Wynorski hides the gargoyle action by setting the gargoyle attacks at night, and even the finale takes place in a dark cave and later, in a cemetery at nighttime. No surprise that there are whole scenes of the gargoyle in action reused at different intervals. The modest budget probably also explains why the CIA’s Romanian office (I didn’t know they had one!) looks like a rented floor filled with nondescript guys in black suits and sunglasses. How “men in black” of them.
Given what it is, “Gargoyles” is more entertaining than not. Wynorski, although still showing little attention to the smaller details (those background players are just terribly stiff), nevertheless does enough good deeds here that he’ll probably get another dozen or so jobs off it. Way to go, Jim. Or Andrew, as the case may be. And it goes without saying that it’s always fun to see Michael Pare, even when he’s phoning it in, as he does here. Sandra Hess cuts a nice figure, and it might have been a better idea to make her the love interest rather than the sidekick. The movie has two major female characters when it really needed just one.
“Gargoyles” could have been much better, of course, but it’s good enough for what it is, which is a direct-to-video Creature Feature movie on a budget. At any rate, it could have been much worst. For instance, it might not have starred Michael Pare.
Jim Wynorski (director) / Ion Ionescu, A.G. Lawrence, Bill Munroe, Jim Wynorski (screenplay)
CAST: Kate Orsini …. Dr. Christina Durant
Tim Abell …. Father Vedesti
Sandra Hess …. Agent Wells
William Langlois …. Inspector Zev Aslan