9 April 2005 | BrandtSponseller
If you think this film is an "F", you're watching the wrong genre
After a brief Van Helsing-styled prologue establishing gargoyles in historical Romania and implying that they've been trapped under the ground, Gargoyle: Wings of Darkness (the title given by the film as well as the video box) takes us to modern day Romania, where Ty Griffin (Michael Paré) and Jennifer Wells (Sandra Hess) are working on the kidnapping of a public official's son. While chasing the kidnappers, Ty discovers that one has suddenly disappeared--only valuable cargo and a large bloodstain remain. Meanwhile, two archaeologists/historians, Christina Durant (Kate Orsini) and Richard Barrier (Jason Rohrer) are working in a church that we realize has a connection with the prologue. How will they all tie together, and what will they do if a gargoyle is on the loose again?
Although Gargoyle is a bit awkward in a couple spots--the pacing isn't quite as smooth as it could be--I really enjoyed the film. Director/co-writer Jim Wynorski has a long history making campy, low-budget exploitation horror films (which is a positive in my eyes) and his experience shows. Gargoyle looks much more high-budget and "high-class" than a lot of his other work, but it still retains a sense of fun, freshness and finely honed craft that comes from being a veteran.
So imagine my surprise when I check out the other reviews on IMDb and see that to date, the film is almost universally loathed. While reading through most of the other comments, I couldn't help feeling that the majority of them were simply ridiculous. While I can see many filmgoers not pronouncing Gargoyle a masterpiece, I can't see giving this film a failing grade. Like usual, it was clear that the reviewers who hated the film must have had bizarre expectations.
Despite the detective/crime/action elements that are prominent in the scene immediately following the prologue (and which were handled brilliantly in my view), Gargoyle is at its heart a monster flick, and a fairly traditional one at that. Surprisingly, a number of people commented on various facets of Gargoyle seeming implausible. Monster films are a subgenre of horror, and horror is really "dark fantasy", or "dark fairy tales" (there are some difficult cases for that description, such as serial killer biopics, but "dark fantasy" works for most of the genre). Thus, Gargoyle is not a documentary. So it really doesn't matter if, for example, gargoyles were unheard of in Romania until recently. It doesn't matter if the CIA doesn't do the work they're shown doing here. You should expect Gargoyle to be implausible--hopefully, you don't believe that giant flying gargoyles are real or believable; when that's the premise, it's not the filmmaker's fault if you expect but do not get plausibility.
At that, the film references a number of historical facts. Wynorski and his cohorts actually did a fair amount of research for the film. For example, they talk about the historical Dracula, Vlad Tepes, and contextualize the "reality" versus the myths that were built up around him. They actually went to the trouble of finding a property that looks remarkably similar to the famous 19th Century pencil sketch of the ruins of Castle Dracula (you can see it Chapter 6 of Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu's book, In Search of Dracula). They also insert a number of clever references to past horror films. One of the principal homes of villainy in the film is named Castle Orlok, which comes from Graf Orlok, the name of the Dracula character is F.W. Murnau's 1922 classic, Nosferatu. There is a reference to Vasaria, the village introduced in Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). There are obvious visual references to the Alien films. They also reference real-life horror culture, such as "vampire clubs".
Other reviewers complained about the special effects. CGI is the only means available to produce this kind of film at this kind of budget. Yes, the cgi in the film looks "fake". Again, hopefully no one would think that a huge flying gargoyle would look real, anyway. It's a fantasy token. You have to use your imagination when watching fantasy. Mechanicals/animatronics of flying gargoyles would have looked "fake" too, and would have raised the budget to 100 million. One person commented that the cgi appears as if Wynorski's crew had been trying to capture the look of Ray Harryhausen claymation ala the Sinbad films, and another said that the effects had a 1950s flavor. Believe it or not, a lot of us love Harryhausen's work and monster flicks from the 1950s; so if the cgi has that look, we think it's a good thing. As for the look of the blood and "gore" effects, I thought they were well done. They were stylized and artistic. I like that. To repeat, the film is not a documentary; the blood and gore do not have to look like crime scene photos to be good.
Others complained about the performances. The dialogue and acting seemed more than fine to me. I'm not sure what anyone would find unsatisfactory there. The film is a bit campy, but intentionally so--remember Wynorski's roots, after all, and camp is not at all unprecedented for a monster flick. If you like monster flicks, you probably have a fair taste for camp. The one thing that I do agree with most reviewers about is the comment regarding the female cast members--they are all exceptionally, enchantingly beautiful. So even if you don't like the performances, there is plenty of eye candy when it comes to the cast as long as you're attracted to women.
Gargoyle had a remarkably modern feel to me. To a large extent, it actually reminded me of "Special Unit 2" (2001) an unfortunately short-lived, campy horror television show that was also unjustly slammed by some critics. It's extremely important to have appropriate expectations when watching a film like Gargoyle. As long as you like the genre and the tone, you should find the film sufficiently entertaining.