Gargoyles/Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
R2 - Japan - Trash Mountain Video
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (27th June 2007).
The Film

Disc 1
**Gargoyles (1972)

Raise your hands horror buffs, who would like to see a selection of 1970s American TV-movies on DVD? That´s what I thought, probably many hands are in the air. Japanese “Trash Mountain Video” has released a double feature, which includes two quite decent TV-films. The first, “Gargoyles (1972)” is directed by Bill L. Norton (as B.W.L. Norton). The film opens with an introduction, which tells the “history” of the Gargoyles (with art work), also loosely connected to the Bible. Most people know the Gargoyles-figures and statues from the architecture, but they´re also one form of evil in popular culture. What the Devil lost in Heaven, will be gained on earth. Gargoyles are the offspring of the Devil and in centuries they´ve battled against men. They´re reborn every 600 years to earth, always nearly destroyed by men. When the times passed and the world got modern, man forgot his advisory.

Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde - e.g. Oscar nomination for “A Song to Remember (1945)”) hasn´t, since he´s collecting Gargoyles-figures and has written several books about the subject. Now with his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt - e.g. from
Brian De Palma ´s “Sisters (1973)” and “Soap (1977-1981)” TV-series), they´re on the way to the remote “Desert Museum” in Arizona, where Dr. Boley could obtain more info for his upcoming book. They first take a wrong turn, which also implicates that somebody - or something, is watching them from the rocky cliffs. In the museum they´ll meet the slightly strange Uncle Willie (Woody Chambliss), who has some real surprises waiting for them; the real skeleton of the dead Gargoyle. Of course, all this is too hard to believe - even for Dr. Boley. When Uncle Willie tells about the ancient creatures, that are said to be living in the rocks, Boley is almost ready to leave. Then quite suddenly they can hear some loud flapping noises from outside and a fire breaks out during the process. Dr. Boley and Diana barely escape, salvaging only the skull from a skeleton. Another attack comes to the car, before they reach the safe place in the nearest motel. During that point the film also introduces another character, a renegade James Reeger (Scott Glenn - e.g. “The Right Stuff (1983)” and “The Silence of the Lambs (1991)”), a leader of the local group of bikers. His gang is found on the spot at the burned museum and are put into jail (the “chase scene” is like it's taken from another film altogether). The third attack comes at night to the motel, which finally reveals to Dr. Boley that the Gargoyles are very real and after the skull. One of them ends up dead and Boley has the change to examine the body. What they don´t realise is that Dr. Boley and Diana are now in real danger, since the Gargoyles (lead by the actor Bernie Casey) will want the body back (it´s one of their own after all). There´s still a far bigger threat on the horizon; hundreds of new Gargoyles are hatching in a big cave and their goal is to finally rule the world. All this has to be stopped, before it´s too late.

“Gargoyles” is a compact little story, which stays quite interesting. Since it´s also mainly set in the desert, the locations are supporting the story and bring a certain feel of isolation. Some scenes still have “studio set” written over them, mainly the car-scenes at the night and partly also the gargoyle-cave (which feels a bit like a 50s-horror). When it comes to the creatures, the old “less is more” applies to this film also, since when they fully reveal themselves in the film, they tend to look too much “a guy in a suit” (the endless, weak slow motion-shots don´t really help). The gargoyle makeup is professionally done by Ellis Burman Jr. (as Ellis Burman) and Stan Winston (“shared” Oscar-winner for e.g. “Aliens (1986)”, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)” and “Jurassic Park (1993)”), so the blame mainly is that perhaps you just see them too much on the screen, taking away the spooky, “What are they?”-element. Still, I liked that there were many different looking gargoyles (and some even spread their wings), not just similar ones running around. “Gargoyles” has its flaws and it has not dated all that well, but you´ll probably end up having a good time with it.

Disc 2
**Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

The other TV-film “Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)” by director John Newland is to my knowledge the only proper DVD-release of this film at the moment. This “Lorimar”-production was part of the “ABC Movie of the Week”-line and is a bit more of a creepier effort than “Gargoyles”. The opening would indicate a classic “haunted house”-story; a spooky house from the 1880s is already “whispering” something evil, when the couple of Alex Farnham (Jim Hutton - e.g. “Major Dundee (1965)”, and “The Green Berets (1968)”) and his wife Sally (Kim Darby - e.g. “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)”) move in. Sally has inherited the house from her grandparents. Everything seems to be in order, except that one room is locked and the key is missing. The key is found from the old envelope, hidden. The old study has not been used in years and strangely its window is shut and also the big fireplace in it is bricked up. The former house servant from Sally´s grandparents, Mr. Harris (William Demarest - e.g. Oscar nomination for “The Jolson Story (1946)”) is now fixing the house and he appears to know something, even when it all happened 20 years ago. Sally´s curiosity is now at its peak, but Harris is avoiding the subject. Some things are best left alone. This won´t stop Sally, who starts opening the fireplace. After part of it is open, she hears some strange noises, like someone would talk and like something is now “freed” from its dark shadows. Sally´s husband interrupts the scene and advises Sally to forget the whole room. Instead he has some news; he is about to have a big promotion from his work, but this also means that he has to go to San Francisco to talk about it. The already quite bored housewife Sally is not very keen on this whole trip, after all they´ve just moved to a new house. You can see that for her husband the work is his no.1 priority, not his wife or the new house. Slowly the nightmare begins for Sally. First she´s witnessing some poltergeist-type of activity and soon something is suddenly grabbing her dress, whispering something about “wanting Sally”. The fireplace is also reopened, even after Alex shut it a second time. To make the things even worse, her husband doesn´t believe her, so Sally is almost all alone with the voices and creepiness that are clearly aimed at her. Something unknown is unleashed from the shut fireplace and it wants Sally. Her friend Joan (Barbara Anderson - e.g. “Ironside (1967-1971)” TV-series) might be the only one who can help her by actually believing that in the house, she is in grave danger.

“Don't Be Afraid of the Dark” doesn´t quite live up to its potential and is suffering from the same basic thing as “Gargoyles”; once you see the source of the “evil”, you´ll probably be a bit disappointed. The film still keeps its tension, even being slightly spooky at times and the actors are well chosen. The story could´ve explored more of the relationship of Sally and Alex, since it´s an important part of the film. Sally is left alone with the situation, where she probably starts to question her own sanity. And so does her husband. This TV-film is definitely worth seeing with its dark and serious tone, but it eventually could´ve been better. Love the ending, though.

Video

Disc 1
**Gargoyles (1972)

The film is presented in its OAR of 4:3. There is some film grain, a few artifacts here and there and some line shimmering, but the image is in surprisingly decent shape. Colours can get slightly pale in some scenes, but blacks are relatively strong (some shots can be a bit murkier). Skin tones tend to look too brown/reddish and the sharpness is not always spot-on, but the fans should be quite pleased with how good this 1970s TV-film can look. There are 6 chapters and the film runs 74:08 minutes (NTSC). Both films are included on “dual layer” discs, which are coded “R2”.

Disc 2
**Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Again, we have the OAR of 4:3, but this time the results are mediocre at its best. The source could be tape (since there are some minor drop-outs at the bottom of the frame), which is somewhat murky and soft. There are also some light “horizontal lines” going through the screen. They ´re not fortunately very visible all the time, but especially in the darker scenes they can be a bit annoying. Generally the image is still quite clean and stable, so it could be worse. This is still an inferior transfer compared to “Gargoyles”. The film runs 73:43 minutes (NTSC) and there are 6 chapters.

Audio

Disc 1
**Gargoyles (1972)

One audio track, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround is included and there are optional Japanese subtitles. The track can be slightly muffled and hollow-sounding (you can also hear some mild “electronic hum” in some scenes), but the dialogue is quite clear. Some hiss can be heard in the background, but is quite mild. With “Pro Logic”, the audio sounds quite natural in 2.0 surround also, so I recommend using that option.

Disc 2
**Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, with optional Japanese subtitles is the way to go. There´s some hiss (with “Pro Logic” the additional hiss moves to the rears also), but the dialogue stays decent. Like with the transfer, the audio is inferior to that in “Gargoyles”.

Extras

No extras. There´s a 4-page booklet, with some liner notes (in Japanese only), but that´s the closest thing to an “extra” for this disc.

Overall

The older TV-films are a pretty much ideal way for the “double feature”-concept and I´m sure that the fan base is also there. Both of these films could´ve eventually be better and the DVD presentation is a mixed pack, but it still comes recommended. I know that horror-fans can respect the vintage productions like these.

This DVD is available at Xploited Cinema.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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