Gargoyle: Wings of Darkness (2004) — Swoopin’ In

Matty tips his hat to a superlative SyFy flick from the mighty Jim Wynorski.

Originally announced in the trades on 31st March 2003 as part of the same SyFy slate as fellow CineTel joint Snakehead Terror (2004) and Promark’s sadly unmade ‘Ghost Monkey’ [1], and initially intended to be lensed in Vancouver under the stewardship of Canadian company Chesler/Perlmutter with a markedly different story [2], GARGOYLE: WINGS OF DARKNESS was instead brought to life as a CineTel/Lionsgate co-production over in Romania with longtime CineTel associate, Jim Wynorski, at the helm. The result is a standout quasi creature feature for all involved, with Wynorski in particular submitting some career-best work. 

Indeed, Gargoyle is real heady brew; a lively and imaginative blend of comic book monster movie, police procedural, shoot-’em-up, and stylised gothic that sits proudly alongside Chopping Mall (1986), The Haunting of Morella (1990), 976-EVIL II (1991), and Vampirella (1996) within the context of Wynorski’s sprawling CV. Its most striking elements are the serious-minded ones. Though not without a sense of humour (there are a couple of neat in-jokes, such as an extended Cat People (1942) homage, and a mischievous smirk from star Michael Paré when the subject of werewolves is broached — because, y’know, Bad Moon (1996)), by and large, Wynorski plays it straight. He unleashes several potent jump scares and, in the night scenes and church-set sequences (a plot point concerns the restoration of a medieval chancel), fosters a succulently spooky atmosphere. Aiding him is the mood-driven photography of frequent collaborator Andrea Rossotto; a towering score by another stalwart, Neal Acree; and a surprisingly thoughtful script that’s as interested in probing the sociological conflict between Romania’s traditional past and its forward-thinking present as it is with facilitating robust gargoyle action when the flying hellspawn is freed from its prison. As co-scribe and — yep — Wynorski regular William Langlois’ character, a local police inspector, remarks in Gargoyle’s closing moments: “This is Romania, where myth and mystery thrive. We like it that way.”

Said conflict generally comes in the form of tart verbal sparring by two diametrically opposed priests, Father Bodesti (Petri Roega) and Father Soren (Fintan McKeown) — a shifty and dubiously motivated chap whom the progressive Bodesti rightly believes to be stuck in the dark ages. However, it’s Paré’s seconded U.S. special agent and Tim Abell’s Romanian rave magician/crime lord (!) that afford Wynorski a more nuanced avenue of exploration. The former hides an open yet fiercely analytical mind behind a mask of permanent bemusement, and the latter pretty much steals the show with his sweaty, hyper-sexual portrait of an ambitious eccentric keen to reconcile his country’s ways of old with his own contemporary criminal aspirations (well, at least before Wynorski twists his Dracula-obsessed ass into a frazzled Renfield-type — a delicious blast of irony). Monster mayhem and canny dramatic meat? If the film’s similar narrative structure wasn’t enough of a clue, this should clear it: just think of Gargoyle as Wynorski’s stealth remake of Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

Further bolstered by a vicious and extremely cool-looking title beast designed and created by Artifex Studios, Gargoyle’s hearty carnage quota also benefits from a car chase that Wynorski cannibalises from Ringo Lam’s Van Damme thriller Maximum Risk (1996). No slouch in the clever use of stock footage, it’s a seamless bit of editorial sleight-of-hand by Wynorski — and, his peerless disaster flick Ablaze (2001) aside, quite possibly the prolific auteur’s finest use of interpolated material to date.

Gargoyle: Wings of Darkness premiered on SyFy on 30th October 2004, and is also known by a multitude of different monikers: ‘Gargoyle’, ‘Gargoyles’, ‘Gargoyles: Wings of Darkness’, ‘Gargoyle’s Revenge’, ‘Gargoyles’ Revenge’, ‘Wings of Darkness’, and ‘Dark Wings’.

USA/Romania ● 2004 ● Horror, Action ● 84mins

Michael Paré, Sandra Hess, Fintan McKeown, Tim Abell ● Dir. Jim Wynorski (as ‘Jay Andrews’) ● Wri. Anthony L. Greene (as ‘A.G. Lawrence’) and Jim Wynorski (as ‘Jay Andrews’) & William Langlois (as ‘William Monroe’), story by Ion Ionescu

[1] Per SyFy’s official synopsis: “A freelance photographer and an American investigator join forces to stop a monkey-like creature that goes on a killing spree. This simian mutant prefers human hearts to bananas — and he leads them on a wild chase throughout the streets of India.” Truly, a sin that it never happened.
[2] Again, per SyFy’s official synopsis: “Calabos is an evil wizard who wants to take over the world with an army of vicious, living gargoyles. Only Marcus, a magician who possesses an enchanted ring, can stop Calabos and his stone minions before they capture everyone in their paths.”

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