This past Friday, Exhumed Films put on an extra special double feature of GARGOYLES, the beloved 1972 television movie about minions of Satan living in the mountains of Mexico and trying to subjugate humanity, and the bizarre, disturbing INCUBUS. In lieu of the double feature, I had the opportunity to do a phone interview Thursday night with Dr. Stephen Karpf, writer of GARGOYLES, DEVIL DOG, and episodes of DYNASTY, GENERAL HOSPITAL and KUNG FU.
Now, I will go off on a brief tangent. I saw GARGOYLES on TV when I was 8 years old in the early 1990s. It, along with KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE and TREMORS were films that I have very early, fond memories of. So to speak with the creator of GARGOYLES and then get to revisit the film Friday on a big screen (in glorious 35mm) were experiences I will not soon forget.
As for Dr. Stephen Karpf, he proved to be an interesting character with a lot to say. Read on for the interview.
LM: How did you come to write for TV?
SK: I was invited to WB by Jack Warner, one of the Warner Brothers, because he had read my writings about the Warner Brother’s gangsters. Elinor and I were the only people in the history of Hollywood (at the time) who did not have relatives in the business.
LM: When writing GARGOYLES did you expect that it would still have the audience that it has today?
SK: Absolutely not. And no movie in the history of television has had that impact, so you never imagine you would be number one. I never expected that much but I did hope for that much. Actually, I didn’t even hope for that much. People come up to me all the time. I don’t know how they recognize me, but they do, and say, “Your movie touched me like no other.” Elinor and I were on set all the time, and our script was not altered during shooting, so it’s amazing to still get these compliments.
LM: Why do you think that the film was and is still so successful?
SK: I think because it was such a fundamental story. You had human beings up against the Gargoyles. The notion of this, along with DEVIL DOG, was that the devil was trying to subjugate human beings. He worked through the Gargoyles and then, in DEVIL DOG, through a puppy.
LM: What is the most interesting thing that happened to you working in television?
SK: We were shooting GARGOYLES up in the Carlsbad Caverns and we were in the middle of nowhere. No cars, no people, no nothing. Off the set, it was pitch black and when I was wandering around in the dark, I was greeted by three women in dark clothing. They said that my script was vital because I was telling people that they need to share the world with the creatures of the dark.
I’ll tell you another one. The last time I saw GARGOYLES was 39 years ago in a Hollywood theater. It was in 35mm and I was the last person in the projection room with the lights out. I felt such a pain in my heart, because Elinor and I had accomplished everything we wanted and I wondered, what would happen to us now? What will the audience think? Who will even watch this? And I drove home with that pain in my heart and was stopped by an LA cop. This is a true Hollywood story, really. I was driving a Porsche at the time. He stopped me and said that a young man driving a Porsche, who looked like me, had run him over. He was fondling his large frame, double-action revolver and telling me over and over again that he had to give me a ticket. I told him I had done nothing wrong, but he kept playing with his gun and telling me that he had to give me a citation. Now, I never told anyone this. I never even told Elinor. I got the citation and I went to pay it the next day and I saw that it was not even filled out. It wasn’t valid.
LM: What was it like writing with Elinor? Not just a collaborator, but a significant other?
SK: It worked really well because we were so young at the time and we had not grown into our own separate people yet. It allowed us to grow together and work together well. I was very meat and potatoes in my writing. Stories had point A, point B, and point C. It was she that brought the music to it. But we were very supportive of each other. She threw the GARGOYLES script out, because she was getting frustrated and I took it out of the garbage and we continued to work on it. I think my one heroic deed was rescuing that story.
We got to talk quite a bit more about the production of GARGOYLES, how helpful the studio (CBS) was during filming as long as they did not go over the budget, and how he convinced Jack Warner to move forward with the film BONNIE & CLYDE in spite of its violent and sexual content. I was amazed to know that the budget of GARGOYLES was $350,000, which was cheap even in 1972, and they had only one, full gargoyle costume. It was made of a wetsuit and fishnets. At the screening on Friday, he introduced the film and did a Q & A with the audience afterwards, where he revealed some interesting news for fans: GARGOYLES is going to be remade as a franchise of big budget films.