Equinox (Criterion Collection)
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Before he took you to a galaxy far, far away, before he brought you face-to-face with living, breathing prehistoric beasts, Dennis Muren, the future eight-time Oscar-winning visual effects artist (Star Wars, Jurassic Park), joined forces with a group of talented young filmmakers to create an homage to the creature features of yore in the eerie monster mash Equinox. Deep within the woods and canyons of California, four teenagers happen upon an ancient book containing the secrets of a strange, malevolent world that coexists with that of mankind. This $6,500-budget wonder was picked up for distribution by producer Jack H. Harris (The Blob), who shot new footage for the film with writer-director Jack Woods. Since its 1970 release, Equinox has gained a passionate cult following and inspired succeeding generations of horror/fantasy filmmakers.
It is truly wondrous that Criterion selected the obscure sci-fi cult gem, Equinox, to bestow with classic status. Filmed in Bronson Canyon, Los Angeles, three teens used their college funds to make the $6500 film about four kids who stumble upon a Satanic bible with tragic consequences. David (Edward Connell), Susan (Barbara Hewitt), Jim (Frank Bonner), and Vicki (Robin Christopher) see a medieval castle, find an old man living in a cave, enter an alternate universe, and fight several monsters, including the devil, all in the course of an afternoon. In the same demonic spirit as Rosemary's Baby, released two years prior, Equinox's occult thrill factor is amplified by Harryhausen-like special effects courtesy of Dennis Muren (Star Wars, Jurassic Park). Reminiscent of King Kong and the sci-fi greats of the 50s, Equinox would be ideally viewed in a drive-in. This Criterion box set contains both the original version, titled The Equinox, and the superior 1970 remake by Jack Woods, who stars as Asmodeus, a possessed Park Ranger. An introductory film stars Forrest J. Ackerman, discussing his influential magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. A second disc includes test footage, silent takes, an interview with Dennis Muren, and the short film Zorgon: The H-Bomb Beast fron Hell. The booklet contains a critical essay about Equinox as well as introductions by George Lucas and Ray Harryhausen. This package sets Equinox in historical perspective, adding yet another dimension to a film that already takes place in several. --Trinie Dalton
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The first reaction, unfortunately, is more common; that's the way this misfit business works. It can be heartbreaking, like the time you tried to get that happening girl to like the Cramps and she asked if you could play some Air Supply instead. But when you meet a fellow misfit? When you connect with that bent soul who understands the difference between Just Schlock and Transcendent Schlock? When you find that cute girl in the Ramones shirt who understands that three chords and lyrics about surfing are better than 50 chords and lyrics about wizards and demons? We're talking soulmate.
And speaking of demons, the new, two-disc set for "Equinox" is chock-full of 'em...and is about the best litmus test to come out this year for separating fellow misfits from the folks with whom you may need to reconsider your friendship. It's not that this is a good movie. By any reasonable standard, it's probably not good.
But "Equinox" sits among that rare class of films to which reasonable standards don't really apply, that place where good and bad collide head-on to create something that's fun, messy, amateurish, sloppy, inspiring and unforgettable all at the same time. Not everybody will like it, of course, for on the face of it, "Equinox" is nothing more than a cheap 60s horror flick. Cute girls. Bad acting. Plenty of monsters.
It's the 'plenty of monsters,' though, that makes this movie such a gas for all the misfits of the world. Monsters, after all, are the cornerstone of a REAL horror flick. None of this demented-guy-in-a-hockey-mask crap! Forget those monster-free Edgar Allan Poe flicks. I'll say this one time: with only a few notable exceptions, HORROR MOVIES ARE BETTER WHEN THEY HAVE MONSTERS. And, boy howdy, does "Equinox" have some good ones! There's the big reptillian gorilla thing. The flying demon. The Green Giant (though he sure looks blue to me). These were all created, of course, by Dennis Muren and friends, long before he would go on to win Oscars and work on SFX blockbusters such as "Star Wars," "The Abyss" and countless others. For "Equinox," Muren and company scraped together a few thousand bucks, made a few puppets and managed to shoot a minor classic in somebody's back yard. Talk about the DIY ethic!
But monsters without context do not a classic make! "Equinox" goes the 'professor-who-dabbled-in-things-beyond-his-comprehension' route to get the mayhem rolling. In this case, it's one Dr. Waterman who's gotten his hands on some ancient Satanic text and decided to give demon-conjuring a whirl. Not a smart move, but we wouldn't have horror flicks if characters didn't do monumentally stupid things now and then, so I'll have no complaints. Most of the movie is filled out with four California teenagers battling the monsters Dr. Waterman has stirred up, all the while trying to steer clear of the devil himself who arrives on the scene cleverly disguised as a park ranger.
Even if you're an "Equinox" lover, the movie itself is just part of the fun of this set. There are lots of short documentaries with oodles of info on the production. (Your reaction to the revelation of various SFX secrets will almost certainly be both "God, that's cheap" and "Hey...these kids were pretty clever!)You also get tons of stills, commentary, and even the full, original version of the movie from 1967 before additional footage was shot for its theatrical release in 1970.
So go for the full-on "Equinox" litmus test. Have some people over for a screening. The folks who are glued to their seats as the closing credits roll are friends you'll treasure for life. And the ones who roll their eyes when the girl wants to go to Dr. Waterman's to get a Coke? The ones who say, "I'm soooo sure" when the devil shows up wearing a Smokey the Bear hat? Let them go, dear misfits. Just let them go.
The truth is, Equinox would probably have not been released on DVD, if at all, and if it eventually did would have been given the minimalist movie-only Goodtimes treatment if not for Brock's valiant efforts whose passion and persistence helped to champion this film as a first-class Criterion release. The result is nothing short of an archival tribute to those whose careers this film had launched: Dennis Muren, the visual effects wizard behind Star Wars, Terminator 2 and The Abyss and the late David Allen whose stop-motion work on The Primevals remains unreleased to this day. Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman endorses the film with his warm acknowledgment of approval and provides the uncredited "Voice on tape recorder" and despite the forgiveably poor acting, Frank Bonner (credited as Frank Boers Jr.) at least went on to make a respectable name for himself with WKRP in Cincinnati.
It was two years ago that Brock and I were scratching our heads together over dinner wondering why Equinox had not been released on DVD which prompted him to get the ball rolling and the result has exceeded just about anyone's expectations with probably one of the most comprehensive Criterion Collections ever produced. Not even my Criterion DVD for Spartacus is as thorough and comprehensive as this. I simply must applaud the efforts of everyone involved in the production of this DVD for bringing Equinox out of the shadows of its forgotten purgatory and back into the spotlight so it can be preserved, admired, cherished, and yes.. even laughed at... for generations of film fans for years to come. Just as Equinox was inspired by the legends who pioneered the special effects of cinema, hopefully Equinox will live on to inspire young amateur film makers to pick up their cameras and craft their visions with whatever tools are at their disposal and innovate future generations of creative talent just as it may or may not have been directly influential to Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead, although the resemblance to which is unquestionably obvious. The stunning retro cover art by Tavis Coburn encapsulates the film's pulpy phantasmagorical essence. From the packaging to the presentation, Equinox is passion preserved in a keepsake DVD box (action figure not included).
I had never heard of Equinox before Criterion put it out (although I had seen some stills of the Taurus monster from it) and I am not a Criterion completist and I really fell for this film. I watched both versions (the original and the theatrical release a very nice extra!!) within days of each other. The movie is a crude attempt at a horror/monster film but it is made with the passion of talented hardcore fans. It hits all the cliches yet it has an irresistable naivete. I got a shiver of pleasure every time it pulled a monster or a photographic trick out of its hat (and there are a considerable number of tricks in this zero budget film that are impressive). There is a wonderful can do spirit that hangs over this film both in its amateurish acting and its ingenious effects.
The filmmakers poured all of their passions into this little film and it shows. In that way, this highly personal film is more at home in the Criterion Collection than the coldly calculated films of Michael Bay. It also has an ambitious narrative arc that establishes a certain amount of tension that keeps you going through the first (and most tedious) part of the film.
The film looks good and though the film stock obviously was in bad shape but still this master features nice deep colors and generally good contrast. The extras are all great. Including the afore mentioned two (and very different) cuts of the film each with its own commentary track. Criterion explores the science fiction/horror fan base that fueled interest in film and special effects all through the sixties and seventies and gave rise to the current crop of effects wizards who are currently ubiquitous in the entertainment world and shines a light on early effects processes. I especially enjoyed the tributes and examples of the animator David Allen's work.
A really, really cool release and I'm glad such a small personal work is included in the Criterion Collection. This movie is about loving movies as much as any other release and allows Criterion to give tribute to a whole other group of filmmakers who have influenced cinema.
So it was with a great deal of excitement that I finally learned this thing was finally being released as part of the Criterion Collection. I've no idea whether it will live up to my admittedly hazy memories of it as being an ultra-cool Monster Mash, or if it will turn out to be a horrible disapointment, but here's to Criterion for having the cajones to give this a proper DVD release.
O'Brien and Harryhausen were probably every bit as much of an inspiration to a young Stan Winston as were to the young creators of EQUINOX who, in 1967 when the film was finally sold to Jack Harris for distribution were still in their teens. Things were so much different then. Thanks in a very large part to Forry Ackerman and the Super 8 camera kids really could make their own monsters and their own movies and then maybe even have them featured in a national magazine for others to see! And if you weren't into film production, well, you could print your own fanzine. Heck, anybody could do that! And just about everybody did.This is the wotld that spawned the likes of Stephen Spielberg, Stephen King, George Lucas, and namesless nerds without end who happily spent every waking hour with their friends either talking about monster movies or actually trying to make them. Eager little geeks bent over hand-sculpted models of dinosaurs that they moved ever so slightly and then tried to capture on a single frame of film with a cameras that simple weren't equipped with that capability yet. Didn't matter thought, they kept trying. Why? Because they were in love. In love with monsters, in love with movies, in love with the process of making movies and nothing could stop them.
As it turned out nothing did stop the guys who created EQUINOX--Mark McGee who wrote the original story has a career as a sometimes actor, author, and screenwriter today and is best known as a scholar of "psychotronic cinema." Jim Danforth who did the matte paintings was already a fairly well established effects man. David Allen (who died sadly died of cancer in 1999) co-directed as well as working on the effects, and later became a very well respected effects man. His career was decidedly at odds with Dennis Muren's. Allen perferred working on low budget projects because he felt it gave him more creative control He also chose to stay with the kind of work that allowed him to have a hands' on approach. Dennis Muren, on the other hand, is the most successful of the group. After EQUINOX he went to work on STAR WARS. Today he is Supervisor of Visual Special Effects at Industrial Light and Magic, has nine Academy Awards, and a star of his own on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Some AMAZON reviewers have been puzzled as to why Criterion has given this films the big treatment. Others seem to actually be angry about it, while still others regard the film as "cheesy." I think Dennis Muren's connection with the film alone makes it significant in cinematic history. While making this film Muren actually developed a camera/effects trick betweeen classes in school that PREDATED one that excited the film community when it was used well over a year later in 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY! Its actually a very technically accomplished film, but since it didn't have more than a $6,500 BUDGET let's just call it cheesy and go and see CATWOMAN again. That had a nice big budget.
I'm a low budget fan, nothing puts me off faster than a big budget flick with hype to match. Now that doesn't mean that I'm looking for camp or so-bad-its-good flix to ridicule, because I'm not. I've never laughed once at EQUINOX. (I'll admit to smiling once or twice at the cute little octopoidal monster that demolishes the Professor's cabin.) I just prefer movies where I feel that everyone connected with the film is doing everything they can to make the movie work. That's not the feeling I get with a big budget, high-concept, Computer Generated everyday piece of Hollywood trash. CGI in particular has been known to make me think violent thoughts. Its cold, sterile, and distracting. It constantly calls attention to itself in the worst possible manner--like your best friend's spoiled brat. While CGI has attained an undeniable level of techical proficency it has yet show creativity in any sense other than in problem solving. That's because the people at the keyboards are still just your average computer wiz with no real gift for making their creations relatable. There is no feeling of humanity in their work, nor is their any artistry or even any originality. (How many times are we going to see monsters that harken back to that image of the giant maw openning wider and wider from THE MUMMY? No originality!)
Give me a movie as good as EQUINOX any day of the week, one that's made with all the passionate exuberance of youth. I bet Stan Winston liked this one too.
DISC ONE: intro by 4E Ackerman The 1970 THEATRICAL RELEASE remasted with
commentary by Jack H. Harry and Jack Woods. 82 minutes
1967the original 1967 version. commentary by Dennis
Muren, Mark McGee,,& Jim Danforth. 71 minutes. very
DISC TWO: Interiews--Dennis Mren, Frank Bonner, Barbara Hewitt, James
Archival Stop-motion footage
"The Magic Treasure"-David Allen fairy tale
David Allen--KING KONG Volkswagon commerical and test footage!
"ZORGON-THE H-BOMB BEAST FROM HELL"
Stills and poster Gallery
Trailer and radio spots
And yes, the Fritz Leiber in this film is none other
than the famous science fiction/fantasy author himself.