June 23, 2006
Jack Woods, Dennis Muren, Mark McGee,
Starring: Skip Shimer, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Bonner, Robin Christopher, Jack Woods, Jim Phillips, Fritz Leiber, Patrick Burke, James Duron, Sharon Gray, Louis Clayton,
For anyone who has spent countless Sunday afternoons watching B-horror movies featuring the marvelous stop-motion animated creations by Ray Harryhausen on the Creature Double Feature, Equinox (1970) is a movie made for you. Quite simply, as Forrest J. Ackerman says in his introduction, it is a film made by teenagers, starring teenagers and for teenagers. Equinox was shot on a shoestring budget of only $6,500 and is a loving homage to stop-motion animated films like King Kong (1933) or those of Harryhausen. This film harkens back to the good ol’ days when you could catch classic (and not so classic) B horror films on television. In short, it is a comfort movie for the horror fan.
The filmmakers not only took inspiration from Kong and Harryhausen but from the genre fan’s bible at that time, Famous Monsters of Filmland edited by Ackerman. It was a periodical that celebrated classic horror movies and ran articles on amateur filmmaking. It was in these pages that the future filmmakers of Equinox not only fostered their love of these movies but also met and bonded. They eventually scraped together enough money to make their own movie, The Equinox…A Journey into the Supernatural. It was completed in 1967 and they shopped it around until finally producer Jack H. Harris (The Blob) liked it enough to buy it. He proceeded to shorten the title to Equinox and bring in Jack Woods to pad the length by approximately 11 minutes.
David Fielding (Shimer) is a catatonic teen after finding his girlfriend dead in the woods and then chased by something horrible. A year later, a reporter (Phillips) triggers something in the boy that causes him to respond in a murderous rage. The film flashes back to how this all happened with David and his three friends searching for Professor Watermann (Leiber). They find out that he’s missing and his cabin in the woods destroyed. Nearby, they uncover strange footprints from some odd creature which leads them to a cave where they find a creepy old man (Clayton) who cackles incessantly. He gives them an old book written in some ancient language (one wonders if Sam Raimi and his buddies were fans of this movie as it is very reminiscent of the book in The Evil Dead films).
The teens run afoul of a creepy sheriff by the exotic name of Asmodeus (Woods) who looks and acts a little like the infamous zombie at the beginning of Night of the Living Dead (1968). Our heroes open the book and unknowingly release some kind of unearthly creature which they end up confronting. The book opens a portal to another world that co-exists with our own and it is up to the teens to close it again.
The stop-motion animation is pretty good considering the non-existent budget. Equinox has that feel of a movie that was made by a bunch of friends on weekends. It is not the primitive, Harryhausen-esque creatures that are scary but the inspired performances of the old man in the cave and Asmodeus who are very unsettling in their own unique way.
Equinox has all the cheerful cheesiness of an Ed Wood movie complete with clunky dialogue and wooden performances and yet this is part of the film’s low budget charm. So, what makes it worthy of its entry into the Criterion Collection? Well, aside from a notable appearance of Frank Bonner (who would go on to greater fame with the popular sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati) it is also the debut of Dennis Muren who helped out on the film’s creature effects and co-directed. He would go on to considerable fame and fortune with his work on the Star Wars films.
The first disc kicks things off with a “Video Introduction by Forrest J. Ackerman.” The legendary magazine editor gives Equinox an enthusiastic endorsement and conveys his undying love of B-horror and sci-fi movies.
There is an audio commentary for Equinox by director Jack Woods and producer Jack H. Harris. Not surprisingly, Harris was drawn to the film by Muren’s effects. The two men talk about the technical tweaks that were done to the original film to make it feature-length. Woods talks about how he got into the moviemaking business and his experiences working on a low budget. Both men provide a wealth of low-key insights into B-moviemaking.
Also included is a commentary for the original Equinox…A Journey Into the Supernatural by producer/co-director/effects technician Dennis Muren and writer/co-director Mark McGee. Muren says that they were primarily influenced by Don Siegel’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), especially in regards to their film’s structure. Both men provide a lot of amusing filming anecdotes, like how the lead actor Skip Shimer was quite the ladies man and even picked up the girl we see in the opening scene! They also look back with fondness at making this movie on a shoestring budget in what was clearly a labour of love.
The second disc begins with “Monstrous Origins,” a collection of outtakes and test footage of the actors waiting around or little bits that weren’t used. Also included is a pretty funny pool party scene and very cool flying demon animation footage. There are also tests of a stop-motion puppet named Taurus escaping from a zoo and going on a rampage.
“Dennis Muren Interview” sees this veteran effects technician talking about his life-long love of monster movies and special effects. He started making his own movies when he was a kid and praises Ackerman for his support and encouragement.
“Cast Interview” features new interviews with cast members Frank Bonner, Barbara Hewitt and James Duron. They all talk about their experiences working on this movie with obvious fondness. They also speak about the challenges of working on such a low budget and how they regard the movie and its small following now.
“Zorgon: The H-Bomb Beast from Hell” is a 1972 short film shot by Kevin Fernan and features several Equinox alumni, including Mark McGee, Jim Danforth and David Allen with creature effects by a young Rick Baker. This is an amusing, funky homage to monster movies of the 1950s with lots of cheesy charm.
“David Allen Appreciation” pays tribute to this legend of stop-motion animation that died in 1999. Included is a sample of rare work like a fairy tale called “The Magic Treasure” that is beautiful in its simplicity. There is also a commercial he did for Volkswagen that is a loving tribute to the original King Kong movie.
“Equiphemera” is a collection of production stills, promotional art and many articles documenting the making of the movie.
Finally, there is a trailer (that proudly proclaims it being shot, “In Supernatural Color” and two radio spots.