Four teenagers go on a woods hike and encounter a creepy forest ranger and a crazy old man. The old man is a scientist who had found a mysterious book bound in human skin, the Necronomicon, and when he had read its cryptic symbols it conjured monsters into existence. The teenagers keep the book, and are then persued by monsters, a demonic cult, and the ranger. The ranger turns out to be a red flying devil in human disguise.
Edward Connell ... David Fielding
Barbara Hewitt ... Susan Turner
Frank Bonner ... Jim Hudson (as Frank Boers, Jr.)
Robin Christopher ... Vicki
Jack Woods ... Asmodeus
James Phillips ... Reporter Sloan
Fritz Leiber Jr. ... Dr. Arthur Waterman (as Fritz Leiber)
Patrick Burke ... Branson
Jim Duron ... Orderly
Irving L. Lichtenstein
When this was first announced as a Criterion release, I was only vaguely familiar with it; I purchased the 2-Disc Set recently (as it was on sale) without really knowing what to expect; the result is certainly interesting – especially having two versions of the film to compare…even if it doesn't quite belong in the "Collection".
Originally made in 1967, THE EQUINOX…A JOURNEY INTO THE SUPERNATURAL is basically a 70-minute home movie – amateurish if clearly made by fanatics of the horror genre, talented enough to create their own monsters (which aren't too bad into the bargain)! When the film was eventually picked up for release by Jack H. Harris, he ordered several reshoots, changed the order of scenes around, tightened some others, replaced a lot of the dialogue, etc. – this didn't necessarily make for a better film (in fact, I think that the original is still the superior effort) but, at least, it now felt like a proper movie!
What the theatrical version did, primarily and ultimately to its detriment, was to eliminate a lot of the surprise which the original held – for instance, the figure of the demon towering over the hero at the very start of the 1967 version is missing from the theatrical-release print; similarly, we're shown the driverless car which mows him down prior to the accident. Also, the revelation that the demon is taking possession of the characters (having already established that this is what caused the Professor and the hero's blind date to go crazy momentarily in the re-edited version) takes away from the scene in which his best friend is likewise 'afflicted'; and, again, the impact of the twist ending is lessened when we already know that Susan is capable of evil.
The teenage leads are likable enough to overcome their essential inexperience; popular horror writer Fritz Leiber appears as the obsessive Professor who unwittingly unleashes the Forces of Darkness in the wilderness; in the 1967 version, we also get to hear the voice of horror/sci-fi authority Forrest J. Ackerman (who, then, appears on the DVD for a special introduction). The one major addition to the cast list for the 1970 version is, ironically, the character played by the re-shoots director himself – a creepy-looking Ranger with the equally strange name of Asmodeus (as it turns out, one of the devil's various monikers!). While he was, perhaps, intended to beef up the picture's scare factor (even attempting to rape the two girls), it's really a pointless role and basically represents a distraction from the central narrative (which deals naively with the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, as shown in an ancient tome kept by a crazy old man living inside a cave – and which involves much religious symbolism and an invisible barrier leading into the netherworld)!
Finally, we get to the special effects: they're very primitively done and a couple of the creatures (the squid and the giant native) aren't very effective but the ape-like monster and the demon are quite marvelously designed and one isn't overly bothered by the essential lack of refinement in the stop-motion animation involved. Unfortunately, the print utilized for the transfer of the 1967 version is very poor – with a number of shots being several generations removed from the already substandard master and lip-synch problems during a fair chunk of the duration (attributable certainly to its rarity, but which also adds to the inherent charm of its rough-and-ready quality)!
I first saw this film a little while ago under the title of The Beast. The first viewing of it I wasn't sure what to make of it. I love the stop motion and all of the special effects but something about the movie didn't catch my interest. When Criterion decided to release this on DVD with both versions of the movie and a whole lot of extras I thought I would give it another chance. I am happy I did because this was a truly fun film that paved the way for movies like Evil Dead or Phantasm.
The storyline might sound familiar. A group of four friends (2 guys, 2 girls) plan a trip to a log cabin out in the middle of nowhere. When they get there they discover the log cabin has been destroyed. After then exploring around they find a few very odd things. A random castle on a hill and a strange old man that gives them this very old book. After this they discover an invisible barrier leading to another world. Soon there are creatures that want to kill them and take the book.
A second viewing was in order. I am glad I did. I believe the version I saw, entitled The Beast, was the 1970's version. Watching the original 1967 version seemed a bit better.
The special effects in this movie are excellent. For me, I am right at home with a movie like this. The stop motion was true eye candy to watch and after you see the first monster you are pretty much in for a fun ride.
A can tell that Sam Raimi probably liked this movie when he was younger and wrote a similar story for his cult phenomenon The Evil Dead. The whole storyline with the book and a group of friends going out to a log cabin was obviously inspiration for Raimi. Even at the beginning of Evil Dead when they are showing images of the book floating in what appears to be fog was very similar to that of a scene in The Equinox when they are explaining what the purpose of the book was. A little bit of similarity with this movie and Phantasm with the portal to another world and how that other world looked upon entering it.
This movie is really a movie for fans of the stop motion genre. If you like Ray Harryhausen this is a must see. 9/10
Equinox is not a very good movie at all. The dialoque is pretty bad as is much of the acting. The special effects weren't bad though, and the story itself was clever and creative. So in a way I would say that Equinox is a sort of guilty pleasure that I never forgot thirty some odd years later after seeing it for the first time. So here we go, the good and the bad.
The good would of course be the story itself, and some of the special effects. Four friends visit an old scientist and find only a demolished cabin. Soon after, they hear hysterical laughter coming from a cave and curiously go to investigate. There they discover a crazy old man (not the scientist) who gives them a book of ancient evil that smells of sulfur. They also see a castle on a hill which soon disappears. You see the old scientist started reciting things from the evil text of the book and opened up a doorway to another world parallel to our own. The friends also discover what appears to be cloven tracks in the mud and hear the beating of wings overhead. They are soon battling different monsters which include a scaly ape creature that resembles the Emir from 20 Millions Miles to Earth, another apelike creature which looks more like an ogre, and a bat winged flying devil creature. The special effects that created these creatures weren't bad at all when you take into account the meager budget and the time they were made.
This was a plot line way ahead of its time. The remade 1970 version of the film includes a park ranger named Asmodeus who turns out to be, well his name gives him away, the devil. In both the 1967 and 1970 versions, the demon creatures want the book so that they can use its powers to open the portal even more to merge with Earth and create a sort of hell on Earth. Our heroes fight to stop this from happening and to survive.
Now on with the bad. The dialoque for one is atrocious, and the actors aren't much better. The pacing is also pretty slow for the most part. The 71 or 82 minutes, depends on which version of the movie you watch, seems much longer then it should be. You can tell that the 1967 version of this film was a student film. The ideas are great, but it's too bad that everything else about the film brings it down. However, I find it to be a guilty pleasure which was the genesis for movies like Evil Dead, yes if you watch Evil Dead you will see how it has copied a lot of its ideas from Equinox. The movie Phantasm also took some of its ideas from this movie. The mysterious other world in Phantasm sort of resembles the evil alternate world in Equinox.
I have since watched both versions of Equinox, and I find that the 1967 version of the film is slightly better paced and more enjoyable then the 1970 version. Others think differently, but the addition of the park ranger, in my opinion, wasn't necessary. And the cackling old man in the cave in the 1970 version just goes on way too long.
Overall Equinox is really not what you would call a horror classic. However, I will still give the young film makers their due, and Dennis Muren, who went on to win all kinds of special effects awards for movies like Star Wars and Jurassic Park, deserves a special thanks for continuing on in his field of movie making. Without him getting his start with this small movie, we might never have seen what he did with the two films just mentioned as well as others.