in Review, Shocktober

Equinox (1970)

If I had, to sum up, Equinox in one sentence I would say “That’s pretty good for a first try.” This is because Equinox was more of a student film than anything. The brainchild of Dennis Muren—who would go on to win nine visual effects Oscars for films like The Empire Strikes Back, E.T., Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park—while attending business school, Equinox was made for as close to nothing as you can get.

Co-helming the picture with future sound editor Jack Woods (Star Trek III, The Naked Gun 2 1/2) and screenwriter Mark Thomas McGee (Sorority House Massacre II, Stepmonster), Equinox was a stop-motion sci-film shot in Pasadena for $6,500. How does what is essentially a student film become a midnight movie and later a Criterion? Let’s see if we can find out.

Equinox reminds me of a film like George Lucas’ THX-1138. Both were ambitious low budget films made by young people with inventive effects that somehow broke into the public. The difference being THX-1138 actually has good acting and a story worth telling. I could be wrong. Maybe Dennis Muren and Co. wouldn’t be able to sleep until they shared their story of an ancient evil book and mythological monsters with the world. Though it feels more like a grand experiment than a grand statement.

The story concerns a group of teens on a day trip who encounter a crazy man who presents them with an ancient book. A park ranger (Jack Woods) who watches over the teens reveals himself to be the King of the Demons Asmodeus and sends an onslaught of stop-motion monsters to retrieve the book from the teens. Why he doesn’t simply ask for it back is beyond me, but none of that sh*t is important because this movie is about the monsters.

The stop-motion effects were provided by Dave Allen and Jim Danforth who would both go on to impressive careers in the world of special effects. Both worked on a handful of Larry Cohen films and Twilight Zone: The Movie. As a stop-motion animator, Allen would work on everything from The Howling, to Ghostbusters II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Robot Jox (that one’s for you Sean).

Danforth’s skill as a matte artist found him working on films like The Thing, Creepshow, Conan the Barbarian, and The NeverEnding Story. Their work on Equinox is primitive but impressive for the limited amount of resources. The designs are good with the standout being the hairy green and purple dude that makes up the film’s centerpiece and all of the film’s promotional material. Though I rather like the appearance of a flying devil character that turns out to be Asmodeus’ final form.

Equinox is more or less a bunch of future special effects talents having fun. The fact that it’s in the Criterion Collection is puzzling. I’ve never heard it considered as a trailblazer or pioneer in the world of special effects. Though many people who worked on it went on to better things it certainly wasn’t a launching pad for a Steven Spielberg or a George Lucas figure. It’s not even the best movie ever made about an evil book… *cough, cough The Evil Dead.

I don’t like Equinox but I respect the hell out of it. It never seemed like it was anyone’s intention to release it across the country. You can thank producer Jack H. Harris (The Blob, 4D Man) for that one. Harris would later help jump-start the careers of John Landis and John Carpenter by producing their first films, Schlock and Dark Star, respectively—both of which would make more sense in the Criterion Collection, but I digress.

Equinox is dumb and as an actual film, it’s probably one of the worst films in the Criterion Collection. Yet it has more heart than half of the other films in that same collection. It’s a blueprint for great things to come. That’s why it’s remembered and why it has joined the annals of Shocktober.

I think this is supposed to be scary. Mission accomplished?