Sunday, December 9, 2012

DVD Review: EQUINOX (1969)

EQUINOX (1969) 

Region Code: 0 NTSC
Rating: PG
Duration: 82 Mins
Aspect Ratio: Original Full Frame (1.33:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Cast: Barbara Hewitt,Edward Connell,Frank Bonner
Director: Jack Woods
Tagline: An Occult Barrier Between Good and Evil!

Synopsis: A unique tale of fantasy and horror, EQUINOX is set deep within the guarded woods and canyons of California, where four leisure-seeking teenagers discover the 'Book of the Damned', an ancient text that will lead them on a mystifying journey into a malevolent world. Here the intrepid youths discover a parallel universe populated with all manner of monsters, zombies and gargantuan beasts.

Fun schlocky stuff right here as a group of college kids spend the day in the wooded canyons and encounter a cackling old man in a cave and obtain an ancient text called "The Book of the Damned" which has the power to unleash unspeakable evil - sounds familiar huh? I think one would be hard pressed not to think of Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD (1981) when viewing this one - a professor unearthing an ancient text, reading it's words aloud and other-dimensional creatures emerge from the woods wreaking havoc on a group on fun-loving teens. Someone in the Raimi camp definitely saw this films there can be no denying that; the ancient book, the recorder, etc.

Fans of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation are in for a real treat with the David Allen effects works, just fantastic stuff, a Lovecraftian tentacles creature, a winged demon, and a gigantic purple gorilla creature. Allen would go onto work extensively with Charles Band and Full Moon Entertainment, even directing PUPPET MASTER II as well as creating special effects work on DOLLS, THE HUNGER, THE HOWLING, THE STUFF and many others - quite a talented artist even at this early stage.  

While the teens must contend with the Satanic creatures they are also under attack by a demented forest ranger named Asmodius (played by director Jack Woods) who falls under the control of a malevolent supernatural force whom wants the book back, and he's not afraid to molest a pretty young lady to get his way either, it's a fun performance that's absurd and creepy, love it. Overall the performances are pretty terrible as one might expect from a student film but as a schlocky slice of b-movie making it totally works, adding to the aural excitement is some wonderfully goofy post-dubbing of the actors voices.

Not a good film, but a fun one chock full o' bad acting, continuity issues and sci-fi schlock, quite a fun watch all in all, perhaps as enjoyable as the film is the behind-the0scene story of how a student film turned into a cult classic.

DVD: The film shot on 16mm is pretty rough at times with heavy grain and print damage but this is edition is jam-packed with bonus content which is amazing given the obscurity of the flick, when compared to Criterion Collection's 2-disc DVD there are a few things missing including radio spots,  the Forrest J. Ackerman video introduction and the original 1967 version with the accompanying commentary from special effects director Dennis Muren, co-director Mark McGee and artist Jim Danforth but still this is a fantastic edition with some very sweet DVD art to boot. The interviews and commentaries offer up more than one could ever hope to know about the production and the love of genre filmmaking the creators so clearly had when they were making it, just awesome stuff. One downside is that the Australian releases have the rating plastered on the front DVD cover and spine which is just unsightly but small packaging blemish aside this is a knock-out package.

The Interview with co-director / effects guru Dennis Muren features him reminiscing about his love of effects work from an early age, the feature also displays some great super 8 footage of his early works, recalling his first meeting with producer Jack Harris (THE BLOB), gaining respect for writers and directors and lessons learned from working on EQUINOX, selling the film and his views on CGI vs stop-motion animation. Cast Interviews with Frank Bonner, Barbara Hewitt and James Duron were also fun, many will recall Frank Bonner as "Herb Tarlek" from the TV series WKRP IN CINCINNATI  and he seems genuinely mind-boggled that the film is remembered at all. There's a collection of silent outtakes and deleted scenes, two rare films featuring cast and effect work by the EQUINOX crew and a very cool KING KONG themed Volkswagen commercial featuring Fay Wray's daughter plus test footage, too. The Audio commentary with writer-director Jack Woods and producer Jack H. Harris is quite an entertaining listen, the two men are reunited after  25 years to talk about all aspects of the film and bringing the cast back together for the extended 1970 version of the film which is presented here, the two have a great rapport and a wonderful chemistry not to mention storied careers, particularly Jack H. Harris. 

Special Features:
- Interview with director / effects guru Dennis Muren (7:39) 
- Cast Interviews with Frank Bonner, Barbara Hewitt and James Duron (9:37) 
- Trailers (1:43) 
- Audio commentary with writer-director Jack Woods and producer Jack H. Harris
- King Kong Volkswagen Commercial (1:02) 
- Kong Commercial Test Footage (:37) 
- The Magic Treasure (19:17) 
- Taurus Test (1:49) 
- Outtakes (7:05) 
- Zorgon: the H-Bomb Beast From Hell – short film featuring Equinox crew.(8:44) 

Verdict: While I would never claim this is a particularly good film (it's not) EQUINOX is quite the entertaining lo-fi film that should appeal to fans of EVIL DEAD and THE CLASH OF THE TITANS with it's blend of supernatural schlock and awesome stop-motion and miniature effects work. I simply loved this film from start to finish, if you love b-movie grinders, classic creature features or just schlockly cinema this is a must-see in my opinion. A good barometer of how much you might enjoy this is if you were a fan of THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER (1977) also featuring effects work from David Allen, if that was a fun watch for you then this is probably a no-brainer. 3.5 Outta 5 

Additional Screen Captures