Sunday 29 May 2011

Equinox (1970)

EQUINOX is an American horror film that was released in 1970.  It has an interesting production history which sets it apart from many other low budget pictures that were made in the same period.

It began life as a short, directed by a Californian student called Dennis Muren, who also did his own special effects.  It was seen and admired by a small independent film production company, Tonylyn Productions, who picked it up for distribution.  Tonylyn's head honcho Jack H. Harris hired Jack Woods, a local film editor, to shoot some extra footage to bring the short up to feature length.  The resultant film is the version that is most widely seen today.

The film tells the story in flashback of how a young man came to be a patient in an asylum.  He and three friends had been summoned to the remote log cabin of their college professor.  Upon arriving, however, they find the cabin destroyed and the professor missing.  While searching for him in the woods they come across a deranged old hermit who presses upon them an ancient book, which turns out to be a manual of demonology.  Eventually they realise that the professor had been attempting to summon and control all manner of demons but that his experiments had gone terribly wrong.  They are forced to battle against these summoned monsters, and a malevolent park ranger who wants the book, to try to get to safety.

In itself it's not very good.  The acting is terrible for one thing: only one of the four main characters went on to have anything like a career in front of the camera, so it's pretty amateurish stuff.  The script is patchy: there are some exchanges that are actually quite decent - particularly the ribbing between the four friends - but falls down badly in several clunky expository passages.  At one point towards the end of the film, Dave the hero says "Wait a minute!  That park ranger, Mr Asmodeus - that's another name for the Devil!"  You can tell that the film was directed by an effects guy because the attention to detail in other areas is poor.  For instance, the two female characters are almost identical: their hair, costumes, even the colours of their costumes, are similar.  So much so that you can only tell them apart because one screams more than the other.  On top of everything else the continuity is also pretty slack, with an alarming number of glaring lapses.

The special effects are mixed too.  Some are quite good: the matte work, for example, the simple but effective wall of invisibility, and the genuinely creepy giant caveman.  The stop-motion animation is not so good.  Willis O'Brien and, later, Ray Harryhausen had led the way in this field for many years so Muren's efforts look painfully second-rate.  In actual fact it's not the animation so much as the model making: both the giant ape creature and the winged demon are poorly executed.

However, the film is imaginative and ambitious.  It does somehow manage to create a believable environment where the nightmare creatures from another dimension have intruded into our world.  The film-makers clearly have talent although that talent was stretched painfully thin by the demands of overseeing every aspect of a film production.  Which is probably why Dennis Muren went on to specialise in effects work.  He is responsible for some of the most famous effects in cinema history, having worked on STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, E.T., INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, TERMINATOR 2 and JURASSIC PARK.  Jack Woods (who also plays Mr Asmodeus) became a sound editor and, like Muren, worked on some very big movies including a couple of the STAR TREK films.

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