Turn Back The Clock

Equinox (aka "The Beast")

Reviewed by Walter Mercado

   

    

      Ahh, the old school Horror flicks.  They certainly don't make them like that anymore.  Granted, there were a great many clunkers produced here and there, but a lot of the time we got sincere, solid and gritty efforts given the low budgets many of those productions had to work with.  The 1970's in particular were responsible for many a memorable Horror title in a variety of styles.  Equinox (aka "The Beast") was one of those early productions that was something in-between....a likeable so-bad-it's-good romp that somehow manages to be fun despite the novice acting and flawed execution of it's otherwise interesting premise.

     This was one of the very first Horror movies that I watched as a kid, way back when these sorts of flicks were being shown on a regular basis on network television (the old WPIX channel 11, in the case of my home state, New York).   Equinox was a standout and it remained starkly in my mental Rolodex until I finally tracked it down recently.  Equinox has never been officially released on any medium, unfortunately, so it took a lot of digging.  A wave of nostalgia swept over me as I slipped the movie into my player.  Despite its raw construction, I believe it still holds up even by today's lofty movie standards.

     The movie begins with our protagonist, Dave (Edward Connell) being chased down and struck by a black vehicle with no driver.  Trying to explain this story to the doctors lands him in a mental institution where he remains for a year until a reporter comes to the hospital to interview him.  He gets nothing out of him until he tries to take away a little silver cross that Dave is clutching.  Dave reacts violently, which earns him restraint and sedation.  The reporter is forced to turn to old recordings of Dave telling his story to doctors to gain any real insight.

       From this point on, we are shown Dave’s story in flashback.  There, Dave and three of his college friends, two gals and a guy, take a trip to their archeology professor's cabin somewhere up in the mountains to assist him on a dig. When they arrive at their destination they find the good prof's cabin has been smashed to kindling....with a track of giant footprints on the ground nearby (!) 

     In their subsequent search for the professor they come across a cave which houses a laughing lunatic.  He gives them an old tome written in an ancient language and filled with strange symbols.  Dave manages to decipher some of the language but stupidly recites a passage in the book that turns out to be the Lord's Prayer in reverse, and as expected, weird things begin to happen.

     A large medieval castle floating on clouds appears and disappears near the mountainside. More giant footprints are found near the cabin. The professor's body appears and disappears, sometimes dead....sometimes alive.  And amid all of this, they encounter a park ranger named Mr. Asmodeus (played by Jack Woods, who also wrote and directed).  Ok...I gotta stop this here...MR. ASMODEUS?  I mean come ON...like nobody's going to know outright who this guy is upon hearing his name?  Heck, the park ranger may as well have called himself Senor Lucifer or Mr. I'm-Really-The-Devil-Run-Flee!  Gimme a break.  From then on our quartet are deep in the guano as they are chased by a slew of supernatural creatures all trying to get their hands on that ancient book, and bent on their destruction....as well as encountering a dangerous rip in the fabric of time/space.  These creatures include a giant simian-creature, a giant caveman, and a flying giant bat-demon, and our favorite park ranger.

      The storyline, as I mentioned earlier, is a fairly interesting concept, and definitely creepy.  It's the execution that came up lacking.  Among the movie's many flaws is the acting.  I've seen more skill and poise from the students in a Junior High School play.  There are times you either laugh out loud at their performance, or throw your hands up in disbelief.  To be fair, most of the players weren't trained in the thespian arts, so I'll cut it some slack.  Besides, it's fun making light of these "performances".  They actually add some humor and a certain odd charm to this no-budgeter, in my opinion.  The only true actor of any note is Frank Bonners (credited in the film as Frank Boers Jr.), who plays Jim, one of the college friends.  He achieved minor fame playing Herb on WKRP In Cincinatti. 

     It is of interest to note some other recognizable names involved in the production.  There is assistant cameraman Ed Begley Jr., who would later reach stardom on St. Elsewhere.  One Mr.Fritz Leiber makes a brief appearance as the college professor (yes folks...THAT Fritz Leiber, the famous author).  And one of fandom's biggest names, and himself the biggest FAN, Forrest J. Ackerman, is the voice we hear on the tape recorder at the beginning.  And you will also notice that the age of the actors visibly changes slightly during the story progression.  This is due to the fact that it took a couple of years to complete the filming because of budgetary snags. The film throughout is very choppy due to the film print's age, as well as post-production tampering.

      Primarily known only to the true horror cognoscenti and in movie limbo for years, this odd little flick has been enjoying a quiet resurgence...gaining a sort of mini cult following.  It started off in 1967 as Dennis Muren's (FX Heavyweight of Terminator 2, and The Abyss fame as well as the Visual Effects Supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic) student film, which was later taken to full length feature and released in 1970 when producer Jack H. Harris (Mr. Ranger) picked it up for distribution, re-cut it and added some scenes.  The other FX contributor was Jim Danforth (Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth). His primary contributions to Equinox consisted of beautiful matte painting and cell animation, and they add a lot to the production.

     Despite the cons of this flick, I still enjoyed the ride. As far as these no-budgeters go, Equinox showed a lot of imagination and great enthusiasm and deserves to be given a look.  It should be judged by its merits, flimsy budget be damned.  Those of you who do watch this flick will see some small similarity with Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead"  Although the Raimi's have never mentioned it anywhere, I suspect that they "borrowed" a few of Equinox's major plot points. So Evil Dead owes a debt of gratitude to the existence of this raw dirty gem. 

     I do feel a little guilty badmouthing anything having to do with Equinox.  Watching the film again brought back so many good memories of those childhood viewings of the '70's Horror classics.  If you should by chance ever come across Equinox on TV or cable, tape it, if you get the chance.  It's raw and amateurish, but it's a nice little ride.  A lost classic.

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