Thursday, September 15, 2011

REVIEW: Equinox

Director: Jack Woods
Year 1970

Equinox is a fantastically weird and atmospheric little gem that achieves a great deal, considering its meager budget and limited cast. Originally made in 1967, but then updated three years later, the film is something of an enigma. The story is told in flashback form by the sole survivor of an afternoon picnic that was anything but ordinary. The young man describes the horrific and unusual experiences of that day, filled with encounters with demonic and gargantuan creatures, bizarre possessions, ancient castles, and malevolent beings. The film may be low budget and widely accepted as amateurish, but in my opinion, this strange combination results in a highly entertaining film that captures a certain atmosphere that is sorely lacking in modern day productions. Bring on the weird, wild world of Equinox.

What a shitty one room apartment.

What a shitty place for a picnic.

When I say weird, I mean weird. There's tons of crazy, off the wall moments that kind of catch you by surprise and throw your mind for a loop. It's not exactly the filmmaker's masterful approach to the narrative that accomplishes this feat, but more of a collection of random moments that project an unexpected rash of unworldly wonders and unforgettable moments onto the viewer.

Take this for consideration. In the film, an acquaintance of the group of teenagers, an elderly professor, lives in a cabin in the woods where he studies and protects an ancient book called the Necronomicon. Now this isn't the strangest part of the story, but it's a nice start. When the group of kids arrive at the old man's cabin, they find that it has been crushed by some unseen force. The devastation is remarkable, leaving the group to wonder what could have caused its demise. Well the answer is anything but expected, when later in the film we come face to face with a giant squid. A GIANT SQUID! What the hell is happening?

I wouldn't go in there if I were you. Damn crazy kids.

On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.

Let me explain a bit. The appearance of the giant squid is the result of old professor pants having unleashed an evil force unto the world by meddling within the texts of the Necronomicon. His innocent tampering basically gives an open invitation to all the creatures of the underworld to come and go as they please, entering and exiting through an invisible barrier that our main characters accidentally stumble upon after finding an invisible castle. Huh?

The film is as random as my ramblings on the subject, but what holds all the wackiness together is the overall feel of the movie. It's unusual and unusually put together, but in my opinion that's the charm of the film. Nothing is as it seems and the real world begins to blend with the world of the great beyond in more ways then one, mixing up the proceedings and giving the audience a feeling of insecurity and doubt on the survival of the main cast of characters. Nothing supports this anticipation of morbid events more then the appearance of the robust roll call of creatures that inhabit this upside down world contained within this barren valley.

Whoa ho ho it's magic..... you know.

King Kong's ugly step-brother.

For me the creature aspect of this film is what really shines. These unnatural abominations seemed ripped straight from Ray Harryhausen's mind, often mimicking some of his most classic works like King Kong and the various iterations of Sinbad's most vile beasts. The stop motion, for such a low budget production, is top notch and gets the job done as it gives off that creepy vibe of something both living a dead, thrust into the real world.

There's a winged demon that is especially creepy, which constantly dive bombs the group and even deals out a bit of death among their ranks. Another show stopper is a lumbering gorilla like beast that dwarfs the rest of the cast in size. I remember watching this film as a kid and being quite disturbed by its appearance and mannerisms. The filmmakers also chose an alternative method to the stop motion creations, with a much simpler depiction of a brooding ogre like menace, portrayed more or less as a guy painted in green, sporting a furry tunic and one hell of a nice blonde uni-brow. The approach for the ogre isn't as impressive as the winged demon, gorilla, and giant squid, but it gels well with the unexpected nature of the film, providing a diverse set of morbid obstacles for our main characters to run up against.

You're about to receive the mother of all bitch slaps.

This little devil will, "Swallow your soul!"

Aside from the creatures and the unexpected quality of the film, what drew me in most to the atmosphere and concepts of Equinox was its extremely eerie similarities to one of my most favorite of horror films, The Evil Dead. It's been said before that Sam Raimi, the director of The Evil Dead series, had not seen Equinox prior to the filming of his movies. It's also known that Tom Sullivan, the man behind the special makeup effects and overall design of the look of the films, including the ominous Book of the Dead, had said that he had brought the similarities up to Raimi and tweaked a few things in order to separate the two films from each other a bit, but for me Equinox just seems a precursor and inspiration for what The Evil Dead films would later become.

Truthfully, I really don't care if Raimi and company lifted their entire Evil Dead ideology from the concepts of Equinox, because their end result is one of the most interesting and atmospherically heavy cinema worlds to come across in some time, but the similarities between the two films is just uncanny. I think I'm actually going to do a piece on the comparisons of the films, provided by images and plot points, because it really is an intriguing idea that they both can share so many elements and exist in the same cinema space, yet have never admittedly crossed paths creatively.   

The power of Christ compels you! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!

They don't pick up hitchhikers in this neighborhood.

Equinox is an original film filled with so many conceptual curiosities and otherworldly elements, that it's easy to go a little lax on the judgement of the movie's incoherent nature. The creature creations and designs are unbelievably effective, especially when you consider the budget of the production and the inexperienced filmmakers behind it. I've always had a soft spot for this film, having viewed it as a child and then later recalling its fantastically envisioned world as an adult years after. The comparisons to the Evil Dead franchise also intrigued me when revisiting my first acknowledgments of this film, forcing me to appreciate it that much more in bringing about something that could have quite possibly inspired another filmmaker into creating one of his most heralded collection of films.

Equinox may be a bit of an odd ball and an underappreciated, not to mention peculiar, film, but I believe that the strangeness of the movie is its saving grace. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys occult cinema and the weird subject matter that rises up from those otherworldly and mysterious origins. Keep an open mind and check it out.

4 out of 5 stars        An Underappreciated Cult Classic!

1 comment:

  1. an accurate review of this very underrated gem! thank you!