by Joe Dante Dec 03, 2014

Here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!

Teenagers battle giant monsters in tame, inept fantasy thriller that will get by on drive‑in duallers, kiddie matinees. Rating: GP.

equinoxposterEQUINOX harks back to those dear, dead, vacuous days when the teenagers‑vs.‑monster formula was a boxoffice natural. Today, however, only the kiddies can dig this sort of obviousness, and whatever market value the VIP Distributors release has rests solely with the family drive‑ins and indoor matinee feature bookings. Elsewhere, its naive fantasy, choppy editing and dull aura of earnest amateurism dim its bottom‑bill commercial appeal. Made in spurts over a three‑year period, the Jack H. Harris production follows the pattern he used in THE BLOB, and in fact, except for some with‑it dialogue like “Hey, listen, man, this is getting pretty far out,” it might have been assembled the same way in 1958.

The skimpy plot‑line has four incredibly square teenagers (Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Boers Jr., and Robin Christopher) pursued by huge creatures who want an ancient book of Satanic formulas they found in a cave. Following some byplay with an invisible boundary to the world of the supernatural, a disappearing castle and an evil forest ranger who turns out to be the Devil, all the principals are killed except Connell, who is last seen struggling in a straitjacket, crying “I’m not crazy!” The special effects, which should carry most of the burden in a film of this sort, are simply not up to it. The monsters, including an enormous, scaly something‑or‑other and an unjolly green giant, are afforded little screen time. The stop‑motion effects, credited to Dennis Muren, David Allen and Jim Danforth, are highly uneven and the matte work is generally poor.

Though obviously inspired by the work of Ray Harryhausen, the monster designs leave a lot to be desired, particularly a papier‑maché flying devil. Connell and Boers, both a bit long in the tooth for the teenage hero roles, come off sappily. Writer‑director Jack Woods, who plays the ranger with a variety of contorted expressions, makes an occasional stab at inventiveness via tricky lenses and fast editing, but the overall effect is still blah. Deluxe Color photography, some of it apparently blown up from 16mm, is grainy but bright. An attempted rape, out of place in this juvenile entry, prompted the GP rating.

Credited director Jack Woods was brought in by producer Harris to rework what was essentially a 16mm student production by adding scenes shot in 35mm featuring himself as a new character.  Fans Muren, Allen and Danforth went on to distinguish themselves in a field they obviously always loved. Said to be the primary inspiration for Sam Raimi’s THE EVIL DEAD, EQUINOX was released on the Wizard Video label in the 1980s, under its actual title, then in a retitled and repackaged version, THE BEAST. It was also issued in Canada in the early ’80s by Vogue Video. Criterion has since released EQUINOX on a two-disc special edition dvd.

1968-1971. VIP Distributor (A Tonylyn Production). DeLuxe Color. 82 minutes. Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt. Produced by Jack H. Harris. Directed by Jack Woods.

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