think it should be a law - or at least a sacred tradition - that every
actor should have, as their first credit, some crappy, tawdry little
embarrassment of a movie that they will never admit to on their resume,
until some wiseass talk show host drags out a clip from it and ambushes
them with it. You know, like Roy Scheider in Curse
of the Living Corpse. Jennifer Aniston in Leprechaun.
Tom Hanks in He Knows You're Alone. Demi Moore in Parasite.
Kevin Costner in The Postman (wait, that wasn't a first flick....).
Well, Equinox is Frank Bonner's skeleton in the closet.
some of you may be thinking, Who? Frank what? Admittedly, mentioning
his name after such high-powered box-office
bigwigs might lead to a "does not compute" message; most of
you will know him as the unctuous sales manager Herb Tarlek in the sublime
WKRP in Cincinnati. Though not one of the brightest-burning luminaries
in the stellar scene, he is nonetheless a solid performer; and besides,
relative anonymity has never been a reason for us to spare anyone
humiliation, has it?
begin the movie in media res (as smug writer folk with a liberal
arts degree like to say) with a fiery explosion and our hero, Dave (Edward
Connell) hitting the ground, then calling for "Susan". A glimpse
of bloodied legs wearing toreador pants leads us to believe that Susan
is dead. Dave hears something like the flapping of great wings, and
runs away. He runs away for quite some time, in fact. Then he finds
a highway and attempts to flag down an approaching car. Alas, the car
has no driver and runs him over. The callous car would probably
turn around and finish the job, but another auto, this time occupied
by real people, comes upon him.
let's skip to a year later, when a wooden, badly-dubbed reporter
arrives at a sanitarium to ask a wooden, badly-dubbed doctor if he may
interview the catatonic Dave for a follow-up article (SLOW news
day, eh?). Dave persists in staring at his one possession, a small cross
on a chain, until the reporter shows Dave an 8x10 glossy of an older
man; at the sight of this, Dave becomes violent and attacks the reporter.
Dave is being fitted for a straitjacket, the doctor plays a tape recording
of the interview with Dave, just after the incident on the highway and
before he became a mental case. Thus begins our movie proper, which
is one long flashback....
older man in the photo, Dr. Waterman (Fritz Leiber - yes, that
Fritz Leiber), summons Dave to his mountain retreat to discuss an important
discovery with him. Accompanying Dave on this idyllic picnic is his
pal Jim (Frank Bonner, at last), Jim's chick Vicki (Robin Christopher)
and a blind date for Dave, Susan (Barbara Hewitt). Our four young cannon
fodder - er, friends - find the road impassable by car, and proceed
on foot to Waterman's cabin.
they find is not the good doctor, but the wreckage of his cabin,
and not from an explosion or somesuch - it's caved in (not only
that, but someone's turned it into an obvious miniature!).
They also find Park Ranger Asmodeus*
(Jack Woods, the director), who assures them he hasn't seen Waterman,
but surely he's "back in town." As Vicki has wandered off
from the rest, she sees a castle on a nearby cliff. "Maybe Waterman
went there!" deduces Dave, so they set off to visit the castle.
In passing, they hear insane laughter from a cave and find huge, cloven
footprints. Being idiots, they decide to go into the cave, where they
find a cackling Old Man who gives them "The Book", which
is large, old, and covered with strange symbols.
they force open the lock on The Book and find inside... notes by Waterman!
The Book is a veritable Bible of Evil, containing secrets of demonology
over a thousand years old (and the book, it should be noted, reeks of
sulphur). Waterman employed the Scientific Method on the rituals defined
therein, and summoned some beasties he found out he couldn't control
(in a flashback inside a flashback we see the cabin demolished by some
evil squid-thingie). Fortunately, The Book also has a helpful appendix
of various holy symbols that will hold evil beasties at bay. Only Susan
is carrying a cross... the rest must make another symbol out of willow
cross, in fact, saves Susan when Asmodeus catches her alone (our four
heroes split up more than an amoeba in heat). He dons a really cumbersome-looking
silver frog ring (?), which somehow hypnotizes her, and tries to assault
the blonde, only stopped by the sight of the crucifix. Also, and here's
something I didn't know, being evil causes you to smear charcoal under
your eyes and make really weird shapes with your mouth. Be sure to watch
out for these things in your day-to-day activities.
himself turns up and tries to steal The Book, but slips in a stream
and hits his head. Then his dead body disappears. Then Asmodeus crops
up again, but David declines to tell him about Waterman's death or the
book. Jim is mystified.
it's time for something to happen, so a big, animated, reptilian
gorilla appears at the cave and chases the Old Man around. The girls
see the gorilla catch up with him and kill him - the guys are out climbing
around, trying to find the Castle, which has mysteriously vanished -
and everyone ends up trapped in a small box canyon. The gorilla manages
to drag out The Book by using a tree branch as a tool, and while it
is thus occupied, Dave kills it with an improvised spear.
that, things just go to hell in a handcart. Susan loses her cross and
gets all possessed and dark-eyed, and attacks Vicki, who has also managed
to lose her protective symbol. Asmodeus tries to make a deal
with Jim. When that fails, he dispatches a 15 foot caveman (okay, it's
probably supposed to be an ogre) to get it, but it only succeeds in
chasing Jim into an Invisible Zone, which is where the disappearing
castle resides. Dave goes in to rescue Jim, and sends the girls off
to the car with The Book.
finds Jim, but fails to notice (it's probably the red-tinted light in
the Zone) the dark
smears under his friend's eyes. Yipes! It's Asmodeus in disguise! and
he managed to break Dave's symbol! Asmodeus turns into a winged-demony
kind of thing and swoops down on the girls, mangling Vicki. Susan manages
to get back to Dave, and the winged demony thing pursues them through
the woods and into an abandoned cemetery, where they are saved only
by a tombstone in the shape of a cross. Not for long, as Asmodeus causes
the whole graveyard to explode, and an enormous hooded figure assures
David that "In one year and one day... you will die!" And
then we're back to the opening of the picture, with Susan's bloody legs,
running, running, running, driverless car, aieee, boom. Then
the doctor stops the tape.
concludes the reporter, that was useless. The doctor says, basically,
dude, what did you expect? That was one year and one day ago.
The reporter helpfully re-emphasizes that it was one year and one day
ago, and oh, incidentally, somehow he wound up with David's cross. The
reporter leaves, passing in the parking lot none other than Susan, who
looks at the hospital and smiles as we hear Dave's drugged voice moan,
"My cross... where's my cross?" The end.
fairly common knowledge that Equinox began as a student film,
which puts it in the lofty company of flicks like John Carpenter
& Dan O'Bannon's Dark Star and George Lucas' THX 1138.
Producer Jack H. Harris had something of a track record with these -
he's the one who bankrolled Dark Star and John Landis' Schlock
(though I can't say for sure if Schlock started as a student
film). Unlike Carpenter and Landis, however, director Jack Woods only
went on to work on one more picture, writing Beware! The Blob (or
Son of Blob), also produced by Harris*. Another reason we know this to be a Jack H. Harris picture
is the final "The End" morphing into a big question mark.
student film roots are fairly obvious from time to time, with an abundance
of ShakyCam work, and acting that ranges from the merely adequate
(the girls) to the rather wooden (Dave). Frank Bonner does stand out
as the sole likable character, the only one who might actually be human
in the whole mess.
again, it's tough to be hard on the actors when the writing works so
hard against them; as it is 1971, and Women's Lib has not made too great
an impression, the girls are constantly being left behind, because,
among other things, women apparently cannot climb steep hills. As the
entire movie is a flashback, how can Dave relate events for which he
was not present? The schizophrenic script also makes a point of showing
the four heroes as being resourceful and fairly clever, and then (of
course) proceeds to make them act like utter idiots.
see, we've just encountered a twenty-foot gorilla lizard that wanted
a Book badly enough to kill the Old Man, and the notes of a dead college
professor assures us that The Book draws such evil things "like
flies", so what do you do? Of course. You hang around long enough
to "do something" about the Old Man's body, and you hang on
to The Book like it holds a few million in T-bills. Oh, and you split
up while you're doing it, too. Morons.
effects work, by our usual heroes, Dave Allen, Jim Danforth, and Dennis
Muren (who also has an associate producer credit), are the best the
production could afford, and it's a pity they couldn't afford more -
that evil squid thingie, in particular, could have used more screen
time. I remember, on my first viewing of this sometime in the late 70's,
I was disappointed that the ogre was done live-action, and was not animated
like the other creatures. But a more appreciative eye now discerns that
it was apparently achieved by some nicely-accomplished forced perspective
shooting, and therefore it looks a great deal more real than the animated
footage, which as usual shows a bit too much grain and soft focus on
the real-life footage combined with the models.
love to hear how fantasy writer Fritz Leiber got involved in this glorious
it is, glorious or no; it is ambitious far beyond its means, both budgetary
and talent-wise. Nevertheless, the story is quite interesting - Raimi's
Evil Dead owes it at least a nod (and yes, probably Forever
Evil, too). It has a number of interesting ideas going, unlike
any number of other
horror films, which take one idea and beats it to death (Hel-lo,
Friday the 13ths), if they have an idea at all (Hel-lo,
any number of po-mo vampire flicks).
in the final analysis (which is what this last paragraph always is),
the ideas and several good effects are not enough to save Equinox;
this is a film you either love or hate, and I love it, for I have a
soft spot in my heart for hey-let's-put-on-a-show productions like this
one, that possess at least a modicum of brains and originality. But
it's those technical shortcomings, the camerawork, the acting, the writing,
that drag this down from an average movie to sub-average; I hoped that
the ideas would outweigh the execution, but as Monty Python would say,
the Execution has put on weight.