The Bad Movie Report


I 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.

Now, some of you may be thinking, Who? Frank what? Admittedly, mentioning his name after such high-powered Frank Bonner, date, and hi-tech photo equipmentbox-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?

We 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.

Now, 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.

While 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....

Try to look a little more interested, Frank.The 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.

What 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", Evil Squid Thingie!which is large, old, and covered with strange symbols.

Outside, 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 branches.

The cross, in fact, saves Susan when Asmodeus catches her alone (our four ACTING!!!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.

Waterman 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.

"Hey, I found your library book -- OWWWWW!"Anyway, 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.

more ACTING!!!After 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.

Dave finds Jim, but fails to notice (it's probably the red-tinted light in the Zone) the darkDo you know me?  That's why I carry American Express! 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.

Well, 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.

It's fairly common knowledge that Equinox began as a student film, which puts it in the lofty company of flicks like John AAAAAAA!!! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!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.

The 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.

Dude, I'm way in front of you....Then 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.

Let's 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.

The 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.

I'd love to hear how fantasy writer Fritz Leiber got involved in this glorious mess*.And mess 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 Oh, crap!  It's the Giant Claw!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).

Sadly, 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.



So close; but still worth a look.

- July 4, 1999

Second Opinions

Oh, the Humanity!