That's A Whole Lifetime Of Nightmares: Equinox (1970)

I remember watching a TED presentation by J.J. Abrams in which he discusses the magic of illusions and how many of these illusions are created through cinematic trickery.  He cites old school horror monster films as his inspiration and certainly showed this inspiration in his recent film Super 8.  When watching the low budget monster fiesta that was Equinox, I could not help recalling this presentation.  Equinox will never win an award for acting, and while its narrative is impressive, it is not terribly innovative.  I was, however, constantly impressed and surprised by the special effects of this film, which used camera trickery and the craziest most awesome claymation I have ever seen in a film.  I had more "what the..." moments with this than any other special effects heavy movie I have seen to date.  It is not a masterpiece of storytelling, but Equinox is a cinematic achievement in its existence alone.

Equinox as a film is your traditional teen horror film.  A group of good-looking white kids decide to visit their geology professor Dr. Waterman (Fritz Leiber, Jr) who has taken up prolonged residence in the hills of rural California.  The group includes the two All-American young men David (Edward Connell) and Jim (Frank Bonner), and their blonde lady friends Susan (Barbara Hewitt) and Vicki (Barbara Hewitt).  The group decides that along with visiting Dr. Waterman they will also enjoy a nice picnic.  However, their arrival to the woods and Dr. Waterman's house leads them to realize that everything is not sound in the forest.  In fact, Dr. Waterman is nowhere to be found and his house is burned down.  This leads the group to attempt to discover the whereabouts of Dr. Waterman.  This quest leads them to meat Asmodeus a sketchy forest ranger who demands that they group leave and forget about everything they witnessed.  The group, headed by David and Jim, refuse and enter into a dark cave in an attempt to find their professor.  After an awkward encounter with an old unnamed man, the group comes into possession of a cryptic book with images and signs of various monsters and mythologies.  Things begin to go abysmally wrong for the group after they obtain the book.  The group encounters alternate realities, a multi-colored squid, a gigantic caveman and a possessed Asmodeus.  Ultimately, the group's attempts at survival fail and they are overtaken by evil, thus ending the film darkly and brilliantly.

It is hard to critique the film with theory, aside from some passing mentions at issues of environmental protection and a stab or two at world religions, however, it is fully acceptable to praise this film as a masterpiece of low-budget filmmaking.  The DVD includes an intro by horror film extraordinaire Forrest J Ackerman, in which he discusses how common low budget horror films were during the mid to late sixties in the United States.  He also notes how many of them were terrible in their execution and rarely expressed anything inspirational in special effects.  He notes how these flaws are nonexistent in Equinox and that it is a truly impressive.  One example of how well the tricks work in Equinox is during the crossing to the alternate reality in which a split frame is paired to make the characters and items disappear when they cross the halfway point of the frame.  It is a simple trick in theory, but the application of it in Equinox is one of the best uses I have ever seen.  I was even more taken back by how incredibly menacing the caveman looked in the film.  The individual cast to the play the part was obviously larger, but the camera angles and framing of the shots added to its David versus Goliath feel.  Furthermore, I am not completely sure how it all worked and am alright with that because the magic of the moment remains mysterious and in cinema that means everything.

Another great delivery from Criterion, Equinox is a hidden film gem.  If you like slosh cinema or b-movies, you will love this film.  If you love technological advances, you will love this film.  Hell, if you love movies, you will love this film.  Buy a copy from Criterion, it will be worth it for the supplements alone.

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