by Steve Habrat
When you take a look at some of the giant creature features made during the 1950s, most of them are extremely campy due to their low budget. Most were made quickly and on the cheap, simply to fill out a drive-in double bill. However, when compared to the 1970s B-movie Equinox, which was made for—get this—just under $7,000, the Atomic Age creature features were dripping in cash (the rickety 1958 effort Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is said to have had a budget of $88,000!). Made as a short student film by Dennis Muren in 1967, Equinox was picked up by Tonylyn Productions and completed by Jack Woods and producer Jack H. Harris. At a quick glance, Equinox may seem like just another monster throwaway, but if you dare to look closer, you will begin to see how influential the film really is, especially when held up next to a specific cabin-in-the-woods cheapie released in 1980 by none other than Sam Raimi. Today, many audience members would probably die laughing at some of the special effects that Equinox has to offer, but as a testament to resourcefulness and creativity, the film is a major triumph. We are watching a group of kids make magic and they could barely afford the wand to cast the spell!
Equinox begins with a young man named David (played by Edward Connell) being sent to an asylum after stumbling out of the woods in a daze and getting struck by a passing car, which apparently has no driver. A year after being committed, David is visited by a local reporter named Sloan (played by James Phillips), who is interested in hearing David’s outlandish story. David claims that he went to visit one of their college professors, Dr. Arthur Waterman (played by Fritz Lieber), with his girlfriend, Susan (played by Barbara Hewitt), his best friend, Jim (played by Frank Bonner), and Jim’s girlfriend, Vicki (played by Robin Christopher). After finding Dr. Waterman’s cabin in ruin, the group stumbles upon a cave where they meet a crazy old hermit who gives them an ancient book filled with mystical writings and drawings. Shortly after coming into possession of the book, the group bumps into a park ranger named Asmodeus (played by Jack Woods), who is also looking for the mysterious book. Asmoedeus begins stalking the teenagers and conjuring up a handful of demonic beasts that will stop at nothing to get their claws on the book.
When it comes to the narrative, Equinox is simply concerned with ushering the audience from one monster attack to the other. But then again, isn’t that why we are watching Equinox in the first place? The creature effects here do have a bit of a Ray Harryhausen vibe about them, especially a giant ape-like beast that is one of the first to attack the group of teens. In the short time that Equinox occupies the screen, we get to marvel at a giant green squid rip apart a cabin, a green-skinned giant that looks like a demonic Fred Flintstone, a howling hooded specter appear in a graveyard, and last but certainly not least, a winged red demon, which is perhaps the most visually striking of all the monsters to appear in the film. It should also be noted that these monsters are pretty spry. The winged demon leaps through the air and barrels down on the kids while the ape-like brute stomps and pounds its way around a rocky hill while one of the kids dangles from some roots. These moments are extremely amazing, especially when you take into consideration that they were accomplished with almost nothing.
While the monsters are the true stars, the handful of amateur performers do their absolute best to keep the viewer entertained. Connell is the headliner of the show and despite a few hiccups here and there, he manages to nail being both the levelheaded leader and the whimpering lunatic yelling for his cross. Bonner’s Jim is fairly one dimensional, a forgettable sidekick for Connell’s David. About the most memorable moment for Bonner was his run-in with the ape monster. Jack Woods gives probably the most colorful performance as Asmodeus, the creepy park ranger with a demonic side. He does bring some serious menace to the role, even if one particular scene finds him swishing his mouth around and drooling on the camera, which is supposed to show his evil side coming out. The crew also adds a bit of black face paint around his eyes just to further drive the point home. As far as the ladies go, Hewitt’s Barbara would fade from memory if it weren’t for her scene with the face-contorting Woods. The rest of the time, she is asked to act all spaced out and wander around confused. There is, however, a nice little twist at the end with her character even if we can see it coming. Christopher is probably the least memorable of all the characters as Vicki, the girlfriend of the beige sidekick Jim. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for a cameo by horror and science fiction writer Fritz Lieber as Dr. Arthur Waterman. He doesn’t speak any lines and he is only seen briefly, but it is neat the filmmakers managed to convince him to show up.
While the special effects make Equinox a must-see for horror fanatics, the film is also a must for fans of Sam Raimi’s low-budget cabin-in-the-woods nightmare The Evil Dead. While not nearly as gruesome or terrifying as Raimi’s film (although, there is quite a bit of gore in Equinox), there are still plenty of similarities between the plots of Equinox and The Evil Dead. Both films deal with a group of kids reading from an ancient text and battling against relentless demonic forces that wish to rip them to shreds in the woods. Equinox was also a major influence on Star Wars and Dennis Muren even went on to be a key crewmember on the film. Overall, Equinox isn’t a film that you should walk blindly into. To truly appreciate all the blood, sweat, and tears that were poured into the creature feature, it is best to do a bit of research on the film. It may have a choppy plot, strained performances, and creaky scares, but Equinox is an inspirational work of art, one that proves that anything is possible if you can dream it. This is a one-of-a-kind cult classic that was the original warning to stay away from that old cabin in the woods.
Equinox is available on DVD.