Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

Yo dawg, I heard you like Equinox, so let's watch Equinox on the equinox.

Tomorrow, March 20, is the first day of spring.

This is the kind of fact that I know in the back of my mind, but I never really think about it until I happen by chance to notice it on my calendar at work.

It's also the vernal equinox, and every year, sometime after the equinox has occurred, I remember that I always make a goal for next year to watch the movie Equinox on the equinox. My Friday night is spoken for so I will fail again this year, but at least I remembered ahead of time and watched it last night.

I became aware of Equinox in 2009 or so, when one of my coworkers recommended it to me. It had been a television staple during his childhood, and he'd tried for years to track it down, but didn't know its title. Finally, Netflix recommended it based on his viewing experiences, and he was thrilled to have found it at last. I was intrigued and when I finally sat down to watch it I realized that other people a decade or so my senior had described it to me and asked if it sounded familiar. None of them had known what it was called, either.

Equinox follows four college students who have been summoned into the woods by a frantic phone call from their professor, Dr. Waterman. The professor is nowhere to be found, but they do encounter a strange, old man who entrusts them with an ancient, scary-lookin' book written in a salad of ancient languages. The old guy scampers off cackling, and the local forest ranger, Mr. Asmodeus, becomes keenly interested in collecting the book. Also, he has a strange aversion to crucifixes.

I wish I could say that the plot is more complex than I make it sound, but it really isn't. What I haven't mentioned is that Equinox is a showcase of special effects, and once they get going during the second half of the movie, they really don't stop. There's a lot of stop motion and forced perspective which I find--well, "charming" is not the right word for a movie that features the guy pictured at left, but I enjoy the inexpensive, do-it-yourself feel of low-budget practical effects that work.

And the effects do work, which is worth pointing out because they're the only aspect of the movie that's really successful. The acting is sublimely poor, and there are obvious technical problems with some shots (consider the same hair in the gate that is visible in two separate scenes). The story--which was recycled much more successfully by the Evil Dead franchise--feels like an afterthought assembled around the special effects.

I'm probably undermining my point, which is to recommend the movie. If not great, it's at least ambitious, and it did get a Criterion Collection release which suggests that I'm not the only one who thinks you'd like it. I've never seen Equinox with a crowd, but I imagine that it would be a lot of fun with friends, and with a runtime of 80 minutes, the stakes are pretty low.

Equinox was made in 1967 for $6,500 (about $45k now) by a handful of students, including assistant cameraman Ed Begley Jr., and director Dennis Muren who deserves a lot of the credit for the movie industry's move from models and miniatures to CGI. The original cut of the film caught the eye of producer Jack H. Harris who padded it out to feature length and released it theatrically in 1970. Harris--for what it's worth--did more or less the same thing for the John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's student film Dark Star a few years later, and can probably be credited with discovering both of them. Harris brought in Forrest J. Ackerman to do voiceover, and Ackerman convinced the author Fritz Leiber to appear as Dr. Waterman. This modest little film is absolutely dripping with talent--except for the actors who (with a couple of exceptions) didn't really go anywhere.

Anyway, should you find yourself curious about Equinox, you can stream it on Hulu Plus, or you can take out a second mortgage and spend half of it on The Criterion Collection DVD. You can also stream it on YouTube, or at least, you can until somebody sends them a takedown notice:

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