Equinox (1970)

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*. How can you not be charmed by this classic piece of backyard filmmaking, the product of a bunch of young people just having fun, experimenting with different technical possibilities, and coming up with some real innovations along the way. It’s primitive, but also sweetly innocent.
*. It is, however, an innocence steeped in film. Every part of it seems a nod to some previous production, with the main source of inspiration being the B-movie monster flicks that the makers watched on late-night television and followed in fanzines. Out of this same ground would spring Carpenter, Landis, Lucas, and others.
*. And the torch is passed on. Equinox is such an obvious influence on The Evil Dead that at times it’s striking. I mean parts of it are direct visual quotes. But Raimi has never commented on the connection.
*. Another lineal descendant is Coscarelli’s Phantasm, especially with the business of people being sucked through an invisible barrier into an off-colour dimension populated by mysterious hooded figures.
*. A thought experiment: What make this Criterion Collection title all that different from the low-budget, drive-in trash lovingly restored by Something Weird Video? The acting, script, direction, and sound quality are all similarly wretched. About the direction (at least of the 1967 version) the best the makers can claim on the commentary is “a certain amount of craft, of a mechanical sort,” while the script is dismissed as downright laughable.
*. The quick answer to my question would be the quality of the special effects. It’s truly amazing what was achieved here on such a limited budget (I believe the initial production came in under $7,000). Yes, some of the visuals are crude. But it’s no accident that the person involved who went on to have the most successful career, Dennis Muren, was an FX man.
*. There’s a terrific dark ending too, that beautifully closes the frame narrative.
*. It would be easy, but nonetheless accurate, to say that the rest of the movie is only a prop for showcasing a handful of set-piece monster scenes. Even in the 71-minute original, The Equinox . . . A Journey into the Supernatural, there are several talky “filler” episodes that have no purpose at all except to pad out the running time.
*. Isn’t it odd that none of the kids thinks anything of a sheriff who introduces himself as Asmodeus?
*. Did Jack H. Harris and Jack Woods help the movie when they added material to make it more commercially viable? They certainly made some quite significant changes, for example adding all of the Asmodeus stuff and cutting a number of the filler scenes. Overall, I think they did improve it, though some of the innocence of the original was lost and what was added has a sulfurous air of exploitation about it.

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