Cast & Crew
Frank Boers Jr.
A newspaper reporter writing a story on psychiatric patient David Fielding watches him become violent after being shown a picture of his geology professor, Dr. Waterman. The reporter learns David's story from a tape recorded when the patient was admitted a year earlier. After receiving a frantic message from Dr. Waterman, David and three friends (Susan, Jim, and Vickie) arrive at the professor's demolished mountain cabin. Notified of the professor's disappearance, forest ranger Asmodeus promises to investigate. While exploring a cave, the youths are given an ancient book by an old man; later, it is snatched away by a crazed man, revealed to be Waterman. Although the professor dies when chased by David and Jim, his corpse mysteriously vanishes when the foursome are reunited. After Susan is attacked by Asmodeus, who flees when he sees her crucifix, the youths examine the old book and learn it is an occult bible, concerned with devil worship. After rescuing the girls from an ape-like monster, Jim separates from the rest and confronts Asmodeus. The ranger reveals himself to be the Devil and demands the book, but Jim flashes an occult symbol at him and escapes. Chased by another monster through an invisible barrier to a supernatural world, Jim is mesmerized and possessed by Asmodeus. David follows and retrieves the book, but learns that the professor's translations of the bible have uncovered the secrets of the supernatural world. Asmodeus kills the girls, who are fleeing with the book, and places a death curse on David. Neither the doctor nor the reporter believes David's story and suspect him of murdering his friends. As the reporter leaves the hospital, a supernatural being, disguised as one of David's dead friends, arrives to kill David.
Frank Boers Jr.
Irving L. Lichenstein
Howard A. Anderson Co.
Ed Begley Jr.
John Caper Jr.
Jack H. Harris
Jack H. Harris
Ben Harwood Jr.
Mark Thomas Mcgee
Mark Thomas Mcgee
Mark Thomas Mcgee
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, fans of old science fiction and monster movies were a fringe group. Today, the latest news from "fandom" circles such as the San Diego Comic Con are flashed across mainstream media and the internet; earlier generations of fans - made up of the type of kids who would rather stay home on Friday and watch a rare Universal horror movie from the 1930s than go to the local football game - had a more difficult time finding each other. When like-minded monster fans got together, they often compared notes, traded issues of monster magazines, comics, and trading cards, and the more ambitious among them might screen movies in 8mm or 16mm formats. This early fandom was also an artistic bunch - they were encouraged at the very least to build and paint Aurora models of their favorite monsters, including Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Other "Monster Kids" (as this generation dubbed themselves in retrospect) were interested in makeup, and might have attempted to recreate the Hollywood makeups of their favorite monsters, or come up with their own designs. Monster Kids lucky enough to have a movie camera in the house might spend weekends making their own monster home movies; those with a penchant for makeup would cast friends as monsters, while those interested in models and the films of stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen might stay indoors and create tabletop miniature scenes to film.
One meeting place for these kids was within the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, edited by the legendary Forest J. Ackerman. The magazine began in 1958, shortly after the classic Universal horror pictures were first syndicated to television. Heavy on photos, including behind-the-scenes pictures of makeup artists like Jack Pierce, effects artists like Harryhausen, and directors like James Whale, Famous Monsters was a friendly focal point for the kids that were absorbing the classic movies on TV. Dennis Muren and his friend Mark Thomas McGee were both featured in stories in the magazine (McGee as a writer and Muren in a feature focusing on his collection of memorabilia), and through an ad proclaiming "Kalling all you King Kong lovers!" they met David Allen, a young stop-motion animator. In 1965 the three Los Angeles-area friends began work on an ambitious project for a group of students: a feature-length special effects film shot in 16mm.
McGee built his script around a couple of the animation models that Allen already had created, including an alien-looking simian called Taurus. (Models for stop-motion animation are very intricate and consist of a ball-and-socket metal armature covered with foam latex skin). Using the British classic Night of the Demon (1957 aka Curse of the Demon) as inspiration, McGee's script concerned a group of teenagers who must do battle with monsters and demons from another dimension for possession of a mystical book.
The actors were gathered from a variety of sources. The male leads, Edward Connell and Frank Bonner (aka Frank Boers, Jr.) responded to an ad. Female lead Barbara Hewitt was a classmate of Muren's and, as he later admitted, "the prettiest girl in school." For the key role of Dr. Waterman, Forry Ackerman suggested the writer Fritz Leiber. (In addition to his editing duties for Famous Monsters and other magazines, Ackerman was a longtime agent for Leiber and other authors of horror and science fiction). Ackerman himself provided the voice for a scientist heard on a tape recorder. In the most touching bit of casting, Muren cast his grandfather (whose money made the film possible) as a crazed hermit in a cave who hands the book over to the teenagers. Muren later said that his grandfather could not remember the dialogue, so he just recited "Mary had a little lamb" instead, knowing that dialogue would be looped in after.
The filmmakers used a 16mm silent Bolex camera and Ektachrome film. The wind-up camera limited shots to only 30 seconds for each take. According to Muren, the footage was shot cut-for-cut, meaning that scenes had no real "coverage," or shots of the same scenes taken from different angles to provide a variety of footage available for editing. The special effects were cleverly done, and Muren and animator Allen took pains to avoid image degradation during effects shots. For a sequence in which a blue-tinged giant enters from an inter-dimensional portal, the effects were done in-camera using forced perspective; the actor playing the giant stood on a picnic table placed several feet closer to the camera than the other actors - the tabletop was disguised to match the background. Muren also called on Jim Danforth, a professional who had worked on such films as Jack the Giant Killer (1962) and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), to execute some matte paintings for Equinox. These were also shot in-camera, by painting on glass situated between the camera and the real background - a technique that dated to the earliest days of filmmaking.
Through perseverance and hard weekend work, the 16mm film The Equinox... A Journey into the Supernatural was completed, including all post-production dubbing, foley sound effects, titles, and an original music score. The two-and-a-half year project was screened for family and friends, following which Muren and Allen brought it around town to show to studios and independent producers. Muren walked into the door of low-budget producer Jack H. Harris, famous for his independent horror and science fiction films The Blob (1958), 4D Man (1959), and Dinosaurus! (1960), to tout his skills in special effects. Harris asked Muren if he had a sample reel, and was astounded when Muren handed him a feature film as his "sample." Harris immediately saw release potential; he admired the effects work and he felt the simple teenagers-duel-the-devil story was marketable.
Harris set about reshaping the film for theatrical distribution. He reassembled the main cast of four teenagers and brought in Jack Woods to discuss how to flesh out the film. Woods' experience was primarily in editing, on films ranging from the exploitation of Beach Ball (1965) and Out of Sight (1966) to such highly-regarded independent productions as John Cassavetes' Faces (1968) and Husbands (1970). For the Equinox film Woods took on scriptwriting, directing, and even acting duties. He also shot in 16mm to match the previous footage, and added a major character - a more human representation of evil that arrives in the guise of a park ranger named Asmodeus who encounters the kids. Perhaps in a bid to match the non-actors already on view, Woods cast himself in the role despite Harris' initial desire to hire Robert Lansing for the part. (As it turned out, Woods is easily the worst actor in the film).
The resulting reconfigured project was blown up to 35mm, given a new music score, a title shortened to just Equinox, and clocked in at 80 minutes long. Jack Woods is given sole credit as writer and director. Harris' version of the film was released in October 1970, fully five years after Muren and his friends had begun to shoot the original project. Not long after, ads appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine offering 8mm condensations of the film for home viewing, alongside ads for 8mm versions of the classic Universal horror films and 1950s science fiction and fantasy epics that inspired Muren, McGee and Allen in the first place.
Muren would later say, "In the 1960s and 70s, a number of us, with the advent of 16mm film equipment... made these little films that represented what we grew up watching on TV, and that's certainly where Equinox came from, and John Carpenter's Dark Star (1974), John Landis' Schlock (1973), and George [Lucas]... on THX-1138 (1971), and it's all kind of the same sort of thing... It wouldn't have happened if the gear hadn't gotten cheap enough that we could do it, and if we hadn't grown up and been able to watch TV and see movies over and over again and figure out how they were made - we wouldn't have known how to do it. Some of us were pretty impatient and impulsive or whatever and actually took our dreams and did it."
Muren went on to work on effects for Lucas' Star Wars (1977) and its sequels while becoming a mainstay at Industrial Light and Magic, earning Oscars® for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Abyss (1989), and Jurassic Park (1993), among others. David Allen (1944-1999) provided stop-motion animation to many projects, including When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), Laserblast (1978), Caveman (1981), Q (1982), and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). Of the actors, Frank Boers, Jr. changed his name to Frank Bonner and went on to fame costarring in WRKP in Cincinnati (1978-1982) and other series, and the assistant camera operator on the added footage was the son of Hollywood character actor Ed Begley, who was concurrently starting his long acting career under the name Ed Begley, Jr.
Producer: Jack H. Harris
Director: Jack Woods; Mark Thomas McGee (co-director, uncredited); Dennis Muren (uncredited)
Screenplay: Jack Woods; Mark Thomas McGee (story)
Cinematography: Mike Hoover
Music: Jaime Mendoza-Nava (uncredited)
Film Editing: John Joyce
Cast: Edward Connell (David Fielding), Barbara Hewitt (Susan Turner), Frank Boers, Jr. (Jim Hudson), Robin Christopher (Vicki), Jack Woods (Asmodeus), James Phillips (Reporter Sloan), Fritz Leiber (Dr. Arthur Waterman), Patrick Burke (Branson), Jim Duron (Orderly), Sharon Gray.
by John M. Miller
Backyard Monsters: Equinox and the Triumph of Love, by Brock Deshane, Booklet essay from The Criterion Collection DVD release of Equinox, 2006.
Commentary track with Dennis Muren, Mark McGee, and Jim Danforth from The Criterion Collection DVD release of Equinox, 2006.
Commentary track with Jack Woods and Jack H. Harris The Criterion Collection DVD release of Equinox, 2006.
Equinox - EQUINOX - 1970 Cult Thriller Gets The Deluxe Criterion Treatment on DVD
In 1968 or '69 young Dennis Muren brought his finished 16mm feature film to the independent producer Jack H. Harris, who realized that with some additional polish it might be made into a viable exploitation release. Muren probably never saw any money from the deal and was grateful just to have his work distributed. That's the reality for 99% of first-time semi-amateurs, a class of filmmaker not usually considered ideal Criterion subject matter.
Criterion's Equinox presents a movie we'd sooner expect to find in a $4.00 bargain bin. The difference is the disc's extras, the best chronicle I've yet seen of the 1960s "monster kid" phenomenon: Young enthusiasts motivated by articles in Forrest Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine to create their own fantastic make-ups and special effects. A goodly percentage of today's top special effects talent came from this generation. Equinox is being given special edition treatment primarily because Dennis Muren went on to become a top man at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic.
Equinox is an awkward amateur production graced with some impressive special effects scenes. The story is strikingly similar to the later horror film The Evil Dead: College students and a weird old professor find a demonic book that conjures demons and monsters from another world. The interest for fantasy film fans naturally revolves around the effects tricks of Muren, animator Dave Allen and matte painter Jim Danforth. Their work contributes a live-action green giant, a sloth-like tusked demon and a harpy-like flying devil. Clever forced-perspective techniques are combined with stop-motion animation modeled after the work of Ray Harryhausen, the patron saint of special effects fans. Filmed mostly in 16mm, the often-tacky illusions nevertheless display a keen knowledge of technique and an artful spirit.
As for the rest of the show, the performances range from personable (Frank Bonner, later of WKRP in Cincinnatti) to just what we'd expect, amiably terrible. This is the level of filmmaking spoofed in John Landis' 1972 Schlock. Acting talent is almost irrelevant. One actor offers the information that his character motivation was limited to trying to remember whether or not he wore a sweater in the last shot.
In the heyday of independent monster movies, whenever an unlucky production hit the financial skids, a company like American-International would be there to snap it up for a song. Jack H. Harris definitely saw Equinox as a financial opportunity, and this disc allows us to compare the film before and after he reworked it for a 35mm theatrical release.
Criterion's two-disc set contains two versions of Equinox. Disc producers Brock DeShane and Curtis Tsui show their understanding of the monster-kid Zeitgeist with a fine selection of extras. Monster cult figure Forrest J. "Dr. Ackula" Ackerman introduces the picture and comes off as a lovable, ditzy old horror host. "4-E" talks more about himself than he does the legion of kids he inspired and is quick to mention his many cameo roles over the years.
The theatrical release version is a polished HD transfer with good color. The image has some dirt but is otherwise in fine shape. It carries a commentary by Jack H. Harris and Jack Woods, the writer-director of revised and additional scenes. Harris presents himself as a grand old man of the cinema while Woods details his overhaul of another director's movie.
The original 1967 version Equinox ... A Journey into the Supernatural is a good transfer of original negative elements with a brief couple of inserts from inferior sources. Muren's film is quite different from the Jack Harris version and more fun to watch. It credits Muren's faithful crew members, most of whom were deleted from the Jack H. Harris version.
The original co-directors Dennis Muren and Mark McGee join Jim Danforth in a commentary. Since they've all become seasoned professionals their hindsight observations are particularly insightful; they're amused by Equinox's lapses of logic but proud of their accomplishment just the same. To illustrate his priorities at the time, Muren says he had purchased tickets to see the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl but didn't go so he could work on this movie instead.
Disc two is packed with supplemental goodies. Clips from old home movies accompany a new interview with Dennis Muren. He remembers meeting Forry as a teenager and asking director Don Siegel for career advice. Muren still likes the craft and invention of doing things the old way; he respects CGI effects but considers them synthetic.
Cast members Frank Bonner, Barbara Hewitt and James Duron talk about returning to shoot new material for the Harris version. Duron played the green giant in the forced perspective setup by standing on a picnic table. Leading lady Hewitt became a Pasadena Rose Queen.
Outakes from Equinox reveal a cast and crew of cute 1960s kids - wonderfully klunky and self-conscious suburban types, some wearing pocket protectors. The tall one is Dennis Muren. The trims include outs of effects work and were saved by co-director Mark McGee. We get to see him mug at the camera.
Next up is Zorgon: The H-Bomb Beast from Hell, a short 1972 amateur film filmed by Kevin Fernan in Bronson Caverns. The movie stars the crew of Muren's film and other effects notables: Mark McGee, Danforth, Allen, Jon Berg and even Bill Hedge. In a conspicuous role is Susan Turner. Makeup effects master Rick Baker shows up as well, which explains the monster Zorgon's distinctive "Octaman" feet. The silly ending features David Allen's impression of Paul Blaisdell in Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow.
An "Appreciation" section is the best testament yet to the stop-motion animator David Allen. The "Taurus test" is Allen's 1964 test animation reel with two puppets later used in Equinox. Allen's famous Volkswagen commercial features a reconstructed scene from King Kong. Also included is Allen's technically polished animated Fairy Tale The Magic Treasure. The show has excellent settings and nicely stylized characters. Text notes on David Allen are provided by Chris Endicott, an associate who has been working for years on effects for Allen's unfinished The Primevals movie, one shot at a time.
A lavish notes and stills section contains many interesting photos and documents of the shoot and Muren's career beginnings as a contributor to Famous Monsters and other fan magazines. A fat booklet has a welcome essay from Brock DeShane.
For more information about Equinox, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Equinox, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Equinox - EQUINOX - 1970 Cult Thriller Gets The Deluxe Criterion Treatment on DVD
I wouldn't know a catatonic comma if it bit me!- Jim Hudson
That's a whole lifetime of nightmares.- David Fielding
Originally a student film project by Dennis Muren.
Location scenes filmed in Big Foot Forest, Tujunga, California, and in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. In 1968 Harris bought the rights to The Equinox, a 71-min film registered for copyright by Berkshire Productions. Leaving intact the special effects, Harris shot additional footage-which comprised 60% of the release length-adding the character Asmodeus and rearranging some details of the story. Actors Skip Shimer and Robin Snider changed their names to Edward Connell and Robin Christopher, respectively. The original material was shot in 16mm; Harris' footage was shot in 16mm and 35mm.
Released in United States 1970
Released in United States 1970