Criterion Catch-Up, Part 4: EQUINOX!!

If you guys were worried that you wouldn't find any crazy, old school cult horror films on DVDExotica during our Criterion Catch-Up, don't worry fam, I got you.  This is 1970's Equinox/ 1967's The Equinox... A Journey Into the Supernatural, a film Sam Raimi has famously denied ever seeing before filming The Evil Dead.  But Tim Sullivan, Evil Dead's effects artist, talks in Criterion's booklet about having seen this film multiple times before working on Evil Dead, and remarks on the similarities.  Not that I'm suggesting the one is a rip off of the other or anything, but there's definitely some kind of worthwhile connection to draw between the works.  It's also important for having birthed the careers of Dennis Muren, who went on to do the effects for Steven Speilberg films from E.T. to Jurassic Park, and beloved stop motion animator David Allen.  I mean, that Criterion booklet doesn't just talk to guys like Sullivan and Ray Harryhausen, it has a forward by George Lucas himself.  There's a reason this oddball little flick made it into Criterion's hallowed halls, as opposed to smaller cult labels of its peers.
But forget about who it inspired or whose careers it launched; this film stands on its own.  Well, sort of anyway.  It's a lot of fun, but also super low budget and indie.  Think Return Of the Alien's Deadly Spawn, not Ridley Scott's Alien.  If you're not prepared for amateur acting, clunky photography, dated fashion and focus issues, then you're not in the right place to come to this picture.  But on the other hand, if you're in the mood to see ambitious plot, a great collection of monsters, innovative special effects, and to quote the film's trailer, "the supernatural before your very eyes," then Equinox is the movie for you!
After a prologue where a man is run over by a mysterious car and taken to a mental institution, we flash back to when he and three other supposed teenagers decided to take a trip to an isolated cabin in the woods.  Unfortunately for them, it turns out that cabin was owned by an old professor who read from the Necronomicon, unleashing an army of evil monsters.  When a crazy old man in a cave hands the quartet this book of the dead, they crack it open and read from it, too.  A stern forest ranger soon reveals himself to be Asmodeus, king of the demons, who uses his magic ring to summon monsters to help him reclaim the book and possess the teens' souls.  Or alternatively, there is no ranger/ demon king villain, depending on which version of the film you watch.
Yeah, I should explain that this release contains two versions of the film.  There's the original, 1967 version, which runs just over 70 minutes long and is very obscure/ rarely seen.  That's the one called The Equinox... A Journey Into the Supernatural.  Then there's the 1970 re-edit, where producer Jack H. Harris (The Blob) rehired some of the actors and filmed new scenes, bringing the running time up to about 82 minutes.  He's also the producer who bought and funded the expansion of Dark Star.  Anyway, that version was just titled Equinox.  It played in drive-ins and is the version most fans would've been familiar with.  Frankly, I prefer the expanded version.   It's still pretty short, adds some more craziness, and adds some more drama to the story, giving it a little more weight (despite how cheesy it is) than the shorter version, which feels more like just some events that happened, strung together chronologically.  But thanks to Criterion, you don't have to choose.
1970 cut on top; 1967 cut below.
The two versions of the film were clearly sourced from different elements.  The 1970 cut was restored from the 35mm negative of the original 16mm blow-up.  But the rarer, 1967 version had to be reassembled from the 16mm duplicate negative, 16mm composite prints, and in a few shots, an old, interlaced VHS tape was spliced back in.  I don't understand why they used the VHS footage when the same shots seem to exist in much better quality in the 1970 cut, but as you see, that's what they've done.  Anyway, thankfully it's the fuller, better cut of the film that has the consistently higher quality transfer, and the shorter cut is there more just as a curiosity piece, so fans can see how the film transformed.

Both versions are in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, though the shorter cut fluctuates slightly to 1.32:1, and you can see the framing differs a bit around the edges.  They feature fairly clean mono tracks with optional English subtitles.
And wait 'till you see their incredible collection of supplements!  This is a 2-disc set, and it's not because of the two (short) versions of the film.  First off, both versions feature audio commentaries.  Jack Harris and the writer/ director of the expanded version, Jack Woods, who also played Asmodeus, handle the 1970 version, while the original writer/ director and producers Mark McGee and Dennis Muren narrate their original cut, along with effects technician Jim Danforth.  Having both cuts of the film restored with these two commentaries is already more than anyone could ask for, but it's just the beginning.

The great Forrest J. Ackerman, who has a subtle cameo in this film, provides a nice, video introduction.  There are on-camera interviews with the stars Frank Bonner (yes, the same one from WKRP in Cincinatti and Just the Ten Of Us), Barbara Hewitt, James Duron, as well as Muren.  There are additional outtakes and deleted scenes and  an early film by the Equinox crew called Zorgon: The H-Bomb Beast from Hell.  We also get early stop-motion projects by Allen, including a Volkswagon commercial with King Kong and a 20-minute children's story called The Magic Treasure.  And that's rounded out with a photo gallery, two radio spots and the theatrical trailer, plus the 30-page booklet I mentioned at the start.  Plus, the booklet includes a link to a bonus essay written by Allen himself.
Criterion really went all-out on this one.  It's from 2006, so yes, this is DVD-only, but that's alright considering this movie is already in 16mm with a lot of degrading optical effects, shaky handheld camera-work and even focus issues.  Sure, a new 4k scan in HD would still resolve the grain better, and look a little nicer on your big, 65" TVs; but I'd prioritize upgrading just about every other film in existence before this one.  This film definitely isn't for everyone, but if it's for you, I sure wouldn't let holding out for a blu allow me to miss out on this wild set.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE this film. I bought this edition when it first came out and devoured it in a few days. I have since watched the film every few years and still love it.

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