Saturday, October 15, 2016

Film Review: Equinox

** 1\2 (out of ****)

The battle between good and evil is astronomical in the science-fiction horror movie "Equinox" (1970).

There is a somewhat good chance you have heard of "Equinox" if you like "B" midnight movies (is there any other kind?). "Equinox" has gained a reputation over the years as a clever student film, made on a budget of $6,500, and makes pretty good use of stop-motion special effects, recalling the work of Ray Harryhausen and films like "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), with its other worldly creatures.

As as student film, you have to give filmmakers Dennis Muren and Jack Woods credit. But as an actual motion picture, to be seen by a wide audience, in which people must pay to see this, there is no denying the movie lacks in writing, directing, acting and production values. The student filmmaker in me (I studied film in college) admires what was done here but the movie critic in me can't turn a blind eye to the movie's flaws. The movie was not ready for prime time so to speak. However, I would rather watch this again than the original "Blair Witch Project" (1999).

The plot follows four college students; David (Edward Connell), Susan (Barbara Hewitt), Jim (Frank Bonner Jr.) and Vicki (Robin Christopher) who travel to the woods to find a professor, Dr. Waterman (Fritz Leiber). When they arrive they notice Dr. Waterman's cabin has been destroyed and the doctor is missing. A strangle castle appears and disappears, noises are heard coming from a cave, and a weird cop (Jack Woods) turns up at the oddest moments, checking in on the kids. Where did Dr. Waterman go? What is causing the noise in the cave? What destroyed the cabin? The answers may be found in a book the students discover about the occult. Is there a demonic spirit nearby?

"Equinox" (what a terrible title. Equinox is an astronomic term) has good intentions and means to be a movie to be taken serious yet the poor writing, which leads to lackluster performances, borderlines on campy with its awkward 1970s gender stereotypes, making it more of a time capsule.

At the same time you'd hate to be too critical of the movie, given the circumstances concerning the budget and the fact it was made outside the Hollywood system. However, no matter how generous I'd like to be the movie doesn't quite succeed as either complete science-fiction or horror. There are not enough scares in the movie to qualify as a true horror film.

Acting, screenplay and directing aside, the real star of "Equinox" is the special effects. That is what the majority of movie goers will be responding to after they have seen this movie and what will remain the most memorable. Many may say the effects look cheap and unrealistic. That may be true but it may also be missing the point. What does a monster realistically look like? The creatures seen hear will make viewers either think of Ray Harryhausen or if they don't recognize the name it will make them think of "King Kong" (1933). While it may not look realistic it adds to the fantasy quality of the movie.

But the effects may not be enough to save the movie. The human performances lack in emotion and sometimes motive. These aren't believable characters. We have an acting style here that I have always referred to as "normal people pretending to act normal in a way they believe other normal people think is normal". At least that is the technical term. Translation - the actors want to behave in a naturalistic way, retaining a sense of realism to their performances, yet, the characters don't speak or behave like anyone I know. All I see when watching the movie are actors giving a performance not a slice of life.

There was plenty of potential for "Equinox" and forgive me for saying this, but a Hollywood remake wouldn't entirely be a bad idea. I wouldn't care if they left the special effects as they were but better actors and better dialogue would greatly improve the movie.

"Equinox" may please fan movie fans but I can't imagine it would be a large majority. The rest may notice a few good points but come away feeling the movie feels more like a draft than a completed project.