Equinox (also known as The Equinox... A Journey into the Supernatural, and released on home video as The Beast) is a 1970 American independent horror film directed by Jack Woods and Dennis Muren, and starring Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Bonner and Robin Christopher. The plot focuses on four teenagers having a picnic in the canyons of California who stumble upon an ancient book containing secrets of a strange world that exists alongside humans, and consequently unleash a plethora of evil creatures and monsters.
Made on a budget of a mere $6,500 in 1967, Equinox initially gained a reputation as a midnight movie during its theatrical run, but has in later years been noted for its economical yet sophisticated use of stop-motion special effects and cel animation, which were provided by Dave Allen and Jim Danforth; the latter later worked on Flesh Gordon, in which he animated a giant monster similar to the ones in Equinox. The film has been influential to the horror and sci-fi monster genres, receiving praise from filmmaker George Lucas and effects artist Ray Harryhausen; it was also noted as a main inspiration for Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1983). It was released on DVD by The Criterion Collection in 2006.
Four young adults – David (Connell), Susan (Hewitt), Jim (Bonner) and Jim's girlfriend, Vicki (Robin Christopher) – head into the woods to look for a lost scientist, Dr. Arthur Waterman (Leiber). The friends have a picnic and glimpse a mysterious castle in the woods. They find that Dr. Waterman's cabin seems to have been destroyed. A forest ranger (Woods), who is Asmodeus in human form, watches over the teenagers. When the group stumbles into a cave, a strange old man (Irving L. Lichtenstein) presents them with an ancient book filled with magical lore and symbols. Asmodeus sends monsters – a giant ape-like creature and a green-skinned, fur-clad giant (Jim Duron) – to retrieve the book from them at all costs. The ape-like creature kills the old man. The castle seems to have disappeared, however the friends discover that it has been rendered invisible by magic.
After killing Jim, Asmodeus reveals his true form, that of a winged red demon. Asmodeus kills Vicki and then attacks Dave and Susan. Dave and Susan flee to a cemetery and destroy the demon with a cross. As it dies, the cemetery explodes, killing Susan. Dave sees a shadowy giant who prophesies that Dave will be dead in one year and one day. Dave loses his sanity, and is confined to a mental hospital. One year and one day later, an evil-faced Susan arrives at the hospital to visit him.
The film concludes with end credits saying "The End?" leaving the audience to wonder if the story will ever continue and if Susan is still possessed by Asmodeus.Edward Connell as David Fielding
Barbara Hewitt as Susan Turner
Frank Bonner as Jim Hudson (as Frank Boers Jr.)
Robin Christopher as Vicki
Jack Woods as Asmodeus
Fritz Leiber as Dr. Arthur Waterman
James Philips as Reporter Sloan (as Jim Philips)
Patrick Burke as Branson
Jim Duron as Orderly and Green Giant
Norvelle Brooks as Detective Harrison
Irving L. Lichtenstein as Old Man
Jim Danforth as Orderly with Syringe (uncredited)
Forrest J Ackerman as Doctor Johansson, on tape recorder (voice) (uncredited)
While studying business at Pasadena City College, Dennis Muren spent $6500 to make The Equinox... A Journey into the Supernatural' (at that time, a short science fiction film) with friends Dave Allen and Jim Danforth. Tonylyn Productions, a small film company, liked the film enough to distribute it. Producer Jack H. Harris hired film editor Jack Woods to direct additional footage in order to make Equinox into a feature-length movie. When the feature-length, retitled Equinox was released on October 1, 1970, Muren was credited as associate producer in spite of having directed much of the film and creating the special effects himself. The movie made enough money for Muren to recoup his investment.
The film included a cameo from author Fritz Leiber as Dr. Waterman, who was signed via the auspices of Forrest J Ackerman; Ackerman's voice is heard on a tape recorder during the hospital scenes in the movie. Leiber has no spoken lines in the film, only four scenes: one in which he is seen driving; a scene in which he grabs the book from the young people and runs away with it through the woods, a death scene in which his body mysteriously disappears; and a flashback in which we see him reading through the book and descending the stairs of his forest hideaway while a tentacled creature tears it apart.
Due to the similarities in their plots, Equinox is believed to have inspired Evil Dead, yet this has not been confirmed. It was seen by members of the crew of Evil Dead before production:
"I had seen Equinox at least twice in drive-ins before making Evil Dead. I don't recall having discussed it with [Evil Dead director] Sam Raimi, but the similarities are remarkable. I think they come from the low-budget nature of both films. That is, a few characters, an isolated, inexpensive location, and ambitious special effects. All in all, Equinox did inspire me to continue my goal of making movies. 'If they can do it...'" —Tom Sullivan, special effects and makeup artist for the Evil Dead movies, as quoted in the booklet included with the Criterion DVD set, "Backyard Monsters: Equinox and the Triumph of Love" by Brock Deshane.
Equinox was released on DVD in June 2006 as release 338 in The Criterion Collection, including both the theatrical version and Muren's original production, the first time the latter was officially released.