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Equinox: The Criterion Edition

Every Criterion edition is imprinted with the sentence "The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, presents." This definition may be why some collectors have managed to purchase every title involved (including the out-of-print ones) — it's a label and a mantra. From the outset — and even by watching the film — 1970's Equinox wouldn't appear to be one of those films. It's a low-budget horror movie with bad acting and a couple good moments in a brief (82 min.) running-time. The story concerns four kids, David (Skip Shimer), Susan (Barbara Hewitt), Jim (Frank Boers Jr. aka Frank Bonner, who later starred in "WKRP in Cincinnati"), and Vicki (Robin Snider), who go on a camping trip where they find a ruined cabin, a castle on a cliff, a strange book, and an area that is some sort of temporal vortex. If things look weird, they get worse when a stop-motion creature comes after them and the book, because the book opened a dimension to evil. Everything here was done and done better by Sam Raimi with his breakout effort The Evil Dead (1982). But the importance of Equinox isn't the film itself, but the people who made it. The picture was put together by Forrest J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland readers Dennis Murren, Mark McGee, the late stop-motion animator David Allen, and matte photographer Jim Danforth in a 1967 version called Equinox… A Journey into the Supernatural. Shot for $6,500 over two-and-a-half years, it was a labor of love made by kids trying to emulate effects legends Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien. The 1970 version was producer Jack H. Woods's (best known for the also Criterionized The Blob) re-polish of the material to make it commercially viable. And though he padded out the original movie's anemic 71-min. running-time, what remains in both versions are the early effects sequences — which were done on a pauper's budget — that are still impressive. Though Equinox itself features many of the mistakes of amateur filmmaking, it was these men and their generation who revolutionized cinema, and Muren especially. He helped create the effects in Star Wars and filled them with TLC, and this title serves as the Rosetta Stone of the effects revolution, to which a through-line can be traced all the way to such recent blockbusters as Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds. On that level, it truly is canonical.

The Criterion Collection's two-disc DVD release of Equinox features both the 1967 and 1970 versions in their original Academy aspect ratios (1.33:1) with DD 1.0 audio. The 1970 version comes with a commentary with re-writer-re-director Jack Woods and producer Jack H. Harris, while the 1967 version features one by Dennis Murren, Mark McGee, and Jim Danforth. Disc One also comes with an introduction by Forrest J. Ackerman (6 min.). Disc Two offers "Monstrous Origins," which features outtakes (7 min.) and a Taurus Test (2 min.) with notes on both. "Dennis Muren interview" talks to one of the directors (8 min.), while "Cast Interviews" talks to Frank Bonner, Barbara Laughray and James Duron about the film (10 min.). Also included is the goofy silent short film "Zorgon: The H-Bomb Beast From Hell" (9 min.). In the "David Allen Appreciation section is Allen's short film "The Magic Treasure" (19 min.), an appreciation of it, and Allen's Volkswagen commercial (1 min.), along with test footage (1 min.). Production stills, a promotional gallery, the film's trailer, and two radio spots round out the set. Dual-DVD keep-case.
—DSH



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