Also known as The Equinox … A Journey into the Supernatural and The Beast, this movie was directed by Jack Woods and Dennis Muren. It started as a $6500 film that Muren made with his friends Dave Allen, Jim Danforth and Mark McGee while he was in business classes at Pasadena City College. Strangely enough, Ed Bagley Jr. was one of the cameramen!
Producer Jack H. Harris hired Woods, an editor, to add enough footage to make this a full length film. When the final movie was released, Muren was listed as the associate producer, even though he directed the entire movie and created much of the effects.
Four teenagers — David Fielding, Susan Turner, Jim Hudson (Frank Bonner, who would go on to be Herb Tarlek on WKRP in Cincinnati) and Jim’s girlfriend, Vicki — have gone looking for a lost scientist named Dr. Arthur Waterman, who is played by Fritz Leiber. Leiber isn’t just any actor. Nope, he’s one of the foremost fantasy authors of all time and the person who actually came up with the term sword and sorcery. He was brought into this project by Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman.
They have a picnic — as you do when you’re in the foreboding woods — then make their way to a mysterious castle. They also learn that Dr. Waterman’s cabin has been destroyed and even worse, the demon Asmodeus (played by Jack Woods, the new director, when he’s a park ranger at least) is hunting them with his army of monsters. He really goes after them once they get a book of spells from an old man inside a cave. Those monsters — a giant ape and a green-furred giant — are marvels of stop-motion. Our heroes barely escape as the ape kills the old man.
It turns out that the book belonged to Dr. Waterman, who used it to conjure up demons of his own, but lost control of a tentacled beast which destroyed is home. After Asmodeus kills Jim, he reveals his true form of a winged demon. Dave and Susan are killed before our remaining teens, Dave and Susan, make their way to a cemetery.
After a battle with Asmodeus, they destroy the demon with a giant cross, which causes the cemetery to explode, killing Susan. Another giant monster appears and tells Dave that he will die in one year and a day, which drives him insane. The movie quickly moves to that time, where we see Susan — now looking totally evil — showing up at his insane asylum.
The entire crew that made this movie did so much more afterward. Muren would go on to become a nine-time Oscar-winning visual-effects artist for his work on Star Wars and Jurassic Park. Danforth would create matte work and stop motion work for The Thing, Creepshow, Clash of the Titans and Prince of Darkness amongst others. Mark McGee, who was in high school when he worked on this film and already writing for Famous Monsters (he’s the one who got the connected with Leiber and brought Forry along to be a doctor’s voice) wrote the scripts for Sorority House Massacre II and Sorceress, both movies directed by Jim Wynorski. Finally, David Allen would go on to work on everything from Flesh Gordon, Laserblast and The Howling to Full Moon efforts like the Puppet Master series and The Dungeonmaster.
You can see the influence of Equinox on movies like Evil Dead and Phantasm. It’s the bridge between the Ray Harryhausen stop motion movies they loved and the occult-tinged efforts that would make up 1970’s genre films. This is a movie packed with ideas and talent.
You can watch Equinox as part of the Criterion Collection.