Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Micro Review [Film]: Equinox

Most Friday nights, Turner Classic Movies broadcasts an obscure, cult, or exploitation film as part of its TCM Underground series.

The Meat

Me and Equinox got off to a rocky start. It's not often that The Criterion Collection releases a B-movie, which it did with Equinox, so I was excited to see it pop up on the TCM Underground schedule. But then The Haunted Strangler happened. A late-career Boris Karloff vehicle, the Criterion release of The Haunted Strangler showed up at my house the day before Equinox aired, and I watched with increasing displeasure as this bizarre Karloff movie proceeded to swallow its own tail about 35 minutes in and just get more disjointed and worse from there. Having just been led astray by Criterion, when the first 10 minutes of Equinox proved totally inscrutable, I turned the thing off.

I poked around online to try to find out why this movie had been singled out for special attention, and I got an answer so unexpected that I gleefully waded through the murky (and slow...so, so slow) first 20 minutes of the movie to get to what makes it remarkable. It's definitely not the plot, where four kids go to the woods and...zzz...zzz...zzz...

Sorry. Look, you don't need to know what happens. Here's what's important: Dennis Muren -- the only living filmmaker with 9 Academy Awards to his name, the first visual effects artist to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a VFX pioneer who worked on five of six Star Wars movies, Terminator 2, and about 25 others -- co-wrote, directed, and created the stop-motion and effects shots in this movie right out of high school, on a budget of $6500. A lovely essay about the whole thing can be found over on the Criterion site. You have to slog through a whole lot of stilted dialogue, terrible ADR looping, exposition, and picnics before you get to it, but the stop-motion animation and other visual trickery that come in the second half of the film more than make it worth your while.

The Math

Objective Quality: 4/10

Bonuses: +1, hybridization of stop-motion and cel animation that no doubt makes Ray Harryhausen proud; +1, Muren's grandfather, who put up the money for the film, appears as the cackling -- and quite well kempt, I must say -- hermit who gives the poor, dumb kids a book of necromancy; +1, launching pad for arguably the most storied VFX career in Hollywood history; +1 for the film's connection to Forrest J. Ackerman and Famous Monsters of Film Land, which helped bring the collaborators together; +1, although not explicitly stated in any interview I could find, this film provided the clear inspiration for much of The Evil Dead, with many 1-for-1 parallels in terms of the magical book/Necronomicon, expository scenes, and animated shots.

Penalties: -1 for the nonsensical bookend narrative device about a reporter unable to find a story in this craziness about the dead kids with their crazy story about devil-worshipping park rangers and inter-dimensional rifts.

Cult Value Coefficient: 8/10

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]