Creatures and Herb

Baby, did you ever wonder
wonder what I did before TV
 starring in a student film movie
before Cincinnati , and WKRP

There's giant beasts and a satanic ranger
Creepy caves and demon things in flight
I'm pretty sure this is not a safe place to be
I'd much rather be on Nick at Night 
on WKRP in Cincinnati.

Ahh, yes, WKRP, one of my personal favorite shows, and what's equally great about it is that almost everyone in the cast has shown up in some cult goodies. Gary Sandy who played Andy appeared in Troll, Howard Hessman, good old Johnny Fever, was the pimp in Doctor Detroit,  Loni Anderson (Jennifer) was in Munchie, and Richard Sanders (Les) was in Billy Jack Goes to Washington. So you might just wonder, what about Frank Bonner? Surely, Herb Tarlak was in something strange, and of course you'd be right. 

Equinox (1970) starring Edward Connell, Frank Bonner, Barbara Hewitt, Robin Christopher, and Jack Woods. Directed by Jack Woods (and Dennis Muren). 

Thats fight, folks, before Herb Tarlek ever sported a single plaid blazer Frank Bonner got his start in this student film. The film was originally made by Dennis Muren (who later became a major special effects artist at ILM working on films such as Star Wars, T2, and Jurassic Park), and then he managed to sell it to producer Jack H. Harris (The Blob) who brought in Jack Woods to film additional footage for the film. Woods even put a role into the film of the villainous park ranger, Asmodeus. The Criterion Collection disks now out of Equinox actually contains the theatrical release of the film as well as the original student movie. 

The film opens up with a bang, literally. There's a big explosion and a guy falls to the ground. He looks back and yells "Susan" and we are shown a pair of bloody legs in Capri pants. Since it doesn't look like Susan has made it, the young man gets up and runs up to the highway to flag down a car. Unfortunately for him, there's only a driverless car that tries to run him over. The only reason the angered auto doesn't finish the job is that a car full of actual people come along and help the guy.

Cut to one year later and a reporter going to a sanitarium. There were kids found dead in those woods a year ago, and he's looking to do a follow up story on the only living survivor, David. Sadly, David has gone off the deep end and has become totally unresponsive. So David's doctor sits the newsman down and lets him listen to a tape of what David said when he was admitted. In the student film version, the doctor's voice on the interview tape is provided by Forrest J. Ackerman himself. As the story unfolds, we learn that David and his friend Jim (Frank Bonner) had planned to take a couple of girls, Vicky and Susan,  out for a picnic, but David had gotten a frenzied call from his geology professor, Dr. Waterman, to come up to his cabin. So they just roll the two activities up together. 

When they arrive at the cabin, it appears to be crushed as if it had been caved in by something. Creepy forest ranger Asmodeus shows up and says that it must have been a boulder, and he saw Dr Waterman go back to town yesterday. With those plans down the tubes, the kids look around for somewhere for a nice picnic, first Vicky wanders off and finds a castle up in the hillside then while they're looking around  they find a cave with spooky laughter coming out of it. So what's a red blooded bunch of American teens going to to, well, investigate it of course. Inside they find a weird hermit fellow who forces them to take a large leather bound book that seemingly he's plenty happy to be rid of. When they get back out of the cave Vicky finds some strange footprints on the ground that look like giant cloven hooves, but no time to worry about that it's time to get their KFC on. 

While they munch on chicken they get the book open and examine the strange texts inside. They're not making much headway with it when Dr. Waterman shows up and snatches the book away. The guys chase after the Doc down a river, but he falls and dies instantly. David and Jim start back to get the girls,  but think they best look after the Doc first, but when they go back the body is gone. (Cue creepy music.) Meanwhile Susan gets separated from Vicky, and meets up with Asmodeus who goes all Hills Have Eyes on her and tries to rape her until he is repelled by her cross. Vicky gets back to the group and they discover Dr Waterman's notes in the book. Seems the Doc has been performing "experiments" out of this book of ancient Persian black magic and he's finally bitten off more than he can chew. They locate a handy diagram to show them the yin-yang, the cross, and the star of David among others can be used for protection. Only one of them has a cross, but they make some other symbols for everyone to have one. As Jim says, "It sure would have been a lot easier if we weren't such heathens."

The group go out searching for the castle Vicky had seen earlier. The boys climb up a hill by themselves to investigate because presumably in 1970 girls can't climb hills. Naturally, while they are gone, the girls see a massive apelike giant put the hurt on the hermit from the cave then it turns its attention to them. Luckily Jim and David see it and start throwing rocks at it to get it away from the girls. It corners them in a ravine and tries to get at the book, but David makes a spear and leaps out stabbing the beast in the heart. They check the body out and it certainly appears to be dead; so Jim goes to get his camera to take a picture of it and David and the girls start back to the car. 

Susan is walking along just fine until her cross drops off her. Then she goes all UFC on Vicky and tries to bite at her until David pulls her free. Jim gets camera, but it's broken. On his way back to the group, he runs into Asmodeus who shows his true nature and desire for the book. Asmodeus tries to make a deal with Jim for it, but he gets turned down and threatens to kill them all to get it. Jim runs off and now its a race to get out of he woods and away from the demon park ranger. The group is attacked a few more times and people start dropping like flies all leading up to some nice effects shots and then and explosion and "Susan!"

Equinox has some really cool parts to it. I really enjoyed all the stop motion creatures that Dennis Muren created in homage to Ray Harryhausen, and some of the practical effects they used were well thought out and seamless. While the plot now seems like something that's been overdone (it especially hits notes seen later down the road in another little independent film called Evil Dead) and the acting can be stilted at times, the overall experience is pretty fun. Its not a top of the pile title, and I don't expect that after seeing both versions I'll ever have the desire to see it again. However I would say its an interesting movie to check out if for nothing else than to see a young Herb Tarlak  and a special effects pioneer getting their first taste of things to come. 

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