EQUINOX and EVIL DEAD I & II: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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EQUINOX and EVIL DEAD I & II: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these three films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Equinox, or Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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For years horror movie fans have debated as to whether or not the 1970 low budget horror Equinox was an influence on Sam Raimi’s 1981 Evil Deadthough there are also strong similarities with it’s 1987 sequel Evil Dead IIas wellSam Raimi has never mentioned seeing it, though Evil Dead FX man Tom Sullivan has. We may never know for sure and it’s up to us then to decide for ourselves. So read on to take a look at just how these flicks compare…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

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THE STORY

Equinox finds Four college students David, Susan, Jim and Vicki (Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Bonner and Robin Christopher), venturing into the woods to meet a Prof. Waterman (Fritz Leiber), who, unknown to them, has discovered an ancient book of evil. They find his cabin destroyed and once acquiring the book from a creepy old man (Irving L. Lichtenstein), soon have the devil himself after them to get it back. In this film the evil has already been unleashed when our main characters arrive.

Sam Raimi’s classic The Evil Dead has five young people, Ash, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, Scott and Scott’s girlfriend Shelly (Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Hal Delrich and Theresa Tilly), going up to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend of partying and fun. When they get to the rundown cabin, they find an old book and a tape recording in the creepy cellar that claims it is the book of the dead and wrapped in human flesh. Thinking it’s all a joke, they play the recording, which includes someone reading from the book, and find out the hard way that it’s all too real, as they unleash horror beyond their imaginations.

Evil Dead II finds Ash, now alone, trapped in the cabin with the forces of evil trying to get at him. Ash is soon joined by the daughter (Sarah Berry) of the archeologist, who formally inhabited the cabin and is the finder of the book. She and her party (Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley and Richard Domeier) first think Ash has murdered her parents. Soon enough, though, the evil in the woods makes itself known and Ash joins forces with his new companions. Their numbers start to dwindle as the evil lays siege to the cabin and Ash must face this ancient terror in a final showdown.

There are some differences in plot details, but all three flicks have a cabin, a book of evil discovered by a professor and a group of unsuspecting characters, being attacked by an ancient evil. All three have demons and demonic manifestations from the book. All three have a story or backstory that is revealed by way of a reel to reel tape recording.

 

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THE EVIL

Equinox has the devil himself in the human disguise of park ranger, Mr. Asmodeus (theatrical cut director Jack Woods) pursuing the four characters to get the book back. He can take on the guise of one of the other characters and appears in a flying demon form near it’s climax. He also sends various minions to get the book, such as an octopus-like creature, a mutant ape and a blue giant. His minions appear to be able to be killed by conventional means, while he can be warded off with protection symbols from the book.

The Evil Dead Films feature ancient evil spirits known as Deadites, that are unleashed when either the book is read from directly, or a recorded reading from the book is played back. They want the souls of all those in the cabin and possess and torment the occupants claiming them one by one. Raimi’s film requires the possessed victim be totally dismembered to render them harmless. The Deadites seem to hail from somewhere around ancient Sumer and there are, like in Equinox, some creature-like minions in Evil Dead II. The Deadites appear to be only able to attack at night, while Equinox‘s evil is active both day and night.

 

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THE HEROES

Equinox’s ill-fated hero is college student David Fielding (Edward Connell). He’s a clean-cut all-American college student who is forced to come up against some supernatural odds. He’s resilient and brave and is pretty much the strongest and quickest thinker of his group of friends. Poor Dave ends up doomed and in an insane asylum, but before all that, he stands up to some intimidating evil.

Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is the Evil Dead franchise’s beleaguered hero. The now iconic Ash is a mild mannered fellow and a little on the cowardly side in the first film. He leaves it up to alpha male Scott to hack up his possessed sister Cheryl and generally do the hero stuff till the Deadites get Scott, too. This leaves Ash all alone to man-up and battle the Deadites. It’s not till the sequel that he starts to take on the mantle of a hero, although an arrogant and bumbling one.

 

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THE SETTINGS

Here, settings differ slightly though both include cabins and woods. The cabin we are traveling to in Equinox is already destroyed by the time our characters get there and the film takes place primarily after that in the surrounding forest.

Both Evil Dead and Evil Dead II take place primarily inside the cabin with a few unsuccessful sojourns out into the woods.

The cabins in all three films were previously occupied by professors who found the books of evil in question.

 

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THE BOOKS

All Three movies contain books of evil that trigger the horrific ordeals the respective films’ characters endure. Equinox‘s book is discovered in the Persian Gulf by a Prof. Waterman and it is his examining the book and it’s contents that opens a portal allowing the evil to enter this world and seek the book’s return. It is described as a bible of evil.

The book of the Evil Dead films is the Naturan Demanto or Necronomicon…the book of the dead…and is described as Sumerian in origin and thus is discovered by a Professor Knowby (John Peaks), also in the Persian Gulf area.

Both books are filled with cryptic languages and spooky illustrations and are not only filled with dark rituals, but also ways to protect from the evils evoked.

 

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THE OPENING SCENES

Equinox opens interestingly at it’s climax with David on the run through the woods from the demonic evil and finding himself in a hospital after being hit on the road by a driverless car. A year later he’s gone insane and a reporter named Sloan (James Philips) investigates the story to find out what happen to him. It’s his reviewing David’s initial taped testimony that sets us on a flashback to what happened.

The Evil Dead opens with the camera racing through the woods with some ominous growling heard as it reaches the car carrying our main protagonists. It is quick and to the point, but sets the tone right away that something bad is going to happen to our five unsuspecting travelers as they head towards the cabin.

Evil Dead II simply picks up where the first left off, after a brief recap, with the evil attacking and briefly possessing Ash, who is saved by the rising sun. So, there is little similarity here.

All three films’ openings are perfect for setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. Though there are only minor similarities here between Equinox andThe Evil Dead, none really with Evil Dead II…except, of course, for the woods setting each share.

 

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THE ENDINGS

In terms of their climaxes, all the films have endings that resonate.

Equinox ends with David in the asylum screaming for his cross which “accidentally” is now in the hands of reporter Sloan. It’s a year and a day after the incident at the park, the day the demon predicted David’s demise. As Sloan leaves the building, David’s dead girlfriend Susan is seen walking into the hospital. As we hear David’s cries for his cross over the soundtrack, a wicked smile appears on Susan’s face. Ominous and spooky, a last chill before you leave the theater.

The Evil Dead ends with Ash having barely escaped a vicious assault from his possessed friends by burning the book in the fireplace resulting in a roller coaster bloodbath of gore. As the sun starts to rise, he limps out the door only to have the camera race towards him growling like in the opening and coming right at his face as Ash utters a horrible scream. The film cuts to black and ends with the credits rolling; Ash apparently not as triumphant as he believed. It is ferociously quick and very effective, a last jolt before you leave the theater.

Evil Dead II comically has Ash being sucked into a vortex and deposited in the Middle Ages, where, at the moment, he is seen as a deliverer come to defeat the Deadites. Again as with the opening scene, no similarity here to Equinox other than the visual of a castle.

…though all three endings do involve screaming.

 

 

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MISC.

Here, pictures speak louder than words, with these visual similarities…

 

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IN CONCLUSION…

So, we have one flick that is a horror masterpiece and one of the greatest horror flicks of all time and another that is a cult classic, midnight movie from a decade earlier that may…or may not…have inspired it. Both were derived from short films. Equinox was re-edited with new footage added from the original The Equinox … A Journey into the Supernatural, a 70 minute film expanded for theatrical release. The Evil Dead was created from the short film Within the Woods, a thirty minute version of the same story made to attract investors. They both feature some startling SPFX on incredibly small budgets and took three or more years to finally hit theaters. Both are also first films made by young aspiring filmmakers, that made an impression and got careers off the ground for some of their makers and stars.

We may never know the actual truth as to whether Sam Raimi saw and was inspired by Equinox, but the story and visual similarities make for a striking argument. At this point it’s up to you to decide as to what you believe. Did Equinox inspire The Evil Dead, or is it just a cinematic coincidence? Either way, they are both horror classics in their own rights that are now held in high regard.

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EQUINOX and THE EVIL DEAD

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back! For years horror fans have discussed the similarities between the 1970 low budget flick, Equinox and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Was this flick an inspiration for Raimi’s classic, or was it all a coincidence? We may never know exactly, but we can watch both films together and decide for ourselves…

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EQUINOX (1970)

Four college students (Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Bonner and Robin Christopher) venture into the woods to meet a professor (Fritz Leiber) who, unknown to them, has discovered an ancient book of evil. They find the cabin destroyed and once acquiring the book from a creepy old man (Irving L. Lichtenstein), find the devil himself is after them to get it back.

While this does sound like the plot of an Evil Dead film, it is actually the plot of the low budget horror, Equinox which was released in 1970. Over a decade before Raimi’s classic, the film does share a lot of plot elements, such as the students being possessed, here by the park ranger disguised Satan, and even the book itself is quite similar to Raimi’s Necronomicon. It’s never been stated that the film was an influence on Raimi’s flick, but Evil Dead effects artist Tom Sullivan admits seeing the film and it inspiring him to make movies. Draw you own conclusions.

Equinox is campy by today’s standards and is slow paced, unlike Raimi’s roller coaster ride, but there is some fun to be had and some nice SPFX for such a low budget flick. Equinox started out as a low budget short film, put together by three future FX legends, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and Dave Allen in 1967. It was made for about $6,500, from a story by Mark Thomas McGee and directed by Muren. So there is some great FX work for the time and budget, including some very cool stop-motion animated creatures, representing the Devil’s minions and Old Scratch himself in winged demon form. Producer Jack H. Harris saw their film and hired writer/director Jack Woods to film some new footage and expand the 70 minute short film into feature length and re-edit it. The film was finally released in 1970 as Equinox, shortened from the original title of Equinox…A Journey Into The Supernatural. I saw this as a kid and must admit it creeped me out back then. I watch it now and it’s more campy fun than scary, but it’s no denying that it is a valiant low budget effort, despite some very amateurish acting from the cast, including director Jack Woods, who also appears as The Devil in park ranger form.

This film, like Raimi’s, is now considered a classic. Whether it inspired Evil Dead or not, both films represent the achievement that future filmmakers can make on a micro-budget, if their hearts and talent are in the right place. Evil Dead fans should check it out for the interesting similarities, even if we may never know if Raimi indeed saw and was influenced by it, or if the familiar elements are just coincidence. It’s been released in a wonderful restored edition by the Criterion Collection, which includes the original short film and effects work that didn’t make the final cut. A campy, fun horror that gave the world, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and the late, great David Allen…and maybe…just maybe, Evil Dead.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated A campy fun 3 (out of 4) blue giants!

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The original Evil Dead is one of my all time favorite horror movies, if not the all time favorite. I was fortunate enough to see it in a theater when it was released in 1981 and it changed how I looked at horror movies. This one was furiously paced, wildly inventive and delivered buckets of blood and gore, all on a shoestring budget. It launched writer/director Sam Raimi’s career and made a cult legend out of star Bruce Campbell.

The film opens as Ash (Bruce Campbell) and girlfriend, Linda (Betsy Baker) are traveling to vacation in a remote cabin with another couple, Scott (Hal Delrich) and Shelly (Sarah York), along with Ash’s sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss). When they get to the rundown cabin they find an old book and a tape recording, in the creepy cellar, that claims it is the book of the dead and wrapped in human flesh. Thinking it’s all a joke, they play the recording, which includes someone reading from the book and find out the hard way that it’s all too real, as they unleash horror beyond their imaginations. The quiet Cheryl is the first to be possessed, as she is attacked and literally raped by the trees during one of the film’s most talked about scenes, As the panicked bunch lock her in the cellar, it is only the beginning as they are soon possessed one by one by an ancient evil that can only be stopped by total bodily dismemberment. Let the fun begin!

The first Evil Dead did not have the heavy comic elements of it’s two sequels or recent series and what follows is a gore soaked roller coaster ride, when Ash finds himself the last man standing against his demon possessed friends. Raimi uses some fantastically inventive camera work and low budget gore effects to bring us Ash’s battle to survive against the people he once loved, in all it’s gory glory. The film is fast paced and once it starts, it never stops, as this classic turns the screws on it’s viewing audience with a barrage of scares, jolts and suspense, all bathed in buckets of blood. This was the first of it’s kind to use such a relentless and merciless attack on it’s viewers where most films at the time, like John Carpenter’s Halloween, or the original Friday The 13th, used a bit of a slower burn and more of a methodical pace to present it’s suspense and scares. Raimi paces this like an action flick. Carpenter did crank things up in the last act of The Fog, a year earlier, but it was still nothing like Raimi’s final act, as the outnumbered Ash refuses to “join us”, as his demonic assailants constantly taunt.

Evil Dead revolutionized horror to a degree and inspired some of today’s best young horror directors. Without it, we may not have a Blair Witch, Dead Alive or Martyrs. While we still get the occasional slow burn horror like Paranormal Activity and the films of Ti West and Stevan Mena, which is just fine, Raimi opened the door for horror filmmakers to take a far more aggressive approach and showed us horror can be deliriously scary, delightfully gory and just plain fun. A true classic that placed Raimi amongst the likes of George Romero and John Carpenter!

-MonsterZero NJ

Check out our review of the remake!

A solid 4 (out of 4) Ash salute!

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ALSO…

If you’ve got time, add Evil Dead II as a third feature, which also shares some amusing similarities with Dennis Muren and Jack Woods’ 1970 cult classic!

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DOCTOR MORDRID (1992)

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DOCTOR MORDRID (1992)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Full Moon flick is a complete rip-off of the Doctor Strange comic book character, though predating the hit MCU film by almost twenty-five years. It tells of modern day sorcerer Anton Mordrid (Jeffrey Combs) who teams up with pretty police occult specialist Samantha Hunt (Yvette Nipar) to battle an evil wizard named Kabal (Brian Thompson). Kabal plans to unleash Hell on Earth and Mordrid plans to stop him.

Rip-off or not, amusing comic book style flick is written by frequent Full Moon scribe C. Courtney Joyner and directed by the father and son team of Albert and Charles Band. It’s a direct to DVD feature and looks more like a TV show than a movie. At only 74 minutes it feels more like a TV show, too, one that never got past the pilot episode. Still, it is fun and tries hard, even if it’s inspiration is far too obvious. The FX are cheesy, though there is some stop motion animation from the late, great David Allen. With such a short running time, the simple story moves along fairly quickly and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. The low budget deprives it of any real action sequences, other than the climactic throw-down, which is a fun scene at a museum complete with battling stop motion animated dinosaur skeletons.

The small cast get the material and take it serious enough. Combs is now a horror movie legend and here he gets to have a bit of fun as superhero type. He’s charming and does exude intelligence and power, which makes his Doctor Strange lite a fun character. Yvette Nipar is the smart and sassy Samantha and she isn’t given much to do, but at least is a strong willed heroine, even if only a second banana to Mordrid. Thompson is a fine enough villain as the evil Kabal. He looks like an 80s hair metal band member and has the appropriate swagger of a powerful being bent on world domination…at least one in a B movie like this. Supporting players are Jay Acovone as a hard nosed police detective, with Keith Coulouris and actress/stuntwoman Julie Michaels as Kabal’s minions.

In conclusion, this may be a way too obvious rip-off of a classic Marvel character, but it’s not all that bad. It is one of the better Full Moon direct to DVD productions and gives Combs a chance to have a little fun playing a hero type. The cast and filmmakers get the tone right for this kind of thing and it’s almost too bad budget restraints keep it from delivering some punchier action and more fitting FX. Some nostalgia also adds some fun, as it is from the early 90s, so, it still has a hint of 80s in it’s tone. Completely derivative, but still a good time. 

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) bargain basement sorcerers.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: WINTERBEAST (1992)

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WINTERBEAST (1992)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Winterbeast is a perfect example of just how entertaining a bad movie can be. Flick’s convoluted plot has a snowy mountaintop community being beset by creatures that are actually demons that the Native Americans that once lived on the land have tried to keep at bay. A demon spirit is trying to enter this world through a portal in this area and his stop motion animated minions are gruesomely paving the way. The only thing that stands in it’s path are a couple of local forest rangers (Tim R. Morgan and Mike Magri)…at least I think that’s it.

Written and directed by Christopher Thies, this is a sometimes incoherent flick that is one weird scene after another with this hodgepodge plot about ancient Native American totem poles and demonic creatures the lay siege to a mountain community. The acting is delightfully terrible, the dialogue is amusingly awful and the stop-motion animated creatures and gore are delightfully cheesy. It’s also a bizarre little movie filled with WTF moments, such as the disturbing dance sequence featuring weird local lodge owner, Dave Sheldon (Bob Harlow) in plaid suit and clown mask, no less and a topless cutie being slammed against the side of a house by a stop motion totem pole creature, for no apparent reason…and let’s not forget the giant chicken monster. The editing is choppy and one wonders if director Thies was even on set as there seems to be little in the way of actual direction…though with this hopelessly amateur cast, would it have mattered?

I liked this film a lot, but, of course, for all the wrong reasons. The narrative is barely coherent, some scenes are completely random, the plot is loopy and there are some hilarious WTF sequences. There is a host of cheesy stop-motion animated creatures, some equally cheesy gore and some of the worst acting and dialogue you’ll ever hope to see. It’s also a lot of fun and a perfect example of why so bad can be so good. It made a real fun double feature with Don Dohler’s Alien Factor here in MonsterZero NJ’s lair, if ‘so bad, it’s good’ is your thing!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) scenes that made me giggle!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE GATE (1987)

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THE GATE (1987)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

The Gate is a fun 1980s horror flick that was geared more towards kids, but still kept enough of an edge within it’s PG-13 rating. It tells the story of nerdy young Glen (Blade’s Stephen Dorff) who discovers that when a storm blows his treehouse over, it’s left a deep pit in his backyard. When his parents go away, big sister Al (Christa Denton) is left to babysit and while she throws a sleepover party for her friends, Glen and pal Terry (Louis Tripp) discover that the hole in the yard is actually a gateway to Hell when they accidentally unleash a demonic presence into the teen filled house.

This is an enjoyable little flick with it’s cheesy 80s effects, including some stop-motion animated demon minions and their massive leader. Under the direction of filmmaker Tibor Takács from a script by Micahel Nankin, it could have been a little more energetic and benefited from a faster pace, but still has heart and a bit of a dark side which saves it from being an outright kid’s movie. Takács directs a bit too by-the-numbers for it to be a real blast, but the second half really ignites as creatures, zombies and whirling vortexes lay siege to Glen’s home as he tires to figure a way to close the portal and send it’s occupants back where they came from. Being kids, they use everything from Heavy Metal music to verses from the Bible to get results until it’s Spielbergian final solution. The SPFX are very dated, thought that does add some charm, and there is a very 80s electronic score by Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson to add to the overall 80s nostalgia the flick now has.  The cast of child actors all do well in their parts and give their characters some life beyond the stereotypical suburban kid peronas that they are written as. Some like Dorff and Kelly Rowan, who plays one of Al’s friends, went on to continue acting as adults, while other’s careers faded out after another role or two.

This flick has a cult following and is considered by some a cult classic, especially memorable for Randall Cook’s (The Thing’s legendary deleted stop motion sequence) little demonic minions that were brought to life by stop-motion animation and rubber suits on large scale sets. It is fun, though director Tibor Takács could have given it a bit more energy and urgency. The pace could have been a bit quicker, too, but it is still entertaining and has a lot of charming, cheesy SPFX effects to put a smile on our face if three suburban kids battling rubbery demons isn’t enough.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 rubbery minions.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959)

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This segment of Tomb Of Nostalgia takes the form of a double feature I watched this weekend…two personal favorite, old-school monster flicks!


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THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

One of the all time great 1950’s creature features directed by Eugène Lourié with another classic monster from SPFX master Ray Harryhausen. Flick is based on a Ray Bradbury short story titled The Fog Horn and features genre favorite Kenneth Tobey. The story starts with an atomic bomb test in the Arctic which frees a prehistoric dinosaur from it’s icy grave. The creature wreaks havoc all down the coast as it heads toward NYC and a showdown with the military. Adding to the already aggressive nature of the beast is that it carries a bacteria in it’s blood that is unknown to today’s medicine and is quite lethal. Can it be stopped!?

Beast is the first of Lourié’s three classic monster movies (The Giant Behemoth and Gorgo being the others) and is directed in his serious and intense tone. The cast all take their roles seriously, too and it helps make this monster movie the classic it is. Obviously, the FX from Harryhausen are top notch and the Rhedosaurus is one of his most famous creations. Climax in New York is still thrilling even by today’s standards and is far better then the 1998 American Godzilla which was more a remake of this film then it was of the Japanese monster icon.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Keep you eyes peeled for the army sharp shooter at the climax played by a then unknown Lee Van Cleef.

-MonsterZero NJ

4 Rhedosaurus.

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THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959)

Basically a retread of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms but set in England. Behemoth also has the same director, Eugène Lourié, who brings a serious tone to the proceedings as with his other monster movies. It is his taking the material seriously and having his cast do the same that makes this as effective as it is. The difference between this and Beast is this creature is dying from the radiation poisoning received from atomic tests, making it twice as vicious and it’s ability to emit radioactive waves from it’s body like an electric eel, make it twice as lethal. The effects of it’s radioactive condition on some of the characters is quite disturbing, even for a film of this era. A giant monster movie with a bit of a nasty edge. The FX are delivered, this time, with contributions from the great Willis O’Brian (King Kong) and there is some nice intensity as this creature, driven mad with pain, rampages through the streets of London destroying and killing anything in it’s path. Nostalgic charm is ever present with the combination of stop motion animation and black and white photography. Also amusing to watch London get leveled, giving New York and Tokyo a much needed break, although the ominous ending may suggest that break may not be a long one. Well done and intense monster movie. For my Eugène Lourié’s third giant monster flick, Gorgo click HERE.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 behemoths

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BARE BONES: JOHN WICK and SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE

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JOHN WICK (2014)

John Wick is just simply a good, solid, popcorn action flick with no other intentions than to blow away bad guys and entertain…and it does that just fine. Keanu Reeves is really good as former assassin and man-of-few-words, John Wick. He retired as one of the most lethal killers in the business and after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan), has resigned himself to a life of solitude. When a Russian mobster’s arrogant idiot of a son (Alfie Allen) makes the mistake of invading Wick’s home, stealing his Mustang muscle car and killing the puppy that was a final gift from his wife, Wick is back in business and the body count piles up quickly and bloodily. The action is solid and there is some stylish direction by Chad Stahelski from Derek Kolstad’s script. There are some really well-choreographed shoot-outs and fights and the film does what it sets out to do, nothing more. Sure, there are flaws. The whole John Wick problem would have been solved if one of these gangsters actually took a shot at Wick, instead of rushing in close enough for him to get a hold of their guns, but who cares? Reeves kicks ass and it’s fun to watch him do it. An entertaining and stylish action flick. Also stars, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe as a fellow assassin/friend of Wick’s and sexy Adrianne Palicki as a female contract killer looking to collect the $2 Million bounty Russian mobster, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyquist) puts on Wick’s head. Fun and action-packed!

3 star rating

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SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE (2014)

I’m a big fan of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of yesteryear and so was looking forward to this homage from producer/director/co-writer and star, Shahin Sean Solimon. Despite being a one man production company and having numerous stop-motion animated critters, Solimon’s 90 minute fantasy is a mess of poor SPFX, bad writing, lame directing and awful editing. The barely cohesive story has Sinbad’s beloved Princess Parisa (Danielle Duvale) kidnaped for some sinister purpose by the evil sorcerer, The Deev (Said Faraj). Sinbad and crew set out to find her and after some pointless adventures that barely follow a structured storyline and equally pointless flashbacks, a plot convenience leads Sindad to his love for a final showdown with the sinister magician. There is very little purpose to anything that goes on here. The story creeps along at a dreadfully slow pace and the stop-motion critters are there just because past films have included them and none really support the story by appearing. The FX are awful, with the meager creature animation being barely adequate and the sets and acting are as bad as the over-used CGI. Despite good intentions, this is a tedious mess with only a few brief moments that actually amuse. I liked that Solimon resorted to old-fashioned stop-motion to keep tradition, but next time build an actual film around it. How Patrick Stewart got involved to narrate is anybody’s guess.

1 and 1-2 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER and LASERBLAST

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I know I have covered these two ‘so bad it’s good’ 70s flicks before but, they do make a great pair with their bad acting, awful dialog and delightfully charming stop motion animation FX work by the late, great David Allen and SPFX make-up and prosthetics from Steve Neill. With a few brews, these two cult classics can be a lot of fun even without being mocked by the MST3K gang!

 

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THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER (1977)

I’ll start out by saying this isn’t a good movie in the conventional sense, but I love monster movies, especially the old fashioned stop motion animation ones and, as you may know by now, I do love a ‘so bad it’s good’ flick. So I cut this movie a lot of slack. Plus, it does have a bit of personal nostalgia for me as I saw it at the Showboat Cinema in Edgewater N.J. when it first came out in 1977.

Low budget sci-fi/horror begins as a meteor crashes into a California mountain lake by a remote rural town. The lake temperature rises and a long dormant plesiosaur egg hatches and 6 months later we have a giant prehistoric monster on the loose feeding on the local livestock and any inhabitants who get near the water. It’s now up to Sheriff Steven Hanson (Richard Cardella who also co-wrote) to try to find a way to stop the rampaging beast who is making a meal out of locals and tourists alike.

The Crater Lake Monster has a good B-movie plot that is wasted by the totally amateurish handling of the production by director and co-writer William R. Stromberg. If the lame attempts at suspense aren’t enough, the weak dialog, awful acting and ridiculous attempts at comic relief by two good ole boys who rent boats (Mark Siegel and Glen Roberts), put the nail in coffin of this flick’s potential as a serious B-movie horror treat and catapults it into ‘so bad it’s good’ territory…though it’s on thin ice there, too. *Cardella claims the withdrawal of funds and hiring of a terrible editor by Crown International Pictures was the cause of the film’s ruin, but neither of these reasons explain how sub-par everything, other than David Allen’s cool stop motion animated dinosaur, is done. The title creature is a fine bit of FX from the under appreciated Allen, but doesn’t have quite enough screen time to make up for the film’s flaws and even it’s climactic battle with a snow plow is far too short to live up to it’s entertainment potential.

But there is definitely some fun to be had at the incompetent film-making here and there is definitely some 70s nostalgia to enjoy, but how much you enjoy it depends on just how tolerant you are of a bad movie like this. I enjoy them for what they are and I like this flick for all it’s badness and there is a cool beastie. With a couple of brews this can be a good time, if that’s your thing. It definitely is mine. In an era of senseless remakes, this is a title screaming to be turned into a better movie by more talented hands, but they sadly don’t make movies like this anymore, at least not with the kind of charm flicks like this had. And despite all Crater Lake‘s flaws, it still has it’s heart in the right place and plenty of charm. And that goes a long way with a movie geek like me. A guilty pleasure for sure but, a fun one.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The full size creature head was made by Steve Neill, another unsung hero of movie make-up and prosthetic FX.

*as per Wikipedia

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) guilty pleasure plesiosaurs!

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Laserblast

LASERBLAST (1978)

Laserblast is a low budget sci-fi thriller from Charles Band that actually could have been a decent B-movie had it been in more competent hands instead of becoming one of MST3K’s funniest episodes. Even still, it is a guilty pleasure of mine and carries the nostalgia of being one of the flicks seen at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, NJ.

Laserblast opens as an alien outlaw is being pursued on Earth across a desert. After a brief firefight, the reptilian space cops (some cool stop motion FX from the late David Allen with the outlaw’s and alien possessed Billy’s make-up FX by Steve Neill) blast the alien bad guy, but in an effort to avoid detection, are forced to flee and the alien’s weapon is left behind. Enter troubled teen Billy (Kim Milford) who, aside from his girlfriend (70s exploitation queen, Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith), is picked on by almost everyone in town including, the pot smoking cops. Obviously fate puts the alien weapon in Billy’s hands and now he has the power to get back at those who abuse him. With the alien weapon transforming him into something unearthly, can Billy be stopped?

Laserblast is sadly directed in a pedestrian manner by Michael Rae…from a script by Frank Ray Perilli and Franne Schacht…and a little energy would have helped a lot as even Billy’s climactic rampage (if blowing up a few cars and a mailbox is a rampage) is very by-the-numbers and lacks any suspense. Rae’s idea of dramatic intensity is to show the same explosion over and over in slow motion from multiple camera angles and have star Milford overact when under alien influence. And speaking of the acting, the performances range from bland to bad with even cameos from vets Keenan Wynn and Roddy McDowall being obvious paycheck grabs.The casting is also odd in the case of Milford who is too good looking and well built to be believable as the ‘picked on kid’ especially, when nerd legend Eddie Deezen (his first flick), is cast as one of the bullies. Love to ask the casting director what the inspiration was for that casting, aside from booze. But the cast isn’t totally to blame as the laughably bad dialog from the weak script isn’t going to help anyone’s performance especially, when the director doesn’t seem to be giving much inspiration. At least David Allen provides some good stop motion effects and FX model making legend Greg Jein gave us a cool alien spacecraft for such a low budget flick, that and things are blown up quite frequently.

Despite all it’s flaws, I still think there is a ‘so bad it’s good’ charm here and a lot of entertainment can be had from the epic fail of it all. And as stated before, the film does have the previously stated nostalgia element for me personally. So I would recommend it to those who love to have a good bad movie along with their six pack or simply enjoy laughing at a cheesy 70s low budget Sci-Fi flick that aims high and fails in entertaining fashion.

-MonsterZero NJ

 Rated a ‘so bad it’s good’ 3 (out of 4) stop motion alien cops.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: EQUINOX (1970)

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EQUINOX (1970)

Four college students (Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Bonner and Robin Christopher) venture into the woods to meet a professor (Fritz Leiber) who, unknown to them, has discovered an ancient book of evil. They find the cabin destroyed and once acquiring the book from a creepy old man (Irving L. Lichtenstein), find the devil himself is after them to get it back.

While this does sound like the plot of an Evil Dead film, it is actually the plot of the low budget horror, Equinox which was released in 1970. Over a decade before Raimi’s classic, the film does share a lot of plot elements, such as the students being possessed, here by the park ranger disguised Satan, and even the book itself is quite similar to Raimi’s Necronomicon. It’s never been stated that the film was an influence on Raimi’s flick, but Evil Dead effects artist Tom Sullivan admits seeing the film and it inspiring him to make movies. Draw you own conclusions.

Equinox is campy by today’s standards and is slow paced, unlike Raimi’s roller coaster ride, but there is some fun to be had and some nice SPFX for such a low budget flick. Equinox started out as a low budget short film, put together by three future FX legends, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and Dave Allen in 1967. It was made for about $6,500, from a story by Mark Thomas McGee and directed by Muren. So there is some great FX work for the time and budget, including some very cool stop-motion animated creatures, representing the Devil’s minions and Old Scratch himself in winged demon form. Producer Jack H. Harris saw their film and hired writer/director Jack Woods to film some new footage and expand the 70 minute short film into feature length and re-edit it. The film was finally released in 1970 as Equinox, shortened from the original title of Equinox…A Journey Into The Supernatural. I saw this as a kid and must admit it creeped me out back then. I watch it now and it’s more campy fun than scary, but it’s no denying that it is a valiant low budget effort, despite some very amateurish acting from the cast, including director Jack Woods, who also appears as The Devil in park ranger form.

This film, like Raimi’s, is now considered a classic. Whether it inspired Evil Dead or not, both films represent the achievement that future filmmakers can make on a micro-budget, if their hearts and talent are in the right place. Evil Dead fans should check it out for the interesting similarities, even if we may never know if Raimi indeed saw and was influenced by it, or if the familiar elements are just coincidence. It’s been released in a wonderful restored edition by the Criterion Collection, which includes the original short film and effects work that didn’t make the final cut. A campy, fun horror that gave the world, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and the late, great David Allen…and maybe…just maybe, Evil Dead.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated A campy fun 3 (out of 4) blue giants!

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