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Event Horizon
Tonight's Feature Presentation

EVENT HORIZON (1997)

Starring: Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Joely Richardson, Kathleen Quinlan, Richard T. Jones, Sean Pertwee

Written By: Philip Eisner Directed By: Paul W.S. Anderson

The Short Version

After you finish watching Event Horizon, you’ll be amazed that there was about twenty minutes of gore cut out.

Really; this flick is very bloody.

If this isn’t the most genuinely scary piece of sci-fi horror of the past three decades, it’s top three for sure.

There’s a reason this has become a cult favorite in the world of home video even after it failed at the box office.

Event Horizon is so cheap to buy now that there’s no excuse for anyone who loves sci-fi horror not to own this.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CAVE-AGED BLEU CHEESE.

Veined cheese that’s spent a lot of time in the dark… the cold, cold dark…


Pairs Well With...

SCHWARZBIER.

Literally, “black beer.”  Black as cold space, and black as the gateway in the Event Horizon’s engine room.

“Liberate tutame ex inferis.” 


When’s the last time you saw a genuinely scary movie?

If it’s been a while, have you seen Event Horizon lately?

Though it was a box office disappointment and generally shredded by the mainstream media when it appeared in theatres, Event Horizon has gained major traction in the home video market, and it’s easy to see why.  It’s not just that Director Paul W.S. Anderson has gained a huge fan following since then; rather, it’s the fact that this is one of the most genuinely creepy and even disturbing pieces of science fiction horror this side of Alien. 

(You’ll note, though, I said “this side of Alien.”  There’s still nothing that beats Alien.)

The premise is simple enough.  In the year 2040, the spaceship Event Horizon was launched to explore the outer reaches of the solar system.  Once it got past the orbit of Neptune, it disappeared without a trace.

Seven years later, it reappears in a low, decaying orbit at the upper reaches of Neptune’s stratosphere.  A rescue ship is dispatched to discover what happened to the Event Horizon and to find any survivors.

It will succeed at one of those two missions.

If you’re betting on it being the one about survivors, you’re new at this, aren’t you?

It turns out that the Event Horizon was not the comparatively run-of-the-mill solar system explorer everyone thought it was.  In fact, it was the prototype of a ship design meant to travel to other star systems using an experimental drive system.  But that drive system didn’t take the Event Horizon to another star system for the past seven years.  Oh, no.  It took the ship to a non-denominational Hell, and now the Event Horizon has returned to pick up some more passengers…

To call Event Horizon ambitious is an understatement.  Not only is it a horror film set in space that intends to take advantage of its science fiction setting, but it’s also going to bring good old-fashioned Hell into the mix.  It is, in effect, doubling down on two of the least successful categories of horror, and incredibly, it pulls the scary rabbit out of the hat on both counts. 

Let’s start with the sci-fi.

From a realistic standpoint, you’d think that outer space is the perfect setting for a horror film.  It’s the most hostile environment known to man; step into it unprotected and you’re pretty much dead.  If you get into trouble, there’s nothing friendly nearby, and even if you find a way to ask for help, it’s going to take a long time to get there.  On top of all that, there’s a ridiculously large amount of unknown out there, and what is scarier than the unknown?  And yet, despite these things, most outer space horror films either don’t work or end up working specifically because they ignore the setting.

Event Horizon is always conscious of its setting.  The isolation of the characters, their inability to just turn around and run away, and their overall desire to be somewhere else even before the shit hits the fan are all integral to the story.  (Indeed, that very desire is turned against some of them when their nightmares come to life.)  The captain of the rescue team, Miller (Laurence Fishburne, looking slim for just about the last time), is no fool; were this Camp Crystal Lake instead of a spaceship, his ass would be down the driveway and out of town.  Here, though, he doesn’t have that choice.  And to remind everyone of why, Event Horizon makes sure to include the drama of someone stepping out the airlock without a spacesuit, and instead of just saying “oh, that’s it,” actually makes the effort to rescue him.  Even though you know what’s coming every step of the way, there is a surprising amount of tension and suspense to this scene, and when all is said and done, it’s one of the most effective sci-fi driven scenes of the movie.

Let’s pause a minute to talk about the first part of that term: “science.”

I find it absolutely hilarious that for most people I’ve seen and heard commenting on the science elements of Event Horizon, their complaint is always about the ship’s experimental drive system.  The complaint is rarely about the effects of decompression and stepping into vacuum, even though Event Horizon, like very nearly every other sci-fi movie, plays very fast and loose with the concept.  And it’s never about getting to Neptune from Earth in less than two months on conventional propulsion, with a compact fuel source no less, which is patently impossible.  Meanwhile, the drive system that everyone does complain about; the one powered by a miniature black hole?  Completely plausible.  Indeed, pick your favorite theoretical physicist talking head; you have about a nine in ten chance of that person saying yes, this is exactly the power source that would be required for interstellar travel.  Even now, real scientists are really working at making those little black holes, too.  So when people complain about this, I find it funny.  However, at the end of the day, I think the second half of the term we started with is the most important here: “fiction.”  It’s a damn horror movie, people.  So what if they play fast and loose with decompression?  The effect they use is cool.  Kick back and enjoy it.

With that in mind, let’s go to Hell.  The Hell brought by the ship, that is.

The Hell of Event Horizon works for several reasons.  First and perhaps most important, it’s non-denominational; this is a universal Hell that is not tied into any particular dogma or religion.  This means that the movie isn’t earning the automatic alienation or dismissal of large parts of its audience, and it also means that the idea of the Event Horizon finding Hell doesn’t come across as silly on its face.  This is a Hell that even those with no religious beliefs can buy into: pure amoral chaos.  It feeds on the guilt and fears of the film’s characters to provide its personalized tortures, but there’s no actual judgment being made or passed.  The only judgment made on the characters for their “sins” is passed by the characters themselves; the consciousness of the Hell brought back by the ship simply processes and magnifies their own thoughts, then combines those things with trappings that are just going to be universally unpleasant for everyone, like torture and evisceration.  Had concepts like souls and outside judgment for sin been added to the mix – which was at one point considered but then toned down to what is actually present in the film – it would have fallen apart and become ridiculous.  Pure sadism without reason other than itself is far more effectively scary than some dogmatic sermon.

The horror of Event Horizon also works because of its choice of signature mutilation: removal of the eyes.  Most sighted humans process over 90% of their informational input via the eyes, so the instinctual and visceral reaction to their loss is a profound one, especially when, as is the case here, nothing else goes in their place.  Indeed, even when this is the only mutilation present, it generates a shiver.  (For example, Holley Chant spends most of her screen time topless, but the thing everyone remembers about her is the missing eyes.)  The eyes are the single feature that most people see as displaying the humanity of another person; when they’re gone, what’s left?

In the case of Event Horizon, the answer is blood.  Lots and lots of blood.  In fact, I would not be at all surprised if the final tally of the amount used could be expressed using “Olympic-sized swimming pool” as an appropriate standard of measurement.  This is the kind of blood that the Hammer people used to dream about but knew they could never get past their era’s censors.  And yet, even though Event Horizon is eventually quite literally bathed in the stuff, the blood isn't gratuitous.  It never feels like it’s “just there;” it always fits the scene.  I’ll admit that this took me by surprise, but not once did I ever reach a point of saying “oh, come on” with the blood.  (The hanging evisceration sequence is particularly gruesome, and particularly spectacular.)

I think the reason for this, and indeed the reason for pretty much everything that makes Event Horizon so effective overall, is the direction of Paul W.S. Anderson.

Anderson knew the movie that he wanted to make – he was excited to make an R-rated film and skipped some very good PG/PG-13 opportunities in order to get that chance – and he made it.  And when the censors made him hack twenty minutes of gore out of it, he still made the film he wanted.  When test audiences didn’t like the first two versions of the climax that he made, he put together a third that even he ended up deciding worked even better.  Keep in mind that the post-prod work was also done in just four weeks.  Despite having essentially no time to work given the massive scale of the production, Anderson and his team pulled off the impossible.

He did it by taking advantage of everything that his team has already giving him and remembering what’s fundamental to horror.  Even people who don’t like Event Horizon are quick to acknowledge that the production design is first rate.  Both ships look fabulous; both look like they really were built to fly.  They also look like they were built for horror.  The Event Horizon’s engine room looks like its design was based on turning the ball of a medieval mace inside out.  The medical bay exam beds all look more like mortuary tables than they do any setting for rest and recuperation.  (They all even have drains.)  Anderson makes sure we can see all of these details and more, and is willing to take the time to capitalize on the atmosphere they create.  The look we get at the connecting corridor is long and detailed, reminding the audience that this is outer space and there’s no gravity and it is damn cold.  Musical cues are often set aside, as well, allowing silence to augment things instead.  Anderson has seen all of the right horror movies – he makes nods to several throughout – and he’s applied the lessons he learned from them here.  The pacing is solid, the tension is dead on, and there are plenty of moments that can cause even the most reasonable of adults to jump out of their seats. 

And yet, despite all of this good stuff going on, and all of the genuine scares being delivered, Event Horizon is not perfect by any means.  The primary complaint comes in the character department.  Most of the characters here are one dimensional and get no real development.  Laurence Fishburne’s rescue ship Captain gets some fair work, and Fishburne himself delivers his usual strong performance to give the role depth the script didn’t start out with.  Aside from the Captain, though, only one apparently randomly selected crew member (Peters, the Med Tech, played by Kathleen Quinlan) and the Event Horizon’s designer, Weir (Sam Neill, former AntiChrist in Omen III) get any attention at all, and frankly, what Weir gets isn’t enough.  (Your disc will probably include a few deleted scenes in the extras; the one you’ll find there introducing Weir should have stayed in the film.)  Everyone else gets nothing.  Extras tell us that every actor and actress was asked to create additional story for their characters beyond the script; it would have been great to see that on the screen.  Yes, the evisceration scene is fabulous, but if we’d have known why it happens to the person it happens to, it would have been even more horrifying.

And did we really need another “obnoxious guy making racially tinted sex jokes” character?  Seriously?  Can we retire this stereotype now, please?

On the plus side though, if you think you can guess from the start who’s going to live and die, I’ll bet you’re at least half wrong.

Speaking of half wrong, the music between the credits is generally traditional symphonic stuff, and works it, but the electronic themes that bookend the film are ridiculously out of place and don’t fit the movie at all.  It’s reported that Anderson originally wanted things to be even more techno-driven; this is one case where it’s better that he didn’t get his wish.

At the end of the day, though, the bad things about Event Horizon are far outweighed by the good.  The scares and many and genuine; without question, this is one of the creepiest outer space horror flicks of the past thirty years.  If you’re gore fan, there’s plenty here for you, and if you’re a psychological thrill person, you get your own treats, too.  The non-denominational Hell of Event Horizon truly delivers, and it does so in spades.

Bottom line, Event Horizon is a highly effective horror flick any way you slice it, and with how cheap it’s become to acquire on home video, there’s simply no excuse for any horror fan not to buy this. 

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2011

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