“Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see.”
Event Horizon – one of the best horror films of the 1990’s? Or THE best horror film of the 1990’s? Certainly it ranks high on my list of favorite films (horror or not) from that decade, and Scream Factory’s new release gave me just the excuse I needed to revisit the title ship and the doomed souls that cross her path.
Event Horizon was directed by Paul WS Anderson, a director I think of as the poor man’s Michael Bay. His films are always fast, slick, and filled with interesting things to look at. They’re also slightly, I dunno, soulless. He doesn’t have quite the knack for marrying spectacle, camera work and music that Bay does, so he’s never had a budget comparable to, say, Armageddon or any of the Transformers films. At least we’ve never had to deal with Anderson’s version of Pearl Harbor, so there’s that. (Though he did do Pompeii, which I admit I haven’t seen…)
With all of that you’d think I hated Anderson’s movies, but I actually quite like them. Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Aliens vs Predator, Death Race – I always feel like I at least get my money’s worth. To answer Maximus’ rhetorical question – yes, I AM entertained. And if the films are never that deep or satisfying beyond the spectacle, well, I’ve had worse. I’ve seen Battlefield Earth, my friends. In the theater.
I think Event Horizon is Anderson’s most ambitious and interesting film, and it came at a time when horror films – good horror films – felt really hard to come by. 1997 was the year of I Know What You Did Last Summer and Anaconda , after all. Horror felt pretty thin on the ground in general in the 90’s – certainly compared to the almost fevered pitch of releases in the 1980’s. All of that is to say I wasn’t expecting much when I went to the theater, and I often have a higher opinion of a movie that surprises me in that way than I would otherwise. It lets me gloss over the flaws in plot and production that I might not let go if I had high expectations.
And man, was I surprised. Oppressive, gory, dark, unsettling, full of good performances by decent actors. I thought it was one of the better horror films I’d seen in the 1990’s – and I still do. I MAY have seen it in the theater a couple of times. Certainly I’ve watched it several times at home. In the basement. In the dark.
This past week saw the Scream Factory release of Event Horizon. This is a new 4k scan and the Blu-ray contains several new interviews with cast and crew. Sadly, this release still doesn’t have the famed “lost footage.” While some of that seems to exist on a VHS of the initial rough-cut, owned by producer Lloyd Levin, most of it seems to be gone for good. Scream Factory actually delayed this release when rumors surfaced of a source for the excised footage, but alas it didn’t pan out. Maybe someday. The new interviews are nice, but don’t include a good chunk of the cast (of the main cast, only Kathleen Quinlan and Jack Noseworthy make an appearance). These were produced during the Covid shutdown, so most are conducted via Zoom with varying results. As far as I can tell, all the other extras from the 2008 Paramount release are also ported over, including a commentary track and documentary
I really like the new release, and the picture quality IS improved, but if you’re on a budget the original Blu-ray is still serviceable.
Event Horizon is available for subs on Cinemax and Direct TV, and can be rented or purchased at most of the digital outlets.
The crew of the rescue ship Lewis & Clarke is outbound to Neptune, on a long-haul mission to investigate the fate of another ship – the eponymous Event Horizon. Also on board is Dr. Weir (Sam Neil), the man who designed and built the ship. Weir reveals that Event Horizon – publicly declared destroyed in a terrible accident – was actually fitted with an experimental gravity drive. The ship engaged the drive and disappeared 7 years ago – now it’s back and it’s the Lewis & Clarke’s job to find out what happened to the ship and its crew.
Considering this film was greenlit something like 10 weeks before the start of production I’d say the production design is pretty damn good. Event Horizon itself, both inside and out, has an oppressive, gothic feel. I especially like the bridge, with its massive pillars and tall, thin windows. It looks vaguely like a cathedral, and not unlike the main ship in one of my other guilty favorites – The Black Hole. The gravity drive itself is baroque and impressive – and the last few times I’ve watched the film I find myself thinking about how much it looks like something out of Hellraiser. (Just throw Pin-Head in the background and it’s a party.) The entire set seems to weigh down on the actors and the extensive use of floor lighting exacerbates this, creating a looming darkness above.
The actors do a decent job with the lines they’re given and they’ve all created distinct, interesting characters. There are quite a few of them and I was never once confused as to who was who. ( I’ll watch Sean Pertwee and Jason Isaacs in just about anything, FYI.)
At the time Event Horizon came out I would tell people it was the most Lovecraftian non-Lovecraft film I’d ever seen, and I think that assessment still holds up. The ship has been ‘beyond’ and is not the same when it comes back. Through the gate is something too much for human comprehension – it’s Something Man Was Not Meant to Know. There’s a great little bit of dialogue when Justin is pulled back from the ‘gateway’:
I loved that line. Having recently re-watched Prince of Darkness I found myself wishing the black ‘gateway’ was instead a green, roiling mass of fluid – that would have been a perfect homage in a film that feels full of them. In addition to the Hellraiser ‘puzzle box’ look of the gravity drive there’s the chains and gore that also wouldn’t be out of place in Pinhead’s version of Hell. There’s a flood of blood straight out of The Shining. I also felt like there were a number of bits intended to reference Alien/Aliens – with dialogue (“we’re 5×5”) and scenes like Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) coming up from a ladder in the floor like Ripley (when she’s chasing after the apparition of her son).
One thing I’ve learned since the last time I watched the film is that screenwriter Phillip Eisner credits the miniatures game Warhammer 40k with at least some subconscious influence on the screenplay. Considering one of the core elements of the game setting is The Warp, a demon-infested dimension used as a gateway to travel between worlds, I can certainly see where he’s coming from. (And, like him, I’ve “played the shit out of 40k.” So in my head-cannon Event Horizon is now a prequel to the Warhammer 40k universe. “Job’s a good-‘un.”)
I also enjoyed the way the ship terrorizes the crew of the Lewis & Clarke. The random noises and gore are part of that – I liked the nod to The Haunting of Hill House with the incredibly loud noise coming closer – but it’s the psychological torture that works best. It’s their failures that it uses and if they aren’t always very effective to US, that’s more the fault of the filmmaker than the story. I just wish they’d followed up on it with all the characters – What’s DJs secret shame? Stark’s? I like the bits with Justin being controlled into the airlock, but I always thought he should have died and have had THAT been the failure that weighs on Miller, but ah well.
If there’s any point where the movie falls down a little, it’s because we’re not given enough to really identify with these characters. I know that seems at odds with my saying they’re distinct and interesting, but there’s miles of difference between that and actually giving a damn about what happens to them. There’s a lot of crude, hurry up and sell the situation sort of stuff to try and shortcut an emotional connection, but it doesn’t work (for me). As an example: the first time we see Weir he’s waking from a nightmare. Next to the bed are pictures of a woman who we take to be his wife. He pulls a picture off the wall, sits up and touches it while saying “Claire.” It’s just clumsy. It breaks belief that this guy would pull the picture off the wall, sit there and say his wife’s name aloud. Let him reach over, touch the picture, pause, get out of bed. We’ll get it. Let the actor sell the sadness and loss without being so crass about it – Sam Neill’s more than capable.
An example of them getting it right: when Weir is introduced to the crew they go around the table telling him who they are and what they do – there’s some clumsy stuff here too – but when they get to DJ (Jason Isaacs) he just looks up and says, “Trauma.” His crewmates burst into laughter and DJ acts a bit put out. That tells us LOADS about DJ, the crew and their relationship. THAT is a great way to get us into the characters – not monologues about the guy they left behind.
Some of that stuff may have ended up on the cutting room floor when test audiences didn’t respond well to Anderson’s original cut. There was certainly more backstory for Cooper and Justin – the two characters who get the shortest shrift in the current version. There was also significantly more gore – including an extended sequence of the original crew in ‘hell.’ Alas, that footage seems to have been discarded and we may never get a true ‘director’s cut.’ Anderson has mentioned that producer Lloyd Levin has a VHS of the initial rough-cut of the film. This runs to 130 minutes, nearly half an hour longer than the final release. Some of those scenes are included in the extras – like a scene with Weir arguing to be included in the rescue missions – but many are simply missing. I know that VHS is probably a low-quality dub of work-print level film with no music or effects… but I’d still kinda like to see it. With my eyes, preferably.
The Bottom Line
Event Horizon has some flaws – the effects haven’t all aged well, for instance – but the good far outweighs the bad. It’s got an amazing set, good special effects, good music, decent characters and great atmosphere. It’s The Shining in space via Hellraiser with a little Alien thrown in. It’s creepy, gory and one of the best horror movies of the 1990’s. Hell, one of the best horror movies, period. Highly recommended.
In 2019 it was announced that Adam Wingard (Godzilla vs Kong) was attached to develop an Event Horizon TV series for Amazon. Paul WS Anderson won’t be involved and I can’t really find much info on it at the moment. I’ll give it a shot if/when it does appear though! I just can’t stay away from this particular haunted house in space.