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F**k This Ship: 20 Years of EVENT HORIZON

I created the Event Horizon to reach the stars, but she’s gone much, much farther than that. She tore a hole in our universe, a gateway to another dimension. A dimension of pure chaos. Pure… evil. When she crossed over, she was just a ship. But when she came back… she was alive! Look at her, Miller. Isn’t she beautiful?

Re-evaluating movies once seen as failures has become something of a sub-genre of its own among film aficionados. A film maligned by critics and ignored at the box office is now more likely to find a fresh following among new fans through word of mouth or nostalgic endorsements from a small (but vocal) fan base. In recent years, one of the films that has gained the most from this “better late than never” retrospection is Paul Anderson’s sci-fi/horror tale, EVENT HORIZON.

The story of the film’s release is all too familiar to horror cinema devotees: after seeing the 130-minute cut of the film for the first time, Paramount became a little gun-shy of their finished product. For a film being released for the summer, it was considered too long and definitely far too violent and mean-spirited for summertime consumption. Anderson was forced to make cuts to the film to make it more palatable (and profitable) for mainstream audiences. To no one’s surprise, after all the fiddling and second-guessing, the end result was a low take at the box office and a heap of derision from critics. It wouldn’t be the first film to suffer this fate, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Now, in re-evaluating a film like EVENT HORIZON, there’s a tendency to treat it like some sort of lost and unappreciated classic. Let’s get this out of the way – the film has its flaws. Critics called it a pastiche of other films – THE SHINING, HELLRAISER , ALIEN and SOLARIS all get brought up  – and they’re not wrong. But considering the amount of homage that goes on in this genre, it’s unfair to take this film in particular to task. Especially when the final product works as surprisingly well as it did and what works, works really well.

For starters, the two headliners – Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill – are both solid here. Neill’s Dr. Weir, the obsessed creator of the gravity drive, gradually slips into madness as his creation begins to work on him, molding him from its creator (father?) to a loyal servant – Renfield to its Dracula. There’s a last-minute Cenobite-like transformation for Weir in the climax which feels tacked on, but Neill’s descent into homicide and worse makes him a strong avatar for the evil ship.

Fishburne’s Miller, the captain of The Lewis & Clarke salvage ship, is straight-up, no-nonsense, placing his crew’s safety over all other concerns, even if it means putting himself in jeopardy. And he does it all with an effortless “military man” cool. The other cast members equip themselves well enough, but Neill & Fishburne keep things anchored, especially when in conflict over the mission plan.

Then there’s the titular space hulk itself, a character in its own right and designed as such. Like a metal bird of prey illuminated by the thunderstorm of the nearby planet it orbits, The Event Horizon seems designed for malevolence. From the long and alien passageways to the doorways – all punctuated with sharp spikes and edges, it’s as if the ship is making its intentions known through its architecture. At the center of it all, Weir’s Gravity Drive is a revolving puzzle-like sphere that generates an artificial black hole that bridges two points for instantaneous travel. The room is ringed by sharp spikes in the walls and a moat of brackish blood-like fluid surrounding it. Practical? No, certainly not for trans-warp space travel. But it’s visually effective and creates a great sense of dread the minute our intrepid retrieval crew steps onboard.

But for anybody with even a passing knowledge of this film, the conversation around EVENT HORIZON always comes back to THAT scene.

You know the one. It’s why freeze-frame was invented.

The reveal of what happened to Event Horizon’s crew in that final video log is a Boschian pastiche of cruelty and bloodletting – friends and colleagues once, now doing horribly animalistic things to each other, all seen through the briefest of subliminal flashes. It’s a bravura horror set-piece, more unsettling for what’s implied than shown. I could post the clip – twenty years is well past spoiler worries now, right? – but you can find it easily on Google . Besides, without context and without the slow build-up to this reveal, it’s not going to have any impact. Instead, I’m sharing that scene’s climax – a moment of silence punctuated by Fishburne’s very matter-of-fact reaction to the scene – that acts as one of the best punchlines in horror cinema history.

It’s not Miller’s only common sense moment. As Weir attempts to convince Miller not to leave his ship behind, Miller responds:

” I have no intention of leaving her, Doctor. I will take the Lewis and Clark to a safe distance, and then I will launch TAC missiles at the Event Horizon until I’m satisfied she’s vaporized. Fuck this ship!”

Where many horror films will have the characters do something stupid for the sake of plot momentum, EVENT HORIZON refuses to play that game and for that, it’s worthy of respect.

While interest in a director’s or extended cut is very strong, this is one of those cases where it’s just not feasible. All excised material was literally and unceremoniously dumped, eventually rediscovered in (I kid you not) a salt mine in Transylvania. The film stock was damaged beyond repair, so any and all chances of seeing EVENT HORIZON in Anderson’s original vision are dead. And yes, it’s a shame that we won’t get to see this unfiltered and uncut version, the film still stands well enough on its own as-is, warts and all.

After twenty years, EVENT HORIZON still has the power to creep you out. And those studio heads mentioned earlier? They were right. This is a dark and mean-spirited little flick which makes it stand out among the more jokey and self-referential scare fare of the 1990s. Perhaps more importantly, though, then what could have been for the film is what EVENT HORIZON’s success might have meant for its director. Anderson made the conscious choice to pick a hard-R horror film after MORTAL KOMBAT’s success. This meant turning down offers to direct ALIEN RESURRECTION and X-MEN. Anderson’s been doing alright, though, overseeing the incredibly successful RESIDENT EVIL film franchise. Now that he’s wrapping up that tour of duty, though, maybe we’ll get to see him get back on the path he started on with EVENT HORIZON.

In an 2012 interview for Collider.com,  Anderson spoke of the time he screened EVENT HORIZON for Kurt Russell, when the two of them were filming 1998’s SOLDIER . At the end of it, Russell told him that this would be the film he would be remembered for.

As far as legacies go, we should all be so lucky.

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