CULT CORNER: Event Horizon (1997)

Rod goes intergalactic for what could very well be Paul W.S. Anderson’s best film. 

Who made it?: Paul W.S. Anderson (Director), Philip Eisner (Writer), Lawrence Gordon, Jeremy Bolt, Lloyd Levin (Producers), Paramount Pictures.

Who’s in it?: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jason Isaacs.

Tagline: “Infinite Space – Infinite Terror.”

IMDb rating: 6.7/10.

Event Horizon is a Paul W.S. Anderson film (back before he had to use the W.S. to differentiate himself from that other director named Paul Anderson) which he made in between the first Mortal Kombat (1995) and Soldier (1998). After directing the former, Anderson was offered the sequel, which would eventually go on to be titled Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997). However, he turned it down (a very wise move in my opinion, considering how bad that sequel was), because he wanted to do something much more mature and violent after the PG-13 Kombat, and so his next project became Event Horizon. He was even offered X-Men (2000) and Alien Resurrection (1997) but turned them down as well.

If I had to sum up what this film is, I would basically say it is The Shining in space. You even have a moment where a torrent of blood gushes all over the place like that film, too. When you really compare them, The Shining is about characters in an isolated location and one of them goes insane, endangering the lives of the others present, and in Event Horizon, you have characters in an isolated location and one of them goes insane, endangering the lives of the others. However, that is where the general similarities between these two films end. It is also seemingly inspired by the first Alien (1979) in terms of not only the fact this also takes place on a ship in outer space, but also in the idea of “truckers in space” that was conveyed through the way the characters were portrayed in Ridley Scott’s classic.

Anderson has, of course, done a few films where a team of characters are at play, very much aiming for something in the vein of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). Each character has their own characteristics that help ground them as believable personalities, and that kind of thing goes a long way. It’s interesting to note that the cinematographer of Event Horizon was the late Adrian Biddle, who worked on Aliens as well as many other films. Out of Event Horizon, Resident Evil and Alien vs. Predator, I feel that Anderson best achieved an effective execution of  the ensemble dynamic from Aliens in this film, which I would say is my favourite film of Anderson’s alongside the arguably underrated Mortal Kombat.

Right at the beginning, we are told what has transpired before the current events to give us a bit of setup. It might be cliché but the way the text appears, along with a piece of the score you hear, which was composed by the late Michael Kamen, really gets you into the mood of the picture. In 2015, a permanent colony is established on the Moon, in 2032 the commercial mining begins on Mars, and in 2040 the deep space research vessel “Event Horizon” is launched but disappears without a trace beyond the planet Neptune. The main action of the film takes place in the year 2047.

The concept behind the Event Horizon ship is that it creates a black hole to travel to places in space quicker, and it has gone beyond the reaches of our own universe and into what is, for all intents and purposes, Hell. Even though it’s not exactly like the video game Doom, this aspect is similar to that in which a portal was created which led straight to Hell, and it’s quite sad that the film only has that one similarity, as it is able to execute these ideas in a way much better than the incompetent film adaptation of Doom itself. The Event Horizon is a very Gothic-looking ship in its design. In fact, it was actually modelled on the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, and it suits the overall look and style of the film.

Each character is faced with fears that are hallucinations created by the evil presence possessing the Event Horizon itself. This aspect is very similar to the Roger Corman-produced B-grade sci-fi horror flick Galaxy of Terror (1981), where characters are faced with their fears in the form of hallucinations as well, except their fears can actually kill them (someone is even killed by an alien having sex with them!).

Laurence Fishburne, two years before he starred in The Matrix (1999), portrays Miller, the captain of the Lewis and Clark ship that has been assigned to investigate the Event Horizon. Years before, he had lost a friend in an accident on another ship called the Goliath where a fire broke out and, in order to save the rest of the crew, Miller had to abandon him. My favourite line of Fishburne’s is “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 vaporised. Fuck this ship!”

Sam Neill plays Dr. Weir, with his surname being a nod to Australian director Peter Weir, the scientist who actually designed the Event Horizon and came up with the methods in which it is able to travel through space by using a gravity drive. He lost his wife to suicide prior to the events of the film, and ultimately he becomes the villain because he is taken over by the same evil that the ship itself has become possessed by. My favourite line of his is “You know nothing. Hell is only a word. The reality is much, much worse.”

Elsewhere in the cast, Jason Isaacs plays DJ. He translates the Latin being spoken by the Event Horizon in the part of a recording that, at first, is unintelligible and cannot be seen properly due to it being distorted. Sean Pertwee plays Smith. He is given some great lines, my favourite of his being, “No, I haven’t seen anything and I don’t need to see anything sir but I can tell you… this ship is fucked.” Joely Richardson plays Lt. Starck. She is the first to come up with a theory of what has happened to the Event Horizon since it went missing, essentially saying that the ship brought back a lifeforce of some kind. Kathleen Quinlan plays Peters who has a hallucination of her son’s legs with sores all over them during a moment in the film. Jack Noseworthy is Justin. He puts his finger into the strange liquid in the gravity drive and is pulled into it. He is the first to become possessed by the presence in the ship. And Richard T. Jones plays Cooper, the conventional black comedic character, but I actually do like him. He also gets some great lines, too, such as when he offers Starck a hot cup of coffee, “Hey Starck, do you want something hot and black inside you?” to which she responds “No, I do not.” And he then replies with, “How about some coffee then?”

The imagery is really foreboding in a lot of instances, such as the air vents of the engine room which Weir has to crawl through to locate a circuit that needs fixing, and the lights which go off and on before he sees a hallucination of his dead wife who scares the hell out of him. It is like something out of a haunted house horror flick, even to the point of having blood seeping through the walls during one moment. There are a few really good psychologically-effective and eerie scenes, too. And if you want horrific imagery to boot, then you will see plenty of that, even in just the small and quick glimpses of what the Event Horizon crew did to each other when the footage gets cleaned up, including such disturbing things as gouging out eyeballs. There was a lot of gore cut from this film based on test screenings, approximately thirty minutes’ worth overall. But even so, what you do end up getting in the theatrical cut is still quite effective.

Overall, Event Horizon is one of my favourite films in this genre. The score by Kamen is combined with music created by the electronic dance music band Orbital to create an interesting blend of styles. The main theme of the film is great. I also really like the song “Funky Shit” by the band The Prodigy, which plays during the end credits. While Event Horizon isn’t as great as something like Alien, it definitely isn’t terrible, and is quite competent in its execution and is certainly a film I would recommend to people who haven’t seen it before. If you’re not sure since it is very much a Paul W.S. Anderson movie, then go in with lowered expectations because you may just find yourself being pleasantly surprised. For my money, this was Anderson when he was at his best.

Best Scene

Alan Grant vs. Morpheus.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • The rotational shot of the space station over earth took nearly a third of the film’s budget.
  • The space suits worn by the actors weighed 65 pounds (30 kilograms) each. Laurence Fishburne nicknamed his “Doris.” Due to the weight, standing upright in them for longer periods could lead to back injury, but sitting down was not possible either due to the backpack. Special “hanging poles” were constructed on the set, so the actors could rest on them between takes.
  • From greenlight to completion, the film took 10 months, an unusually short amount of time for such a complex, special effects driven film.
  • This movie was produced entirely within the UK, even the special effects.
  • The scene in which Weir explains how to bend space and time in order to travel huge interstellar distances is paraphrased in Interstellar (2014). Romily uses the exact same demonstration to illustrate the theory – folding a piece of paper and pushing a pen through it while explaining it to Cooper.

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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