Event Horizon (1997)
"Infinite space. Infinite terror."
When the Event Horizon, a spaceship lost for seven years while exploring the boundaries of the solar system, suddenly reappears, a rescue ship is sent to search for survivors and find out what happened to her. After an accidental explosion renders their own ship unusable, the crew has no choice but to board the Event Horizon and attempt to pilot her back to Earth. However, the crew begin to experience strange hallucinations and through slowly piecing together what happened to the original crew, they realise that they are about to share the same hellish fate.
What if? That’s the big question on my lips having watched Event Horizon and realising that it was brimming with unfulfilled potential. A big budget b-movie is basically what this is, with the lavish special effects and star-studded cast adding some glossy sheen to what is essentially a ‘haunted house in space’ story. But considering just what this film went through, it is amazing we get something even half as entertaining as the final product is.
When Paramount realised Titanic would not meet its release date, filming and editing on Event Horizon was rushed through to fill the gap in the schedules and allow the studio to make the most of the free slot. Usually films get a ten week editing period after filming for the director to produce a first cut of the film but this was shortened to six weeks for Event Horizon, with Anderson having to shoot a further two weeks with the second unit effectively meaning he had one month to come up with a coherent and workable print. The original 130-minute cut of the film was heavily edited at the demand of the studio after test audiences apparently fainted during some scenes, with the extreme amount of gore being something Paramount deemed unacceptable and the excessive run time too long. To his dismay, Anderson trimmed out thirty minutes worth of footage, a decision he has since said he regrets, in order to meet their demands. So all in all, from being given the green-light to total completion, the film took ten months to make, a staggeringly short time for such a complex and effects-driven film and the end result is the potentially brilliant but ultimately flawed Event Horizon.
Things start off well enough, the script creating a genuine sense of foreboding and imminent danger as the crew arrive on the Horizon and began fathoming out just what went wrong. There are shades of Alien at this point, with an expendable crew of varied stereotyped characters responding to a distress call and going investigating something they’re not fully educated in. But the script manages to avoid too many clichés at this point – not going along the obvious space-monster-on-the-loose route for a start. The quality ensemble cast with Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs and more adds plenty of depth to the characters during the earlier running time. Neill has always been grossly underrated as an actor and delivers another quality performance throughout. Fishburne channels his inner Morpheus here a few years before The Matrix. They all do a decent job of portraying the effects of the psychological horror and the mind games that the ship has on them.
Despite a really strong opening half that promises a lot, Event Horizon quickly degenerates into an exercise of style over substance and falls into the clichés it was trying to steer clear of - flashy special effects and gratuitous gore are substituted in as the script begins to stutter and the direction becomes muddled. The story doesn’t do anything with the concept of Hell once it is unleashed, simply replacing the traditional monster-on-the-loose approach with characters meeting demonic demises at the hands of unseen supernatural forces. There is plenty of hellish imagery on screen which is more reminiscent of the Cenobites’ domain in Hellraiser than anything else - I quite expected Pinhead to waltz out from the shadows at one point and start preaching to the survivors (ironically, the Hellraiser series had already sent Pinhead into space the year before with Hellraiser: Bloodline). The make-up effects on show for some of the mutilated corpses are superb and give the audience a glimpse of just what Anderson had to cut out – it’s a brief glimpse into the nightmarish Lovecraftian vision that Anderson originally had for the film which was canned for its lack of broad appeal.
Coincidentally though, it’s around this point in the film where the slow-burn psychological horror that had been building is jettisoned and it soon becomes more standard issue horror. This is probably where a sharper, more focused script from pre-production would have come in handy and any kinks ironed out before filming began. Disappointingly, the finale is your run-of-the-mill protagonist vs antagonist showdown which didn’t appear to be on the cards early on.
One aspect of the film which can’t be faulted is the superb production design and special effects, which add a whole level of scariness themselves. The Event Horizon herself is a mesmerising Gothic construction, modelled on the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, with its long, darkened corridors resembling a church nave at night and the warp drive core looking like something out of a medieval torture chamber, with a rotating black sphere in the middle. Despite the vastness of the ship, it has an unnerving claustrophobia to it – you just want to get off as soon as you can. The exterior shots of the ship, silently and majestically gliding along through space, are wonderful at both highlighting the beauty of the ship but also its eeriness and dark side. The ship isn’t the only fancy effect though. The opening rotational shot which pulls out from the space station overlooking Earth took nearly a third of the film's visual effects budget, but every single penny is up there on the screen. Event Horizon is without question one of the best-looking films of its kind and the effects not only look wonderful, but allow the Horizon to become a character herself.
Despite borrowing heavily from the likes of Alien, The Shining and Hellraiser, Event Horizon is one of the best marriages of science fiction and horror going and is certainly an entertaining and chilling watch for most of the duration. Given its difficult production, Event Horizon is way better than it has any right to be although the tantalising glimpses into Anderson’s original vision offer the missing pieces of the puzzle which could have turned this into a grade A classic.
Director(s): Paul W. S. Anderson
Writer(s): Phillip Eisner
Actor(s): Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee
Duration: 85 mins