Jul 17, 2013


Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre.

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time.

Dir. Paul W.S. Anderson
Paramount Pictures
United States

“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?”

Event Horizon is a very interesting film, and not just as far as its story goes. Coming from the director of the Resident Evil franchise, the remake of Death Race, and a poorly modernized (and 3D) adaptation of The Three Musketeers, it is one of Paul (W.) (S.) Anderson’s rare features of which the material was original. Event Horizon was not based on any kind of pre-existing material (influences notwithstanding). It was not a video game, a comic, a 1950s TV series. It was birthed entirely from an original screenplay. (Back in 1997, this actually happened from time to time, if you can believe it.)

But that’s not the only reason this is interesting. It’s also interesting because this is the kind of film a director makes after having made the remakes, the adaptations, the video game romps (if we’re allowed to ignore Mortal Kombat, which is still cited as perhaps the best video game adaption to date…which ain’t sayin’ much). This is a film that filmmakers with an insane, jump-cutting, speed-ramping style make after they’ve calmed down, aged, and matured. It’s more intimate than anything he’s ever done, features the best actors of his talent pool, and, perhaps while not quite subtle, is restrained in every way a genuinely good genre film should be.

It just so happens that it was made very early on Anderson’s career – his third feature, if we’re counting, and the second people actually saw. Some filmmakers start off calm and eventually lose their minds (Tony Scott, for example); other filmmakers start off insane and eventually cool with age (David Cronenberg, perhaps). Paul Anderson belongs in that first group, which is a sad thing. If we could turn back time, I would have walked out of Event Horizon and been tremendously excited to see what else this unknown filmmaker might bring us in the future of horror. I’d only be left consistently underwhelmed, and even befuddled.

The year is 2047. Captain Miller of the Lewis and Clark (Laurence Fishburne) has been given a very unexpected assignment. He and his crew are to transport Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill) on a find-and-rescue mission to locate the Event Horizon—a ship that had vanished without a trace years prior. Naturally Miller and his crew find the assignment to be a nonsense fool’s errand. The Event Horizon was a research ship that was gone—plain and simple—and if were to be found, it would’ve been already.

But then Dr. Weir tells them the truth: The Event Horizon was actually a secret government project out to create a vessel that could travel faster than the speed of light—specifically, it had the power to fold space-time and create gateways, through which the ship could traverse at a rapid rate. The hook for Miller and his crew came when Weir tells them a transmission believed to be coming from the Event Horizon was received. Naturally, the crew becomes instantly intrigued. They track the source of those transmissions and nearly crash right into her; the Event Horizon looms seemingly out of nowhere. She is a gigantic cube-shaped vessel connected by long corridors and intricate designs.

The crew boards the ship and find a massacre—literally. Dead bodies, long frozen over, float throughout the ship. Droplets of blood hang in the gravityless air. “This place is a tomb,” Captain Miller laments.

And then they find the video: the final transmission from the crew of the Event Horizon before they vanished for decades. Based on the monstrous and animalistic beings to which the crew devolves, it’s clear something horrible has happened on board the Event Horizon. As a man holds out his own ripped-out eyeballs and offers them to the camera, it’s clear there’s more than just a case of cabin fever going on. And it would seem the crew of the Lewis & Clark are the next unfortunate individuals to find out just what happened.

Space movies have never really been my thing. I couldn’t say why. You’d think a place that’s constantly nighttime would be pretty awesome to a weirdo like me, but I just never found it an interesting place to set a story. This is probably why I was never into any of the Star sagas – Wars, Trek, or Mummy. I like the Alien series, and Spaceballs. That’s about it.

Yet I love Event Horizon. Essentially a combination of The Shining, Flatliners, Hellraiser, and a little bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey thrown in for good measure, Event Horizon features (for once) an adult cast filled with known and respected actors, psychological terror, gory set pieces, and a very “fucked” ship. The emphasis here is entirely on story. It wears its influences with great pride (Sam Neill is clearly channeling Jack Torrance), but it’s so unique and removed enough from other space-set films that it becomes its own beast. Our characters are actually fleshed out and given back-stories. Weir, Miller, and Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) are saddled with emotional baggage that the Event Horizon is quick to exploit: Weir is haunted by his wife’s suicide; Miller feels remorse for a man under his command that died while they were stationed on another ship; Peters has a disabled son waiting for her to come home, and it’s killing her that she can’t.

This kind of character care isn’t all entirely moody stuff, either. There’s a wonderful scene in the beginning where our entire cast is gathered around listening to Weir’s explanation about the Event Horizon, and each crew member of the Lewis & Clark introduces him/herself, offering their names and their role on the ship. Fantastic character actor Jason Isaacs introduces himself with an overly dramatic, yet simple, “D.J. … Trauma,” and the entire crew laughs at him—not because it’s particularly funny, but because we can easily ascertain from their response that they know him. They’ve been working with him for years, and have grown used to his theatricality and moodiness. They wouldn’t have expected him to respond in any other kind of way. And they must realize how odd and and dark he must seem to people who haven’t already been well familiar with him. Nor are they surprised by fellow crew member Justin answering Weir’s question of “What’s the shortest distance between two points?” with “A straight line.” Of course they expected this kind of answer—because they have been hearing these kinds of silly answers from him for years. Or when Cooper (Richard T. Jones) offers Lieutenant Starck (Joely Fisher) a cup of coffee and asks, “Do you want something hot and black inside you?” she disregards him with an eye-roll; she knows not to take offense because this is how Cooper rolls.

This is the easiest way to establish a genuine sense of camaraderie—or at least intimacy—in films, and so many writers/directors simply don’t get that. If you want your audience to buy your characters as real people, they need to seem like real people. Focus on the mundane everyday things. Because that’s what life is, and that’s when people seem the most real. And the crew of Event Horizon do.

The cast turns in great work. Fishburne is more bad-ass here than he ever was as Morpheus. His Captain Miller makes the expression “no-nonsense” look foolhardy. He’s a man who doesn’t just demand authority, but exudes it. When he speaks, you listen—which is exactly how a captain should sound. He’s level headed enough to call bullshit when he hears it, but he’s also grounded enough to know when even the most outlandish of claims might have an undercurrent of reality. He’s hard, but paternal—but also vulnerable to his guilt-ridden mind. Seeing such vulnerability in an otherwise tough-as-nails character allows you to realize the magnitude of the threat surrounding our characters. If Captain Miller is scared, then everyone’s fucked.

As great as Fishburne is—in Event Horizon, and in general—it’s Sam Neill who brings legitimacy to the film. His presence in nearly any film guarantees that, at the very least, it’s going to be interesting. In Event Horizon, he is having a great time, even under all the heavy prosthetics he eventually undergoes. He plays boring just as handily as he does operatic and out of his mind. I must say it’s pretty delightful watching him slowly lose his mind, dabble in madness, but then briefly come out of it, not knowing just how far off the deep end he’s gone. The Event Horizon, his creation, is calling him from the very first frame—even before he sets foot on the Lewis & Clark.

Paul Anderson shows immense faith in the material and it shows in his direction. The subtle side of his techniques easily bests his post-Resident Evil eye candy approach, but he also knows when to go for the throat. Famously, much of Event Horizon’s violence had to be cut down in order to avoid the kiss-of-death NC-17 rating—something ridiculous like 20 minutes were excised from the final film; sadly, his desire to release a director’s cut reinstating this footage will never come to pass, as its believed the footage has become unusable over the years. If Event Horizon as it stands represents the neutered version, it makes me curious to see an uncut version even more. Because Event Horizon is pretty gruesome. People are filleted, dissected, and mutilated. And in the lost footage of the Event Horizon’s previous crew, there are allusions to further bouts of hell-fueled bodily dismemberment, orgiastic madness, and a whole lot of Latin. (Images of the excised scenes can be found in the below embedded album.)

Event Horizon
is pulp at its finest and most legitimized. It’s unnerving and entertaining, and extremely rewarding. It’s a snapshot of the dying ‘90s, where decent horror was allegedly seldom seen. Paul Anderson proved one thing: he can do horror, and do it well—without leather, slow motion, bullet time, and everything else the MTV generation demands. Plus, you know your film hails from another time when you smash cut to credits and a Prodigy song.

“Wasn’t that fun?” Paul Anderson is asking us.

Yes, it was. But now I’ve got a question for you, Paul. Where the fuck did you go?

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