Infinite Space, Infinite Terror: A 15th Anniversary Look Back at Event Horizon

Posted on August 28, 2012 by Ben 33 Comments

by Kit Rathenar

Beware of moderate spoilers.

It says everything about the current state of filmmaking that when I set out to write an article celebrating the fifteenth birthday of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon, the first thing I did – even before sitting down to rewatch the film itself – was to peer suspiciously around the internet to find out whether anyone was threatening a remake of it. Much to my relief, the answer seems to be “no”. For the moment at least, this dark little jewel of a movie is apparently safe from the Frankenstein’s laboratory that Hollywood has turned into in recent years.

Long may it so remain, because Event Horizon is one of those rare films that’s held its head up since the day it was released and to this day, I genuinely believe nothing has been added to cinema’s technical or narrative repertoires that could have improved it. Event Horizon smoothly crosses the atmosphere of a haunted-house plot with the uniquely existential nightmarishness of a deep-space setting, and then spices the result with the almost sexual charge of a Hellraiser-style fascination with flesh, blood and the outer limits of experience. It’s a volatile mix, and one that in the wrong hands could easily have backfired, but it all fits together with an almost poetic elegance. I’ve seen this film a lot of times, to the point where I can lipsync the dialogue for most of it, and yet every time I see it I notice something else about it that I love.

This time the thing that made me sigh with happiness, as the credits gave way to the opening shot of the Event Horizon hanging in the darkness above Neptune, was the realisation of just how good it felt to be watching a movie set in space that was made before the age of modern CGI. Computer-generated spaceships are one of my least favourite things ever, but I’ve become resigned to them through necessity. To be reminded of the detail, the solidity – the simple plausibility of design that comes from having to make a physical model of a ship before you can film it – gladdens my heart. The ships of Event Horizon are beautiful in their ugliness, put together in ways that suggest pragmatic considerations long ago won out over aesthetic ones in this universe. While the Event Horizon herself has a certain elegance, the smaller search-and-rescue ship Lewis and Clark is a real rivet-bucket of a vessel with no concessions to artistry whatsoever. They’re beautiful on the inside, too; lacking the glossy, streamlined, well-lit internal spaces that so many fictional vessels of the future possess, they’re put together out of small rooms, gantries, ladders, companionways and crawlspaces that at least hint at a plausible descent from our own universe’s twentieth-century spacecraft. The only real contravention of this rule is the huge empty shaft that links the Event Horizon’s forward decks to her engineering core at the stern, and this can easily be justified in terms of a desire to keep the untested black-hole-drive technology at a comfortable arm’s length from the crew.

This kind of functional beauty is a feature of the visual direction throughout, indeed, with the camerawork consistently adopting a viewer-friendly style that shows you everything you want to see (and a few things you’d probably rather not) with style and economy, making time for aesthetic considerations without ever going “hey, look at this trick shot, aren’t we clever?” I love cinematography that can make me forget I’m watching a film and let me feel instead like I’m right there with the characters, and Event Horizon achieves this pretty much perfectly. But of course, even if you are in there with the cast, you still need to care about them for a film to work, and for me, this is where Event Horizon has always outshone so many lesser movies by whole orders of magnitude. It would have been easy to make a film purely about a bunch of characters getting eaten in deep space by a possessed starship, relying on sheer splatter factor to get the impact. Plenty of directors would have done just that and gone home happy.

However, once you start looking more closely, that isn’t what Event Horizon is – certainly it’s not all it is. Despite being unashamedly a horror movie first and foremost, it’s also a film about people, and the ties that bind them to each other; and about how you can use those ties to drag them straight to hell. Every single character in this film fits somehow into its weblike group dynamic, including the dead ones and even the ships themselves. Start, if you will, with the monstrous triangle between Dr Weir, his dead wife Claire, and the Event Horizon – it becomes horribly obvious as the film goes on that Claire’s suicide may have been a direct consequence of Weir’s neglect of her for his ironclad mistress, and there’s a triumphant rival’s malice in the way the Event Horizon puppeteers Claire’s memory to manipulate Weir into staying with it forever. The Event Horizon is assuredly alive and sentient, and it wants more than simply to kill; it wants to claim and keep its victims, and the way it achieves this is not by acting through simple fear or menace. Instead, it baits its traps with the things that will wrench most powerfully on its targets’ heartstrings. Weir sees his dead wife; Peters her son; Miller the crewmate he unwillingly left to die years before. Smith loses his life trying to save the Lewis and Clark – which he clearly loves as much as Weir does the Event Horizon, once again demonstrating that the cursed ship isn’t prepared to accept competition for its intended crew’s loyalties no matter what form that competition comes in. And this is what really makes me love this movie, and come back to it time and time again. Not the horror, but the humanity of it. It’s easy to invest in the characters because they’re invested so deeply in each other, and that takes a better script and better directing than it ever will to just throw a scare into the audience.

It also takes better acting, which is where Event Horizon plays an unexpected trump card by fielding an absolutely stellar cast. From Sam Neill chewing the scenery as the driven Dr Weir to Laurence Fishburne’s softly-spoken, courageous yet deeply human Captain Miller, and with both Sean Pertwee and Jason Isaacs (before he blotted his copybook by donning that unfortunate blond wig for Harry Potter) among the supporting performers, this film is loaded with talent and puts all of it to excellent use. And speaking of actors, another point that isn’t mentioned enough but should definitely be credited to Event Horizon’s reputation is that for its age it has some impressively forward-looking character demographics. The standard crew of the Lewis and Clark contains, out of seven, two women and two black men; of these, one of the final survivors is black, one is female, and the other black character dies right near the end of the film rather than being the traditional first casualty. It even resists the temptation to objectify the female cast: we see nearly as much male as female nudity, all of it is story-relevant one way or another, and nobody’s breasts end up getting more screentime than their face. It’s all very refreshing when you consider that even now there are plenty of blockbusters being made which can’t manage to do half as well.

And all that aside, of course, you can’t talk about Event Horizon without acknowledging that first and foremost, it succeeds as what it’s billed as: a horror movie. Mainly, I think, because it’s ambitious enough to draw from a wide repertoire of tested horror techniques without relying too much on any one of them, so no matter who you are, there’s probably something in here that will resonate with one of your own private nightmares. There’s anticipation horror, jump scares, body horror, emotionally and intellectually disturbing moments, and more, all of it building up from a rock-solid foundation of pure cosmic/existential terror that you’d have to be utterly devoid of imagination not to get something out of. Where do you go if you punch a hole through reality itself – what could be a more evocative question than that? The iconic image of the Event Horizon’s huge gravity-drive “gate” with its spinning rings gives me the shivers to this day, and I literally can’t watch this film without spending the rest of the night shuddering as odd snatches of it come back to haunt me. Whether it’s the crawling terror of that green-lit access corridor in the engineering bay (which Weir, a declared claustrophobe, notably plunges into without hesitation when it’s for the sake of his ship – another of those little character touches that this film is littered with) or the memory of “liberate… me…” echoing in my ears, there’s always something from this movie that manages to ride on my shoulder and then jump back into full recollection at the worst possible moment. I watch a lot of horror films, but most of them don’t leave a lasting scar on me. Event Horizon is one of the very few that not only does, but somehow still makes me want to come back for more.

I’ll close this editorial with a titbit of news that should make any Event Horizon fan’s heart leap as much as it did mine. At ComicCon 2012, Paul W.S. Anderson was being interviewed by Steve Weintraub of collider.com (watch it here) when he dropped a bombshell: the original, long believed lost first version of Event Horizon (it went through multiple rounds of cuts at Paramount’s instruction) has been found, courtesy of producer Lloyd Levin who turned it up on an old VHS cassette! Anderson himself hadn’t seen the tape at the time of the interview, but said he was going back home to watch it as soon as he was done with Resident Evil 5. Might we yet be treated to a director’s cut of this extraordinary film? I don’t know for sure – Anderson hasn’t shown much tendency to do director’s cuts in his career – but I’m crossing everything I’ve got. Care to join me?

33 comments

  • UK Editor says:

    Man, 15 years… this one really makes me feel old. I saw this on the big screen the week it came out with a couple of friends. We knew basically nothing about it, and proceeded to shit ourselves! It remains an above average space shocker, for sure, but I must admit I struggle to appreciate now, mainly because of my resentment for pretty much everything Paul WS Anderson has done since. You’ve definitely inspired me to give this one another look, though.

    Ben

    • Kit says:

      Thanks! Personally I can never hate Anderson for two reasons – Event Horizon is one of them and Mortal Kombat, which I was just old enough to see at the pictures when it came out, is the other. Still my favourite fantasy-martial-arts movie of all time, that is.

      And I should probably admit that I loved Death Race, as well. Turning the remake into *exactly* the type of entertainment that the original Death Race 2000 was satirising was either a stroke of perverse genius or the ultimate failure to have a clue, and until someone confirms once and for all which it was, I’m going to give Anderson the benefit of the doubt… ;)

  • Emma says:

    I always enjoy your writing but this is particularly beautifully put – a warm and incisive summation of one of my favourite films. Also – you got me thinking about the ending… SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT *klaxon*

    the idea that the ship uses the thing closest to people’s hearts to draw them in is particularly interesting in the light of the surviving characters – perhaps ice-queen Starck of the foreshadowing name, and carefree, comical Cooper are not rescued from the Event Horizon but rejected from it as incapable of caring deeply enough? The fact that what tips Strack into screaming hysteria at the end is the hallucination of Weir telling her “You’re with us now” may suggest that what she cherished most was being apart…be careful what you wish for and all that…

    • Kit says:

      Ooooh, interesting point you make there. I hadn’t thought about it that way but you might have something, certainly. Though of course if Miller hadn’t hit the detonator when he did the ship would’ve got Starck and Cooper into the bargain anyway… and I’m pretty certain getting blown in half wasn’t on the Event Horizon’s agenda.

      (Indeed, if you bear in mind that the ship itself is effectively a living creature in its own right, that’s a whole new level of body horror right there – how does it feel to be ripped in half and then have your halves disappear into two separate dimensions? Ugh, I wish I hadn’t had that thought now!)

  • Jez Noir says:

    A lovely tribute to one of my favourite movies. Recently I watched it right after Dog Soldiers for the ultimate Sean Pertwee double-bill.

    When you say the first cut has been found, are we talking about that borderline-urban-myth full scene of the original ship’s crew killing each other? ‘Cause that really would make my day…

    • Kit says:

      Thanks for your comment. There’s no higher compliment, to me, than another fan enjoying my writeups! :)

      And yeah, Paul explicitly said the original cut. So I believe he does mean the mythical supposedly-lost-down-a-salt-mine-in-Transylvania one complete with the full version of the orgy/massacre/etc, yes. (Though I have to say that after frame-by-framing what DID make it into the final cut, I’m almost afraid to know what got taken out…)

  • george says:

    finally someone who agrees with me – what a lost gem is EH! However, through the years, its influence can be seen everywhere – sunshine, pandorum and the dead space games! Personally, i consider EH one of the scariest films ever. The first 2/3s of the film are nerve shattering and i am impressed with Anderon’s directional skills on this one. Excellent film and i really wish we could see at some point the long awaited director’s cut!

    • Kit says:

      Cheers, and welcome aboard – we’ve got quite a few people who agree with you, to judge by the other comments here! :) Certainly with you on the “one of the scariest ever” – there are only a handful of films that have ever scared me that much and of those there are even fewer I actually wanted to rewatch, which is precisely why I admire EH so much…

  • Clint says:

    I’d snap up an extended director’s cut of this movie as soon as it went on sale.

  • Tristan says:

    I haven’t seen this since the original VHS release, but I remember enjoying it at the time – and was dismayed to learn of the cuts that were made. Would definitely sit down with the full version were it available.

  • Luis says:

    Men! I remember seeing this movie when i was..8 years old… at least 5 years were necessary for me to be able to see a horror movie again! Now i have it in blu ray! Please tell me that if you know that a directors cut is coming, you will send us all an email!

  • Jeff S. says:

    Wow. We really must be remembering different movies. The one I sat through back in the day was about as scary as a Scooby Doo episode. And made less sense.
    Sorry folks, this one’s a thumbs-down from me.

  • anna r. says:

    Hands down my all time favorite movie! When my (now husband) boyfriend and I started dating I wanted him to see it because I loved EH so much so we rented it early 1998. After he saw it for the first time he rewound it to those scary scenes of the alternate dimension where people were being tortured. But the scene cuts by really fast so he went back to frame by frame thru the VHS tape to really look at those images. And it was then I knew he was the guy for me! <3

  • Alex_D says:

    Event Horizon is just a rip-off of Doom (the game), & Alien (the movie) delivered with a Lovecraftian vibe.
    …and that why it’s so fucking great.

  • Nick B says:

    I went to see this at the theater with my brother and his friends, just trying to hang out with the older, cooler high school crowd. None of us had any idea how great this was going to be, and to this day we still bring it up about how mind blown we all were. Scared as hell, and blown away by how surprisingly awesome this movie is. Thanks for this article, now I’m going to have to go out and snatch up a new copy of this!

  • Geoff says:

    Everything you said in the article is everything that I would have written. This movie came out when I was 11 years old and it scared me to death the first time I saw it. Now that I’m older I’m able to watch it (and I do a few times a year) and still remember my terror, but I’m able to watch it a little more inquisitively because it seems there’s always another Easter egg.

    When I watched it most recently, I realized that the Event Horizon could only read Captain Miller’s mind when he put his head on its wall. It was a stunning moment of realization for me; how could I not have seen that for all these years?

    HBO and Cinemax used to play this movie almost every day back in 1998 and 1999, and I used to watch it every time I came across it. It lured me in and was so interesting to me that I couldn’t look away.

    Bully for you for writing this. It was an amazing read and even nicer to know that there’s somebody out there who admires the movie as much, if not more, than I do.

  • Rafizan says:

    Hi, me and my brother also saw this at a local cineplex when it first came out. The hall was empty. Just us, a couple and a handful others. Back then, we always bought our copy of Premier magazine. There was a mention on Event Horizon. Having read that, we ridiculed the movie as another rip-off of Star Wars. Boy we were so wrong. In the cinema hall, the two of us sat like five rows from the screen. We had balls because we didn’t know anything. As the movie rolled, I admit I used my hands to shut my eyes. I couldn’t take the horror that was displayed before me. Oh how I regretted what I’d said. Now, Event Horizon is one of my favorite modern horror movies. Lastly, thanks for this great article.

    God bless, Rafizan.

  • Bryan A says:

    What a great article! When I saw this movie for the 1st time, I was 14 and it scared the bajeebers out of me. To this day, not only is it my favorite horror movie ever, but possibly my favorite movie ever! At one point in my life, my friends and I decided to watch this movie on acid (which I can attribute as the worst decision I have ever made, and haven’t touched the stuff since).
    Even though this amazing film was made 15+ years ago, it still finds a way to make even the most seasoned horror veteran question who they are as a person, as it rattles them to their core. It didn’t need all the fancy CGI, or camera tricks, or gimmicks that modern “film makers” use to make you feel inside out.
    Thanks again for the article, and I will join you in crossing everything in my posession in hopes for a directors cut.

    Bryan, and his dog Dr. Weir

  • Phil G says:

    When the film first came out, I missed it in the theatre. That said, when I finally watched it on VHS, I found myself clenching the remote so hard (by the end of the flick) that I had imprints for almost a full day. Absolutely one of THE most disturbing films and I would bloody well freak out to see an extended cut or even a reboot WITH the cut scenes of the first Lewis and Clarke rescue, plus the crew massacre, maybe even a bit more backstory on the L&C crew giving more reasons why the EH claimed them in the manner it did! Thanks for the article and keep us updated!

  • Brooke M says:

    This movie is one of the most under-rated horror films of all time. It takes quite a bit to scare me nowadays but when I saw that movie, I had nightmares for days. The subliminal flashes of disturbing scenes was one of the things that bothered me most about this film. It also made me realize that Sam Neill is simply fantastic. Another thing I remember is sitting in the movie theater the week this movie came out and being completely amazed that some moron had their toddler with them watching. The kid ended up completely flipping out and they finally left. I wonder how deranged that child must be now?

  • LittleMonster says:

    I saw a pre-release screening of this years ago when I was in LA, with unfinished effects: gory empty eye sockets were just… nothing. Which was pretty creepy and worked well with “the dark inside” references.

    The dialogue between Weir and Miller near the end was different and, to my mind, much better. It may just be my memory, but I’ve always hoped to see the dialogue I remembered recut into the film. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll get.

  • Ahsan says:

    the major problem with this perfectly executed masterpiece is that it takes the audience into familiar plot setting, e.g. a villian-type that looks awfully like pinhead from hellraiser and the very exploited hellraiser premise of bringing about hell. And being virtually ‘lost in space’ i.e. the tv series. And ofcurse poor marketing that contributed to the film’s poor business. Not many people still don’t know this film exists hence the family guy joke two geeks nerding over a decade old cult classic.

  • Ress E-Z says:

    And not to forget the Prodigy’s track, back at the time when they were chart-toppers. Never crossed my mind such a club-induced tune can be a PERFECT theme song for a horror movie! It was mind-blowing IMO. Gosh, I really need to listen to them again…

  • Aimee says:

    I think the soundtrack was Orbital not the Prodigy, but yeah it kicks ass.

    I actually just rewatched this a couple of weeks ago. My dad and I went up to the cottage, where he has a nice theatre room. Without talking my dad and I both brought this up to watch. Yeah the dialog is a little cheesy.. but it still kicked ass!
    :)

  • Alan F says:

    Let me start off by saying that I generally avoid horror films, and especially loathe the blood-and-gore fests that have since decades long past taken over from the psychological thriller types of scare films that occasionally get some of my viewing time. However, I do like science fiction films (and the space-opera eye-candy techno fests that pass themselves off as such), and that’s why I have seen some horror/sci-fi crossovers like EH, most of the Alien and Predator series, Pandorum, Moon, etc. I’ve watched EH only once back when it came to HBO but it has left an indelible impression on me for its artfulness. I agree with just about everything Kit wrote above and would watch the original cut at least once if it were to become available.

  • Dr Mindbender says:

    Great article. I saw this in the theatre when I was 15. Consequently, no movie has been able to scare me since. The Ring came the closest. It’s not imagery that scares me, it’s concepts and ideas.

  • innerspacegirl says:

    All that praise and yet not a mention of the WRITER. Philip Eisner. Without a script there is NOTHING.

  • Josh in OR says:

    One of my all-time favorite movies, both for the seamless blend of sci-fi and horror that I haven’t seen done so well since the original ALIEN, for the strong cast, the humanity of the story – a thing that is VITAL to successful horror, and a thing sorely lacking in most modern genre work – and the very nice Lovecraftian elements of space as a vast, terrifying, alien place in which we are less than nothing at best, and fodder for unspeakable horrors at worst. The body horror still gets me cringing 15 years later, but it’s the emotional gut-wrenching that I most remember.

    That, and the pivotal scene where Jack Noseworthy’s character reaches out and touches the black-hole…a scene immortalized by my friends and I at every horror movie (and any movie with somewhat supernatural circumstances) where a character makes the absolute worst possible decision: “Don’t touch the inky darkness!!”

  • NGC says:

    It says a lot Paul W.S. Anderson’s lack of skill, ingenuity or creativity that he can make a movie that’s simulatenously gore-drenched and boring.

  • Yoruno says:

    YES. Someone else that knows, loves and admires this fabulous movie. I saw it in theaters when it was first released and since then I’ve considered my favourite movie ever. No other horror movie has managed to scare me so much, and not only for the obvious reasons. I still cannot hear Weir’s “Do you see?” without feeling a chill down my spine. The psychological horror was just as powerful as the visual.
    Man, I’ll be crossing every finger and toe for a director’s cut. I’ll be there on release day, sitting in front of the video store at 3 AM, I promise. Just make it happen!

  • Matt says:

    I was a projectionist when this came out, I had to put the movie together and then watch it alone in a 16 screen theater starting time 2am. Needless to say it scared the hell out of me. Hands down the scariest movie I have ever seen, partly due to my love of sci fi, partly due to being forced to watch it alone in an empty theater. Freaking great memories.

  • EVan says:

    I watch this movie at least once a year, and it still holds up. Whether or not it was intended, this is my favorite H.P. Lovecraft inspired movie ever.

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