Event Horizon (1997)

JANUARY 17, 2011


I quite enjoyed Event Horizon when I saw it in theaters in the summer of 1997 (summer of Fishburne! I remember seeing Hoodlum around the same time), but for whatever reason never got around to watching it again, thus making it prime HMAD material since I could no longer remember who lived or died, what the origin of the horror was, etc. Also, I was sick of watching Netflix streams.

While it’s not as good as I remember, it’s still a good flick (easily Paul Anderson’s best), and deserved a better fate than grossing only about half of its production budget. I think part of why I was so relatively impressed back then is because it was a big budget horror movie, released at a time when such things were pretty goddamn rare. The Scream-influenced horror revival had not yet begun (I Know What You Did Last Summer would kick that off in another month or two), and as I’ve mentioned several times, the 90s, particularly the period from about 1993 to 1997, was as horror bare as any point in history. Other movies featured on the cover of Fangoria in 1997 include Spawn (a PG-13 superhero film with minimal horror presence) and Lost World, twice! (again, not really the atypical movie to be on the cover of Fango). So along comes this movie featuring both living and dead folks being tortured in Hellraiser-esque ways, most of the top-billed cast being killed off, a guy without eyes... holy shit! Real horror again!

But it’s easy to see the film’s crucial flaw on this second go around – it’s sloppy. Due to a rushed post production schedule and hampered by less than enthusiastic test screening responses (probably not a good idea to test an FX heavy film without its FX), a good half hour was cut from the film and some other crucial scenes were never even filmed. The beginning of the film is really un-user friendly, as we’re never really given a proper introduction to Sam Neill’s character, or any strong reason why the Lewis & Clark has to be the ship that brings him to deep space to investigate what appears to be a signal from the titular Event Horizon, a ship Neill designed that disappeared some years before.

Luckily, I just watched Alien a bunch of times while going through the (awesome) Blu-ray, and writer Philip Eisner was clearly drawing from that film when writing his, so I was able to fill in those narrative/character gaps with the explanations given in Alien, seemed to work OK. But still, it feels like the first half hour of the movie is condensed into 10 minutes – they’ve already arrived at the Event Horizon by the end of the first reel. And the rushed feeling continues – Sam Neill seemingly goes crazy right after he arrives (guess that could be a Shining reference – there are a few), we only get a few glimpses of what happened to the previous crew, Jason Isaac’s deepest fear is never explained which renders his ironic death just plain gratuitous... Yet, they left in one of the more clunky examples of foreshadowing I can recall, which just sticks out because it doesn’t really make any logical sense to me (that the ship would be pre-loaded with explosives just in case they needed to separate the two halves of the ship and use the non-exploded part as an escape shuttle - this is standard procedure?).

But yet it still works, largely due to the intriguing “Haunted house in space” scenario and the ballsy approach to killing its stars. I doubt few could accurately predict who would live or die based on the first half hour or so, and one death in particular (the first) is a wonderful shocker even on a second view. That they were largely more respectable folks than you’d expect in a movie this unabashedly R-rated (Kathleen Quinlan, Laurence Fishburne, etc) made it all the more fun/surprising. I also enjoyed how Eisner’s script and/or Anderson’s direction managed to find a way for every single cast member to dive sideways away from an explosion or some other danger throughout the course of the film (I’d screenshot but as you might have noticed if you’re a regular reader, this review is late enough as is due to the four hours of bonus features that I wasn’t aware the disc had).

I also impressed that the CG largely held up. Some of the exteriors are a little Star Trek-y, but the ship itself, the various explosions, etc, all look better than most films of the era do nowadays, and even better than some that followed (looking at you, The Mummy). This being a standard def DVD, maybe it wouldn’t survive the upgrade to Blu-ray, but even then I’m sure it could be considered one of the better examples of CGI during that 90s craze. It’s a shame Anderson doesn’t work more in the realm of realistic horror – all of his other films (AVP, Mortal Kombat, the Resident Evils) have a bunch of monsters and other crap, and they’re OK, but he’s clearly more comfortable using CGI to enhance what’s there instead of creating something from scratch.

The CGI work is the focus of one of the five lengthy featurettes that make up a 100 minute documentary about the film, created for this DVD. I always enjoy the “retrospective” look at a film, as the principals are now being more honest instead of pimping it to a potential audience. The CGI and production pieces are nothing special, but the first (about the film’s inception) and the last (post-production/release) are must sees, as everyone speaks very candidly about the film, while (correctly) hailing its attributes, such as the overall look of the film, the cast, etc. Speaking of the cast, the only one who came back to do interviews was Isaacs, which is a bummer, but I’m guessing Jack Noseworthy and Richard T Jones simply had better things to do.

The commentary is also worth a listen, as (again) Anderson is up front about the film’s shortcomings (including those for which he himself is to blame – at one point he’s like “I really screwed this scene up”) and speaks freely about some of the troubles they had with the studio (surprising on a studio-released disc), and producer Jeremy Bolt chimes in similar sentiments on occasion. But they also hadn’t watched the film for some time (I think they say it’s 2004 at one point?), so there’s a lot of silence too – I wish they had a second party watch the film and edited the two tracks together, but alas.

Then we get a lot of deleted material, sometimes just in storyboard form, others taken from VHS. Anderson narrates all of it, explaining why it was cut or never finished/shot, and while some of the scenes wouldn’t have helped much (the “rescue” for example), others, such as Neill’s meeting with his superiors at the beginning of the film, would have helped the narrative considerably. I also would have liked to have seen the full video of the EH team’s demise (where they, in Anderson’s words, “fucked each other to death”), but apparently most of the footage is gone forever, due to Paramount’s notoriously awful film storage practices.

There are also a few behind the scenes pieces (again with Anderson commentary), nothing particularly exciting but there is something I want to point out. In one, we see Fishburne running down the rotating tunnel (which Anderson says IS inspired by the common theme park attraction – yes!), and while the fireball is CGI, they still have a giant orange light sliding along behind him, in order to give him the proper lighting and thus have less work to do in CGI. And that’s the sort of thing I don’t think Anderson gets credit for – he’s actually a pretty good director. Can’t write worth a shit, and I would love to see what he’d do without Bolt (who I suspect may be the cause of some of the problems people have with Anderson’s films, though I can’t figure out why), but he does have a strong and smart visual sense, and this attention to detail (and more importantly, time consuming step to avoid having to “simply” light the actor with CGI later) is something I quite appreciate, and I wish more folks would stop giving the guy such a hard time. I don’t think any of his films are downright awful (though Death Race came close), and lest we forget – his PG-13 AvP movie is better than the R rated sequel that he had no involvement with. That should earn him a few points, right?

According to the fine print on the DVD, there is a novelization of the film – I’d love to read it, assuming it has all of the excised material. Anyone read it? Worth hunting down?

What say you?


  1. Completely agree. I've always thought this movie was vastly underrated. I saw it when I was about 14, in theatres, and it actually scared me (which even back then was rare). I like Anderson more than I don't (and I think Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil are at least fun, something that video game films like Max Payne and Prince of Persia can't even manage), and this film shows he does have some promise.

  2. I've never read the novelization, but I have seen it on Amazon and Ebay before for dirt cheap. Less then $1 in some cases. I just may pick it up myself, actually.

  3. Funny, I personally though AvP was garbage. (A Predator helping a human learn to use weapons?!)and really thought any one of the Resident Evil movies were fairly weak as well.(There are pretty much no zombies in the second one.) BUT I loved Event Horizon.


  4. I wouldn't say Anderson is a pretty good director...if he were, his movies wouldn't be so boring even though tons of stuff are happening in them. Resident Evil, for all of the action happening, is so dull. Maybe he's a fine guy for putting together effects, but not for making an interesting movie where you care about what happens at all. So he's not TERRIBLE...but he's boring, totally boring.

  5. I saw this movie with you I think. It didn't scare me, but it creeped me the fuck out.. I remember parking my car in the dirt driveway sandwiched in the woods across the street from my parents house when I got home from the movie. The one street lamp about 30 feet away was not bright enough to light me or the driveway, or the potential monsters in the woods on all around me. I ran the fuck to the front door and relived all those "someone is chasing me and I can't find my keys fast enough" nightmares.

    haha. For that reason I have ALWAYS loved and defended this movie. Like you I re-watched it for the first time about 4 months ago [on netflix]. Yeah, didn't creep me out at all. I mostly agree with you, even down to the Alien plot points as explanation. But really I was pretty bored by it, and disappointed it didn't live up to my memories.

    the end.

  6. I really like Event Horizon. For some reason I particulary like zombies and space/horrors. This one is good. It has genuine scares and at the same time is really creepy. When Weir is in one of the crawl spaces and the lights go out and then come on and his wife is there with her eyes missing scared me shitless...and creepy at the same time.
    I suppose it plays on the fact that we know it ( the ship ) has been to hell and yet we don't want to believe that hell could possibly exist besides the evidence we see to the contrary.
    A good scary space horror and better than many give it credit for being.
    Good write up to! I really enjoyed it.

  7. Since you have relatively more free time on your hands these days, I'd recommend the novelization. I loved the movie when it came out and was a big fan of novelizations at the time, so I picked it up. It definitely deepens the characters and the story as a whole. Deleted scenes before DVD!


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