A curious set of circumstances rekindled my dormant desire to rewatch the 1997 science fiction horror mash up, Event Horizon. This early Paul W.S. Anderson film (green lit on the strength of his Mortal Combat adaption. Yup.) is a complex blend of gritty, grounded science fiction with Clive Barker inspired horror and visually stunning set design. And I came back to it this week because of Star Trek. More specifically it was Star Trek Online, a free to play PC game that has sucked up a good thirty of my waking hours over the last two weeks. I've flown a number of awesome Federation starships around the virtual Alpha Quadrant, but it was an undercover mission in an original series Klingon D-7 that triggered my Event Horizon flashback. Although the interior of the Event Horizon is modeled after the Notre Dame Cathedral, the exterior is cross shaped, with a long, narrow neck leading to a bulky, rounded forward area. This resemblance lead me to break out my old VHS copy (with hilariously badly dated previews for films like Kiss me, Guido).
It had been more than a few years since I'd last watched Event Horizon, and I was more than a little concerned that it might not have held up. And my concerns swelled as we're treated to a sweeping shot of the main interior corridor of the ship. Artificial gravity is offline and a number of mundane objects float by, rendered in very poor, early CGI. this gimmicky shot had me worried that my fond memories where about to be shattered. However, fate was on my side as nearly all the remaining CGI is much more impressive (for 1997), including liquids suspended in the air. The most expensive shot in the film follows closely on the heels of the opening, and still looks amazing today. As Dr. Weir (played by Sam Neill) opens the shutter on his Earth orbit space station module (to the Doom door sound), an epic rotating pan out sets a sense of scale, reminding us how small humans and their knowledge are in comparison to the unknown out there. This forty second shot is reported to have accounted for one third of the film's fifty million dollar budget. It's a great shot, but I don't know that it's that good.
What follows is an unsettling suspense film, a cautionary tale which warns us about the boundaries of natural order, and the dangers of man pushing beyond into that unknown. It's a common theme in the horror genre, but it's given a fresh coat of paint here in line with 90's fears about rapidly advancing technology. The Event Horizon is mankind's first faster than light traveling vessel but as Dr. Weir (its designer) explains, it doesn't really break the light barrier. Instead, it folds all the space in between it's position and the destination, causing them to exist simultaneously via a black hole , instantly moving the ship more quickly than is conventionally possible. During it's maiden test flight, the ship and all aboard are mysteriously lost. Seven years later it reappears in orbit above Neptune, broadcasting an automated distress call.
Responding to the call is the all star crew of the rescue vessel Lewis and Clark, including Captain Laurence Fishbourne, his second the sultry Joely Richardson, brooding trauma doctor Jason Issacs, and med tech Kathleen Quinlan. My favorite standouts from among this motley crew are Cooper, the dangerous rescue specialist (played bombastically by Richard T. Jones), and the superstitious and foul mouthed pilot (played by Sean Pertwee). Dr. Weir joins them as the expert on the ship, and Sam Neill goes about making paper thin excuses as accidents happen and the crew beings to hallucinate horrific things. All that remains of the original crew are badly mauled bodies and eerie audio log in Latin. The stalwart crew is far hardier than I am, as I'd have taken off and nuked the whole thing from orbit at the first sign of creepy shenanigans. The hows and whys behind those shenanigans, I'll leave to you to discover.
Of special note is the "meet grinder" hallway. It's a walk way straight out of Clive Barker's mental fun house. Weir's explanation (that it's the only way to shield the rest of the ship from the energy of the core) does justify why he designed it to invoke nightmares and nausea in equal measure. Seriously, the camera operators and Fishburne couldn't walk or run straight down it without falling. Another cool design decision is the used of bulky space suits with a well used veneer and a practical feel. They're very reminiscent of the suits that would be used on Firefly, and they add tremendously to making this crew feel like a working class group, rather than space heroes (which would have broken the suspense).
Around a half an hour of footage was cut from the theatrical release, a significant amount of it is additional gore and horrific hallucination scenes (removed to bump down from an NC-17 rating). I'd recommend the 2008 Blu-Ray release, which includes all the normal making of and commentary features you would expect, along with most of the cut footage. Event Horizon bombed at the box office, failing to recoup even half of it's budget. It's gone on to legitimate cult classic status on the strength of it's cast, the visually fascinating set design, excellent use of practical effects, and compelling use of speculative science as horror. I can't say that it's impoved over time, but it is certainly holding it's own. Check it out and let me know your thoughts on it.
Shock-O-Rama Screaming Saturday Night Double Feature
Sometimes you've got to let go of control, giving it over to someone else for the evening. All domination/submission allusions aside, let me program your Saturday night. This week's Screaming Saturday Night Double Feature is for all you Netflix members out there. I've cooked up a scorching double bill that will fill your night with fright, but take care to be in bed before the sun rises kiddies!
Based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, and staring genre fave Jeffrey Combs, this delightfully gory 80's zombie flick totally redefined the phrase "nothing like a little head, eh?". See it with someone you love.
This modern Canadian production is not at all your average zombie flick. Admittedly, the first half is twice as strong as the second half, but the whole shebang is smarted than your average horror flick. It's well acted, claustrophobic, and taut as the wire from the opening of Ghost Ship.
Don't forget to come back and let me know in the comments what your thought of these two back to back. And feel free to suggest next week's Screaming Saturday Double Feature service (Hulu, Netflix, etc.)
If you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.