Throwback Thursday: Event Horizon (1997)

After ‘Alien’ came out in 1979 and scared the pants off of the world, the market was inundated with movies about space creatures. Some, like ‘E.T.,’ were nice to children and wanted to be friendly and eat candy. Other aliens, like the creature in John Carpenter’s classic remake ‘The Thing,’ wanted humanity gone so their race could supplant us. Many movies that drained the ‘Alien’ vein, however, like Britain’s ‘Inseminoid,’ succeeded only in proving that in the theater, no one can hear you sleep.

Two years before George Lucas returned to the outer rim in an attempt to make it profitable again by gifting the world with ‘Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace,’ there was a brief bloody moment where space was again safe for horror fans, deep within the cold confines of a movie called ‘Event Horizon.’

It’s the year 2040: the starship Event Horizon, powered by an experimental gravity drive engine, disappears on its maiden voyage. In 2047, it reappears way out on the fringe of the solar system. A rescue vessel is sent out to recover the ship, search for survivors and attempt to find out where the ship has been for the last seven years. Tagging along with the crew is the man who built the Event Horizon’s engine, Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill). Weir is a troubled man, whose sleep is filled with horrific images of his dead wife and other nightmares.

Event Horizon

The Event Horizon is in a slowly-decaying orbit around Neptune when the rescue crew arrives. Upon entering, the crew finds a few troubling things. The original inhabitants of the ship have been mangled beyond recognition, even skinned. Then there are the final entries from the captain’s log.  Initially showing a happy and capable bunch of folks on a powerful spaceship on its first cruise, smiling and waving, things suddenly switch to graphic footage of those same people, covered in blood, yanking out each other’s eyes, gnawing on limbs, and speaking in Latin.

That’s not a good sign.

See, there’s a slight problem with that gravity drive engine Dr. Weir created. It works by creating a black hole. You punch in the coordinates for where you want to go and, BLAMMO! You get sucked through a brand new black hole and arrive at your destination instantly. Space corrects itself as soon as the black hole closes after you.

Apparently, someone made a slight navigation error. While it is never implicitly stated in the movie that the Event Horizon wound up in Hell, trust me… it did. Now the ship is infused with evil energies. It knows what the rescuers fear. It knows their regrets. It remembers everything they’ve tried to forget. And it begins to show them those things: each crew member begins to see visions of their phobias, crushed dreams, and bad decisions. It’s enough to literally drive a person crazy. The ship, in turn, begins to feed on their fears, amplifying those negative emotions and turning the Event Horizon into a torture chamber for the body and mind.

When I watch a horror movie, I only have one major expectation: scare me! If you can’t scare me, at least show me some effort. Let me know you were trying to get a rise out of me. Gleefully, I can report that ‘Event Horizon’ is a sweet piece of scary movie, a full-on attempt to get you to hide under your chair. Most bits work, a few bits don’t, but enough of it pulls together to make this a fun, shudder-filled movie.

You have to suspend your disbelief for any movie about interstellar space travel – we as a society just can’t do that yet. However, scientists have often batted about the theory of black holes acting like wormholes and being able to transport a vessel to another quadrant of the universe. Disney happily used it for their first foray into sci-fi, in 1979’s ‘The Black Hole.’ I’ll buy it. With the exception of Sam Neill as Dr. Weir, the characters are cut from basic Space Marine stock. The presence of great British character actors Sean Pertwee and Jason Isaacs helps bolster the cast. The surprisingly lackluster monotone presence of Laurence Fishburne almost singlehandedly threatens to sink it.

‘Event Horizon’ is a deft little riff on the oft-cited “haunted house in space” trope that seems to dog horror movies set in a sci-fi setting. We’re not dealing with aliens. We’re not even dealing with demons, per se. This is a movie about evil and how it plays upon the psyche of this crew, leading to, in most cases, their ultimate destruction. In some ways, this movie has the same heart as the old Amicus anthology films, showing the human foibles the ship is able to exploit. However, ‘Event Horizon’ approaches the core subject matter with brutality and a desire to frighten, not an attempt to teach a moral lesson.

Shot anamorphically, director Paul W.S. Anderson manages to imbue practically every frame of the film with an almost visible dread – an almost visible decay, like a Kubrickian nightmare. Some of the anti-gravity scenes suffer from crowded optical blocking, but the make-up effects are spot on. The Event Horizon herself is a beautiful ship, floating through space like a Gothic praying mantis. Deftly edited and filmed, ‘Event Horizon’ is a veritable horror film-making primer. I only wish that The Prodigy song over the ending credits hadn’t sampled “Sure Shot” by the Beastie Boys. While I absolutely love the long-time British techno/punk musical group themselves, at the conclusion of a terrifying movie, hearing Mike D yell, “Oh my god, that’s some funky shit!” seems a bit anti-climactic.

Featuring a nasty voyage to the personal hells of its characters’ hearts, ‘Event Horizon’ spouts so many primal and terrifying images so quickly, it’s like getting hit directly in the face with fear. Some of the effects are wonky and Laurence Fishburne may as well have sent in a cardboard stand with a hinged jaw to portray his part, but overall, this is a brutally effective movie.