The year was 1997. Science-fiction cinema was bright, slick, and more than a little silly, with movies like Men in Black, The Fifth Element, Independence Day, and Starship Troopers dominating the box office. Sam Neill was widely recognized as the kid-friendly paleontologist with a passion for dinos in Jurassic Park, while Laurence Fishburne had yet to play Morpheus in The Matrix and was still primarily known as "Furious" Styles from Boyz n the Hood. Enter Paul W.S. Anderson, a junior director five years from launching the Resident Evil movie franchise who decided to fuel his third feature, Event Horizon, with as much gore and gusto as he could muster - and the studio could stomach. The resulting tale of a ragtag space rescue crew, on a mission to salvage an experimental starship that disappeared into a black hole, elegantly married the science fiction and horror genres.
Anderson borrowed heavily from movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and The Shining to create a world that felt lived-in and believable, but he was driven by the studio into an accelerated production schedule and forced to cut huge chunks of the movie. The final result was a gory, hard-R movie with a great cast that suffered from rushed editing, unfinished effects, and a summer release date crowded with more family-friendly fare. Audiences and critics alike were underwhelmed, with some likening it to "Hellraiser in space." But it developed a cult following thanks, in part, to debuting on home video the same year DVDs hit the market and Netflix launched its online service. Today, the movie is more popular than ever, available for streaming on multiple platforms, with plans in the works by Amazon and Paramount to adapt it into a series. Take a look back at this terrifying '90s flick and you'll see why Event Horizon deserves another chance.
An unstoppable slayer? Check. Buckets of blood? Check. Gratuitous titillation? Check. Event Horizon has all of the hallmarks of a classic slasher flick, but takes the carnage into a near-future, lived-in world where space travel is still dangerous, yet somewhat routine and mundane. Dispatched to Neptune on a top-secret mission, the crew of the rescue ship Lewis and Clark learn from their passenger Dr. William "Billy" Weir (Sam Neill) that they've been sent to investigate the mysterious reappearance of the lost starship Event Horizon, which disappeared seven years prior while testing an experimental "gravity drive" that creates black holes and warps space and time, allowing faster-than-light travel to the stars.
Theoretical physics and future tech are used to set up the premise, but once explained to the audience and to the characters on screen, the sci-fi elements fade into the background and serve mainly to facilitate the plot rather than drive it. Once the crew enters the Event Horizon, the movie shifts into horror mode: The starship becomes one massive haunted house, invading the minds of the protagonists to haunt them with visions of their worst fears. The crew discovers the ship didn't just jump to the other end of the universe, but into a different dimension altogether - possibly hell itself.
In classic haunted house fashion, the sinister, quasi-alive ship targets each of the crew members when they're alone and vulnerable, teasing them with their heart's desire or antagonizing them for past sins. When Weir succumbs to the will of the ship, he goes full Cenobite, gouging his own eyes out before turning on the crew. Impervious to pain and able to "see" even without eyes, Weir becomes a classic slasher villain, even popping up for one last scare post-demise. Passage of time has proven just how adept Anderson was at merging genres to present a vision in which the arcane mysticism of demonic possession coexists with a world of gravity wells and wormholes.
If you're a horror buff and you dismissed Event Horizon as a "space movie" because of its title or the marketing's emphasis on a space ship in orbit, you did yourself a disservice. While the movie has flaws, what it does perfectly is pay tribute to traditional horror themes, tweaking and reinventing them through the lens of science fiction.
Evil often enters the world in horror movies via a portal to hell that is accidentally opened or through the use of black magic, but the portal in Event Horizon is opened using experimental technology - a metaphor for humans' tendency to unleash powers they don't fully understand. As with Alien, the isolation of deep space makes for a good fit with a haunted-house scenario, especially since there's nowhere you could possibly escape to.
Need gore and body horror in your fright fests? Event Horizon has that covered, too. After downloading the video log of the lost ship, the protagonists discover that the crew of the Event Horizon perished in one nightmare-inducing blowout comprising intercourse, self-mutilation, and cannibalism - a sequence so extreme that, after test screenings, Paramount demanded it be recut. Add to all that the malevolent spirit, unstoppable slasher, and a final girl, and Event Horizon is about as horror as horror gets.
Anderson doesn't just dabble in horror - he eviscerates it and spreads its entrails over the screen. You barely have time to get settled in your seat before being overwhelmed by prophetic visions of body trauma that only foreshadow the twisted horrors to come. With so much techno-jargon to explain and so many characters to explore, little effort is made to ebb and flow the suspense: The tension builds quickly and keeps rising, scene after scene, horror after horror.
Right out of the gate - or airlock - the crew of the Lewis and Clark are plagued by horrors so well executed by Anderson and his team that several scenes are on par with classics like The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby. The makeup and prosthetic work done by Image Animation and Animated Extras to create the numerous body traumas - gangrenous sores, gouged-out eyeballs, chewed-up limbs - is terrifyingly realistic and gruesome to behold. As with all the best movies about demons and hell, the true terror comes not from graphic shocks, but from the implication that we all have darkness dwelling deep inside, and our most depraved inner selves are just waiting to be expressed.
Event Horizon would be far less effective at scaring the daylights out of the audience if it were not for the incredible sets designed by Joseph Bennett and special visual effects by Cinesite. Inheriting the lived-in look championed by George Lucas in Star Wars and perfected by Ridley Scott in Alien, the drab, industrial interiors of the Lewis and Clark look distinctly different from the cavernous, Gothic interiors of the Event Horizon and its centerpiece, the ornate spike-studded gravity drive that powers the ship and advances the plot of the movie.
Because of the rushed production schedule, some of the effects shots appear unfinished, but most are of superior quality. Of particular note is an impressive shot of a space station in orbit above the Earth - a 45-second shot so complex that it cost a third of the entire production budget to realize. Aboard the Event Horizon, free-floating objects, rendered so perfectly it's hard to tell they're CGI, bump and drift in zero gravity, helping to transport the viewer inside the haunted ship alongside the crew.