The year is 2047, the place is Neptune’s orbit, and the psychological mindfuck factor is off the charts, for the rescue crew aboard the Lewis & Clark. The film is Event Horizon, named for a long-lost space ship which has maybe been to HELL and back — and it’s one of the most underrated space-horror flicks ever.
Yes, Event Horizon commits many flagrant fouls when it comes to ripping off other, better films (including, but not limited to, Alien, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Hellraiser, and The Haunting). It has some head-scratching anachronisms (in the year 2047, will paper photographs and CD-ROMs still exist?) and some daffy science, explained away in one quick, gobbledygook-stuffed scene in which Sam Neill’s Dr. Weir is asked by a character as befuddled as the audience, “Do you even speak English?” Upon its release in 1997, it was widely panned, and it tanked at the box office.
But if you can get past those roadblocks and settle in for the ride, Event Horizon is a freakishly gorgeous (set design resembles steampunk crossed with a slaughterhouse), fast-paced (notoriously, then-neophyte director Paul W.S. Anderson was forced to drastically trim his original cut for both time and this-is-too-gory reasons), agreeably dread-filled movie.
It’s further elevated by knowingly over-the-top acting turns by thunderous Laurence Fishburne (who plays the Lewis & Clark’s skipper, Miller, and who brings gravitas to lines like “This ship is a tomb!”) and Neill, who explains the Event Horizon’s mysterious gravity drive (which “creates a dimensional gateway” via a black hole, allowing it to zip from one point in the universe to another) by folding a page from a girlie mag in half and punching a hole in each side.
So. The Event Horizon’s backstory, slowly sussed out by the Lewis & Clark’s unfortunate rescue posse, is that the seven-years-gone vessel has passed through hell, or a hell-like place (the film is lacking in much religious sentiment), instead of reaching its intended intergalactic destination. And the scenes that feature the missing Event Horizon crew’s eerie final audio transmission — later revealed to have a video component directed a la Hieronymus Bosch, complete with an orgiastic display of violence, flesh-ripping, eye-gouging (there’s a lot of body horror in this movie, and eyeballs get the worst of it), and rantings in Latin, the international dead language of panic and doom — are genuinely unsettling.
But the ship itself, more than the places it’s been or the people who died on it, is the true evil here. Its gravity drive spins and shudders and harbors a sludgy pool leading to infinite darkness, and like some deep-space Philadelphia Experiment, its bulkheads are infused with Things That Should Not Be. Its most terrifying power is its ability to exploit the guilt and fears of characters who keep their feelings close to the surface (like Kathleen Quinlan’s med tech, Peters, who has visions of the wheelchair-bound son she’s left behind on Earth), as well as those whose hang-ups are deeply concealed, like Miller, who’s haunted by a dead crew member he was forced to abandon many missions ago. Worst of all is Weir, who built the Event Horizon and remains obsessed with it, though his workaholic ways contributed to his wife’s suicide, and judging from her ghostly apparitions, she’s still mighty pissed about it.
Simply put, Event Horizon rules because it siphons its frights out of the troubled minds of its characters. Even taking into account the cuts made to Anderson’s original film, enough remains of those characters to make them a crew you care about (except Weir ... he’s just a weir-do). So what if it all feels a little familiar? It’s spooky, it has great production design, it’s gruesome, and it features maybe the most honest reaction to supernatural menace in an outer-space movie ever: “FUCK THIS SHIP!” No wonder it’s become a cult classic, and one of our favorites in the genre.