Back when Event Horizon (1997, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson) was first in theaters, a friend of mine came back from a first-night showing and absolutely raged at how stupid it was. Such was his vitriol that I eventually passed on it. I never did catch up to it in the years since. Now I find myself approaching it with apprehension. The premise--which my friend detailed with the loving umbrage of the truly offended--is genuinely silly: The first interstellar spacecraft--equipped with a gravity drive that folds space and allows it to use an extra-dimensional shortcut to bypass the speed limit imposed by relativity--mysteriously vanishes on its first voyage. Seven years later, it reappears in orbit around Neptune, having, literally, gone through hell. Yes, hell. H-E-double toothpicks. As a literal place.
The story here finds starship engineer Dr. William Weir taking a ship out to Neptune, where his brainchild, the Event Horizon, has reappeared after seven years beyond our spacetime. His ride is the Lewis and Clark, a search and rescue ship helmed by no-nonsense Captain Miller, and crewed by a seasoned group of rescue techs. Weir's mission is top secret. The fact that the Event Horizon is equipped with an experimental faster than light drive is the ostensible reason for the secrecy, but so is the last transmission from the ship, which bodes ill for all involved. Once they arrive and begin exploring, things become dire. The Event Horizon sends out a gravitic pulse shortly after the Lewis and Clark docks and once our heroes begin exploring, ripping a hole in the hull. The Event Horizon itself can only sustain life for twenty hours, so repairing their trip home becomes of paramount importance. They decamp to the Event Horizon while this is ongoing, only to discover that the ship is alive, that it is feeding our heroes their darkest nightmares, and that the gravity drive itself, powered by a black hole at its core, is a gateway to somewhere...else...
This is basically Hellraiser in space. And, yes, I know that the fourth Hellraiser movie was ALSO Hellraiser in space. "In space," is a Sargasso where horror franchises go to die and drift, derelict, on the shifting tides of the back shelves of video stores and, these days, in the back pages of streaming video. Event Horizon trumps these movies by omitting the franchise beforehand. I will say this, it's probably a more creative plot than yet another Alien rip-off, though this doesn't entirely avoid that trap, either, given that it was shot by Adrian Biddle, who was a cameraman on Alien and the Director of Cinemtography on Aliens. So it looks like Alien(s) in spite of itself. It also borrows from Aliens the idea of a time-limit as plot motivation and from Alien the idea of a distress call as dire warning. Event Horizon is another movie suffering from The Curse of the Krell: its monsters are monster from the id, made flesh by the force at the center of the film. The gravity drive generator? It's one part Hellraiser puzzle box, one part Krell planetary machinery. The line of descent for this runs through Solaris, of which, this film plays like a pulp fiction rethinking.
Okay, maybe this isn't that creative after all.
This is a film that eschewed American production resources. It was made entirely in the UK using British effects houses and production designer resources. There is certainly a different "feel" to the texture of this film, even if the production designers are looking back at films created by IML or Digital Domain for inspiration. The sets are more intricately decorated than an equivalent film from, say, James Cameron. The look of the film is downright baroque. And, certainly, its horror set-pieces are more thoroughly nasty than what Americans were making at the time. The funniest conceit from the production designers is placing the Event Horizon into the upper atmosphere of Neptune so that clouds and thunder and lightning can rage outside the ship and then designing its med bay to look like the nave of a cathedral, stone arches and all, turning the whole enterprise into a proper full-dress Gothic. One only misses the rattling of chains in a dungeon, but it covers that in the endgame. The chamber with the gravity drive, I've already mentioned, is designed to recall the puzzle boxes from Hellraiser, but this film has it's own version of Pinhead, too, and spills gallons--nay, tanker trucks--of blood. Allegedly, Clive Barker was a consultant on this film, so it's not terribly surprising.
The actors are good, though they are made to inhabit characters who are stupider than they are. Sam Neill is Dr. Weir, a character who knows more than he's telling. Laurence Fishburn plays Miller, and he's the very model of a tough space ship captain. Also in the cast are Kathleen Quinlan, Sean Pertwee, Joelly Richardson, and Jason Isaacs. The supporting characters have been conceived by the filmmakers as stand-ins for the audience, ignorant of the theories behind Weir's faster than light drive in order to give the movie an excuse to explain it. This is absurd on its face, given that these characters all live and work in space, so it's not like they're ignoramuses--or it's not like they should be. On the other hand, Weir's reluctance to explain anything goes to this film's conception of him as a mad scientist, particularly late in the film. For a film that relies on the gee-whiz elements of science fiction for its best effects, this sure does distrust science. There are places that mankind was not meant to go, this film intimates in classic science horror fashion, but it resorts to an overtly religious ideation as a check on mankind's progress. Trespass on god's domain and you're going to hell.
Did I mention that this film is insultingly stupid? Well, there you are.
Current Challenge tally:
Total Viewings: 5
First Time Viewings: 5
Around the Web:
Ezrael over at Expelled Gray Matter finally gets out of the starting gates with Jean Rollin's late coming Two Orphan Vampires.
Vitus Werdegast at The Celluloid Dreamer finds Killer Klowns from Outer Space hard to resist.
Anna sums up her first week of the challenge at Dreams in the Bitch House. Whether the movies brought on the dreams or the dreams brought on the movies, she could not say...
A reminder: if you're doing the challenge, let me know in the comments and I'll add you to the link dump. Happy horror-watching.