Event Horizon Review
To celebrate issue #100, Fangoria listed a number of entrants into their Hall Of Fame. Any such list should, by rights, include John Carpenter, Val Lewton, Roger Corman, Herk Harvey, H.G. Lewis, James Whale - each one responsible for revolutionary changes within horror. As much as they did include John Carpenter and Sam Raimi, they also honoured Gunnar Hansen, Kane Hodder, Robert Englund and Doug Bradley. In case you are curious, these are the actors who played, respectively, Leatherface, Jason, Freddy Krueger and Pinhead. In compiling such a depressing list, Fangoria's message was clear - nothing new is necessary in horror.
If Fangoria indicated that my interest in horror was coming to an end, Event Horizon confirmed it. Here I felt was a film that was attempting to do something new, even though its influences were obvious. What Paul Anderson did was to direct a film that was unnerving for all the right reasons and his reward was to be labelled the worst director working today and his film to be consigned to a list of great failures, all by horror fans only eager for the next installment of the Scream franchise. Obviously Fangoria knew their readership better than I did.
Event Horizon stars Sam Neill as Dr William Weir, designer of the titular spacecraft - a prototype fitted with an experimental gravity drive capable of creating a black hole that bends space to connect two points in the universe, through which the spacecraft passes to cross great distances almost instantaneously, giving the impression of travelling faster-than-light. On its maiden voyage, however, the Event Horizon engaged its gravity drive on the edge of the solar system and immediately disappeared without trace.
In 2047, however, the Event Horizon reappears within a decaying orbit around Neptune and a salvage vessel, the Lewis And Clark, captained by Miller (Laurence Fishburne), is dispatched to discover what happened during the previous seven years and to bring the ship back to an Earth orbit. As he joins the crew, Weir explains both the history and operation of the Event Horizon as well as the only available transmission from the Event Horizon - a burst of noise containing a single Latin phrase, "Liberate met", which D.J. (Isaacs) translates as "Save me". On docking, an away team including Miller, Peters (Quinlan) and Justin (Noseworthy) board the Event Horizon to investigate the ship and location of the crew, who are found to be missing. Peters recovers a disc containing the ship's final log while Justin, during a search of engineering, sees the gravity drive activate itself, pulling him into the core of the device. This results in a burst of energy that disables the Lewis And Clarke via the umbilical corridor that links the two ships, causing a puncture in its hull. Miller immediately orders all of his crew onto the Event Horizon and, as the team transfers over, Peters and Weir get the life-support systems on the Event Horizon back online.
Onboard the Event Horizon, most members of the Lewis And Clark crew have experiences based on their memories - affected by his trip through the portal, Justin enters the umbilical corridor between the two ships without a protective suit and attempts to depressurise it; Peters sees and hears her badly handicapped son within medical; Weir is visited by his dead wife within the computer system inside engineering, asking him to join her and Miller sees the ghost of a young bosun, Eddie Corrick (Noah Huntley), that he abandoned onboard a ship that was destroyed by fire. Finally, and within the same conversation, D.J. admits that he made a mistake with the translation. Instead of "liberate met" meaning "Save me", the message actually reads "Liberate tutemet ex infernis", or "Save yourselves from hell."
Finally, Peters recovers the video image from the ship's final log, revealing a jubilant captain thanking his crew prior to the gravity drive being engaged. Immediately after, there is an orgy of violence (featuring cult Internet, television and adult movie star Emily 'Bouff' Booth in a very minor role) culminating in the captain plucking his eyes out and holding them in his hands. Starck (Richardson) delivers her final theory on the Event Horizon - the ship is alive and does not intend to let the Lewis And Clark leave. Thereafter, the film becomes a straight battle between those humans left alive and the alien presence on board the Event Horizon, personified by Weir who has become its physical host and who attempts to bring the Event Horizon back to the other dimension - a universe ruled by chaos and pain.
If this description gives the impression of a film that drifts disappointingly towards its conclusion, then it is not altogether incorrect. Within its opening hour, Event Horizon does succeed completely in creating an unsettling atmosphere with the early scenes onboard the Lewis And Clark, complete with a wisecracking crew and Jeremy Isaacs as the butt of several jokes, serving to offset the silence within the Event Horizon, absent of signs of life but for a flayed body spinning in zero gravity. As opposed to the functional lines within the Lewis And Clark, the design of the Event Horizon only serves to back up the concept of Hell, being a cruciform based on Notre Dame cathedral. The distorted audio recording Weir plays before the crew enter stasis is a very effective means of unsettling an audience, used to best effect by William Friedkin in The Exorcist but only slightly less disturbing here. When the recovery team cross over to the Event Horizon, the horrors are introduced slowly at first, particularly in the scenes with Weir stranded in the computer corridors as the lights fail. It is only when the events on the Event Horizon become more explicit that the film begins to suffer but even then, there are enough moments to shock the viewer, including scenes explicitly showing the Hellraiser-styled torture in the dimension to which Weir intends taking the Event Horizon. These are edited so quickly as to be only suggestive, again a subliminal effect used in The Exorcist.
This DVD has been available for some time and the large number of reviews online and in print indicates this is a film that polarises opinion. An impartial view would be that Event Horizon is not a bad film but by no means is it great either. Remove Paul Anderson's name from the credits of this film, however, and there is no doubt that it would have been better received. With each film he releases, the horror and science fiction fans leap onboard the anti-Anderson bandwagon to berate his work and Event Horizon seems to be their prime target. Anderson did make mistakes on the film but unlike almost all other directors, he has accepted blame for:
- Cutting the film in London and testing it in LA, leading to exhaustion and a desire to simply deliver a completed film even if it was not perfect
- Concluding the film in a less than satisfactory way
- Removing a number of scenes that would have strengthened characterisation and the development of the plot
- Not paying much attention to the development of the DVD.
Undoubtedly, some of the abuse he receives may simply be that he shares his name with a more talented director but, being honest, that's hardly his fault. Indeed, I am not, by any means, an Anderson apologist but his treatment does smack of lazy criticism; the same lazy criticism that maintains the view that Plan 9 From Outer Space is the worst film ever, when it is one of the most entertainingly bad films available. So it is with Anderson, who is most certainly not the worst director working today. Indeed, looking only at a genre that includes directors such as Lucio Fulci, Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, Anderson is far from being considered the worst director working in horror. Compared to Craven, who manages to sap whatever sparkle there is out of a film with his lifeless, flat direction, Anderson's films positively shine and he manages to instill a tangible sense of fear, something that could never be said for Craven's work on Hills, Elm Street or Scream.
The principal reason for this is that, unlike Craven, Anderson makes sci-fi horror but doesn't appear to be consumed by an interest in either - the science in Event Horizon could be picked apart by anyone with a passing interest in physics and in delivering a 15-rated cut of Resident Evil, he angered horror fans by not delivering an 18-rated, full-tilt zombie movie, regardless of the fact that the games received the lower rating. Understand Anderson and you will realise that he is not only influenced by filmmaking but that he is the only director working today who most fully realises the link between films and the growing video games industry, well placed to take advantage of closer ties in years to come. Obviously, as the director of Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat, he has adapted video games for the cinema but he managed to work up a better plot for Mortal Kombat than Steven de Souza did for van Damme's Street Fighter and in Resident Evil, he directed a thriller based on the interesting ideas that the game's more cliched plots failed to develop.
As video games go, Mortal Kombat wasn't great and Resident Evil was not particularly terrifying, certainly not when compared to Silent Hill or System Shock 2, but both were successful and Anderson did carry out a reasonable job. As for Event Horizon, while it is not a straight adaptation of a video game, the clues are in there to indicate its origins, essentially being id Software's DOOM crossed with Tarkovsky's Solaris. The story in DOOM was slight but it did feature portals, which the military were using to test inter-dimensional travel on Phobos. Of course, the portals link to Hell and begin working in both directions. The Solaris influence is very much present in the memories that Miller, Weir and Peters experience onboard the Event Horizon but, where Miller and Peters feel horror and guilt at what they see, Weir feels that he has come home and in a sense, he has. We assume that his wife's suicide was a result of the work Weir was doing on the design of the Event Horizon and, as far as he is concerned, her presence on the ship is an indication that the Event Horizon is where he belongs and that he must remain there, even through death. This sense of homecoming mirrors Kubrick's The Shining, where Jack Torrance is absorbed into the history of the Overlook Hotel.
Although Event Horizon did not spawn a video game tie-in as such, System Shock 2 certainly bears a similarity to it where a military spacecraft called the Rickenbacker is accompanying the von Braun, which has been fitted with an experimental faster-than-light gravity drive. As with Event Horizon, something goes terribly wrong during its maiden flight but instead of opening up a dimensional gateway to Hell, alien life forms developed by Shodan in the prequel invade both ships. As with Event Horizon, memories were replayed as you explored the game, albeit those of the ships rather than your own. Unlike Event Horizon, however, System Shock 2 has been hailed as one of the greatest examples in its genre but what the two titles have in common is an explicit sense of horror, most effective late at night.
The influence of computer games extends throughout Anderson's work and this sense of dabbling in genres is also one that is leveled at video game designers - Silent Hill mixed drug trafficking and UFO's into a game ostensibly about the occult in a small town. It is within the cinematic equivalent of video games that Anderson seems happiest, liberally mixing action, science-fiction and horror to produce films that are not soul stirring but do work as big, brash entertainment. I doubt he'll ever produce The Godfather, but he could direct a film based on Illusion Software's Mafia. He might not be capable of Goodfellas but Grand Theft Auto shouldn't be a problem and if he wants to tackle sci-fi and conspiracies, he should look no further than Half-Life or Deus Ex. What is interesting is that a film he has been linked with is Aliens vs. Predator, not only a series of comics but also a number of video games published by Fox Interactive. Fans of the series may despair but Anderson is fast becoming the director most able to handle big-budget sci-fi horror and, after the appearance of the Newborn at the end of Alien Resurrection, the only way for that franchise is up.
The film has been transferred in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and looks great, particularly as the film is often very dark during the scenes set onboard the Event Horizon (practically the entire film). Such low light levels are not something that DVD handles particularly well but in this case it does. However, much of that may have to do with the low number of features, allowing more space on the disc to be given over to the film.
There are seventeen evenly-spaced chapter stops, which is good given the film is just 92mins in length.
Event Horizon has been transferred with English and German Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks and Czech and Hungarian surround sound. Each soundtrack is clear of noise but the rear channels are put to good use, as is the subwoofer. The downside is that the surround channels are a little obvious, particularly during the scenes set on the Event Horizon before and immediately after the arrival of the Lewis And Clarke.
There are a large number of subtitle options available.
Trailer (2m16s, 1.78:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This contains many of the key moments in the film, summarising much of the film without giving away anything of real importance.
The extra feature available here is incredibly disappointing given there are many more features available including a promotional show made for MTV around the time of the film's release, which included interviews with Paul Anderson and a number of the actors and actresses who featured.
Lately, Paul Anderson has been talking about a reissue of Event Horizon containing an increased number of extra features. I doubt the film itself will be changed considerably and this would appear to be little more than taking advantage of another chance to wring yet more revenue out of the film. Sadly, it is something that we have gotten used to out of studios like Paramount that consistently fail to get it right first time.
I enjoyed Event Horizon greatly when it was first released in the cinema and still find great pleasure, if I'm a little uncomfortable, when watching the first hour again. A little before Event Horizon came out, I was about to give up on horror, given that it was only Peter Jackson who appeared interested in producing horror films that made an attempt, however little, to innovate. At a time when slasher movies were all that was propping up a genre that was barely alive, Event Horizon did attempt something different and was largely successful in doing so.
Sadly, this disappointing release of the film on DVD did little to assist its reappraisal on home cinema systems. With Paul Anderson now talking about a reissue with an increase in the number of special features, it would appear foolish to buy this DVD at this time when a special edition may not be that far off. Therefore, I would recommend that should you be interested, wait for the reissue should it ever appear. Otherwise, pick this issue up if you can find it very cheaply.