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Event Horizon (1997)


Hell is only a word.  The reality is much, much worse.

In the year 2040, the faster-than-light starship Event Horizon embarked on its maiden voyage to test an experimental gravity drive that used an artificial black hole to create a temporary wormhole, allowing instantaneous travel between any two points in space.  It disappeared without a trace. 

Good news:  In 2047, the Event Horizon was spotted in orbit around Neptune.

Now for the bad news…

The experiment was a complete success.

Event Horizon is a British science fiction horror film written by Philip Eisner, directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, and starring Laurence “The Matrix” Fishburne, Kathleen “Apollo 13” Quinlan, Joely “The Patriot” Richardson, Jack “Idle Hands” Noseworthy, Jason “Lucius Malfoy” Isaacs, and Sam “Jurassic Park” Neill.  Since its release it has been happily adopted by fans of Warhammer 40,000 as part of that universe’s backstory, and readers of Lovecraft will find many familiar elements in its concept of a realm infinitely worse than hell waiting just beyond the fabric of the known universe.

When the Event Horizon reappears within our solar system, a salvage team is sent to recover it.  Led by Captain Miller (Fishburne), the crew of the Lewis and Clark are accompanied by Dr. Weir (Neill), the original designer of the Event Horizon, who explains how the gravity drive was supposed to work.  The team discovers that the crew has been massacred, but all the final entry in the ship’s video log tells them is that everything was Just Fine until they activated the gravity drive – at which point everything went completely (and literally) to hell.

As the salvage mission continues, Engineer Ensign Justin (Noseworthy) is pulled into the gravity drive’s core, returning in a catatonic state and later attempting suicide due to whatever he saw within.  It is not long before the rest of the crew starts having hallucinations of their various fears and regrets: Miller sees a former teammate he was forced to abandon, and Weir sees his dead wife (missing her eyes, for bonus scary points).  After a cleanup of the log show the crew going insane and violently mutilating each other (deleted footage also depicted a sadomasochistic orgy recorded on the log that probably would have made Clive Barker blush), the salvage crew is faced with the possibility that the Event Horizon’s maiden voyage actually dropped it into Hell (or worse), and brought something back with it… something that plans to return home with this new batch of victims.

While the script is pretty much an excuse plot and some of the dialogue turns cheesy at times, the cast of Event Horizon do a good job in carrying the horrific concept of the film.  Sam Neill is delightfully unnerving as he allows the darkness of That Other Place to corrupt his soul, his obsession with recovering his baby slipping easily into insanity with only a nudge.  The Event Horizon itself even comes across as its own character before they start anthropomorphizing it, with its almost actively malevolent design inspired by the Notre Dame Cathedral with more spikes and alien geometries than any sane man would put into a scientific vessel.

The special effects are well-done and subtle throughout this movie thanks to the studio’s decision to go with a smaller FX company to keep the budget down, with only a few points where they were obvious (the late Mrs. Weir’s empty eye sockets and the clearly animatronic legs in one shot of Miller’s burning comrade).  The cleaned up video log is a true nightmare, a surreal bloodbath that stabs you right in your primitive animal brain while making your logical brain demand to go back and make sure that it really saw what it thought it saw.  While the “chaos dimension” that induced all the madness is only mentioned and never seen, it is clear that, whatever the FX guys could come up with to depict it, the reality of it would have been much worse.  Worth noting is the fact that the original cut was 130 minutes, with more gore and a longer segment of vlog to enjoy, but test audiences and the studio were both so disturbed by the result that Anderson was ordered to scale it back, to his regret, and the footage has since been lost.

In the end, despite its flaws, this movie is a chilling and welcome addition to sci-fi horror.  If you want a little horror in your sci fi, go see Alien.  If you want a little sci-fi in your horror, go see Event Horizon.  Alone.  With the lights off.

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