“Libera te tutemet ex inferis” still rings as one of the most memorable quotes in ‘90s horror and remains one of the only Latin phrases I know by heart. The translation of “Save yourself from hell,” that Jason Isaacs relays to Laurence Fishburne still resonates today, and is just one of many haunting and horrific moments in Event Horizon that still gives me the willies, more than two decades after its release.
The gritty cosmic horror film from 1997 is still, in my opinion, the best film of director Paul W.S. Anderson’s (Resident Evil, Monster Hunter) career, and possibly the only one that I wanted a more extended story on, and never got. The film centers around the small crew of the Lewis and Clark, a rescue vessel that is sent into deep space near Neptune in response to a distress signal sent from the Event Horizon, an exploration ship that disappeared seven years prior. Upon reaching the Event Horizon, the rescue crew finds a mostly empty ship, and comes to find that the Event Horizon has gone through a gateway to some kind of hell dimension, bringing back a dark power from within.
With an unusual, but fantastic cast of various odds-and-ends actors that typically shine in other genres, a powerful chemistry was created for Event Horizon’s crew. Laurence Fishburne took the reins in one of his first lead protagonist roles, and Sam Neill, who already had made quite a name for himself in the horror genre, took on the role of heel (hell?)-turned designer of the Event Horizon, Dr. William Weir. Supporting roles from the likes of Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter franchise), Kathleen Quinlan (Breakdown), and Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers) made for a memorable group that was so impressive, it hurt a little to watch these characters picked off one-by-one.
Specifically, Sam Neill’s transformation from goody to baddie is jarring, in a great way. Fresh off performances in Jurassic Park and Merlin, it was scary to see a then-popular hero actor opening people up with medical tools, carving up his own body, and delivering iconic lines like, “Where we’re going, you won’t need eyes to see.”
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At this time in moviemaking, very few horror films had explored the realms of space to such depth. Obviously, Alien is at the top of the list, but by the time the mid-‘90s had rolled around, Alien was almost 20 years old, and the closest thing that horror fans had gotten with any notoriety behind them was Hellraiser: Bloodline and Leprechaun in Space, both of which released the year prior. Event Horizon’s story was fresh, thought-provoking, and downright scary, especially for those with both fear of the isolation of deep space, and religious-based horrors. Very surprisingly, Event Horizon wasn’t based on a book, and as much as I wish it was, so I could explore the universe more, the screenplay was one of the few works from Philip Eisner, the mind behind the screenplays of Firestarter 2: Rekindled and Mutant Chronicles. Eisner had recently been dealing with a death in the family and pitched the original idea as “The Shining in Space.” This film was also one of the first instances of the now-often-used explanation of multiple dimensions by using a folded paper with a pencil shoved through it.
Putting the scares and gore aside (for now), one of the most impressive things about Event Horizon is the incredible set and props that totally drive the film. The imposing design of the Event Horizon ship, both internally and externally, easily places it as one of the most memorable ships in both the sci-fi and horror genres. Even without the constant reassurance that the ship is evil/alive from all the crew members, the ship honestly becomes an antagonist in the film. Each room is intimidating, whether it be from claustrophobia-inducing server vent shafts, or hallways filled with spikes and blades, covered with recent grime, blood, and flesh.
The gore and practical effects of Event Horizon are great too, even in their small moments, and especially in the shortcut scenes of video footage from the hell dimension. These moments were perfectly crafted by Anderson, as he was inspired by 16th century paintings from artists Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch. Anderson got the inspiration while touring art galleries. Clive Barker, the writer and director of Hellraiser, was a massive inspiration for Anderson’s creations, and was a consistent consultant during the project.
Unfortunately, a lot of the original cut of the movie was taken out, after the extreme gore and violence turned off both test audiences and the studio, including causing a couple fainting spells. Anderson was made to cut 30 minutes from his movie, mostly from the violent and gory kills scenes. As far as I know, no original cut of Event Horizon still exists, though there have been rumors that one of the producers at one point, found a VHS tape that contained it. I can’t even imagine how stoked I would be to see the original cut of this film, especially knowing and seeing how deep Barker’s inspirational effect on Anderson went.
Sadly, upon its release, Event Horizon was panned by both audiences and critics. Kurt Russell, who would star in Anderson’s next movie, Soldier, saw an early screening of Event Horizon, and called it that people wouldn’t appreciate it then, but both the audience and the director would be very happy about it 15-20 years down the line. Looking back 25 years, Event Horizon has solidified itself as one of the best horror movies of the ‘90s. In that fashion, there are plenty of cheesy lines and some dated effects, but even still, it’s now cemented as one of the greatest and most remembered cosmic horror films of all time.