Schlocktoberfest #13: Event Horizon
Horror in space can work. Alien anyone? Hellraiser in space should work; who knows what’s out there where no one can hear you scream? When I say this is Paul W.S. Anderson’s best movie- he of Alien vs. Predator and Death Race- I don’t necessarily mean it’s very good. It’s only original in putting other people’s ideas on a spaceship, and if it didn’t have Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne to hold it together, it would be a lot less tolerable.
It is 2047, a time when everyone still smokes because they probably cured cancer or something. Years earlier, the ship Event Horizon disappeared while on a mission to test its faster-than-light engine, the gravity drive. Now its hulk has reappeared off Neptune, and a salvage ship is sent to dock with it. On board is the designer of the gravity drive, Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill) who wants to figure out what went wrong, but seems to know more than he’s letting on.
Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) is more practical, and very protective of his crew. Not that it helps much. He’s haunted by his past, when he had to leave a crewman behind to burn alive. That sort of thing will scar a man, and every crew member has something in his past that would make them fail a basic psychological screening, but if they were nice boring astronaut types we wouldn’t have nightmares to plumb for shock value. So these are the crazy kind of astronauts, like the ones in Armageddon or that one who tried to stab the other one a while back.
When they dock, they find the ship is a tomb- corpses frozen in tortured poses, when found at all; and the gravity drive, which is for some reason carved in beautiful detail with gothic details. It looks like some sort of medieval torture device instead of an engine, and this is where the movie began to lose me. It looks a lot like Hellraiser‘s puzzle box made large and turned circular, with a pool of liquid mercury in the center. It of course lures the first crewman through it, and when he returns, he doesn’t say it’s full of stars. He’s seen things we people wouldn’t believe, and it wasn’t attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
We slowly learn that the Event Horizon- named for the demarcation of a black hole, from which not even light can escape- travels by creating a small black hole, and then traveling through it. Except its journey didn’t take it where it planned, but to another dimension, one of chaos. The ship itself has changed, and gives tormented visions to the crew who wander it alone. A woman sees her lost daughter; Weir is taunted by the ghost of his wife, who committed suicide. And Captain Miller has to face the crewman he let burn alive to save the rest of his crew, and himself. Dr. Weir’s intentions become clear, but we do not know where his motives came from.
Has the ship gone to Hell and back? The movie cribs from many of its betters, most notably Hellraiser, Alien and even Tartovsky’s Solaris. It manages to be a good B-movie, but is too confused and slipshod to be anything more. The “life meters go off the chart” when they scan the ship, so we assume it is alive, haunted, or inhabited somehow, but it goes nowhere. It seems to have possessed Weir from across the Solar system, and when you see its design- covered in symbols like a technological demon summoner from the Doom video games- you wonder if he meant it to be a conduit to bring chaos to our universe all along.
What makes the movie is the imagery- and it has it in spades. We only get glimpses of the horror beyond our dimension, due to queasy test audiences who were probably expecting a 2001 clone. Howling eyeless madmen criss-crossed with bloody razor slices, groaning in orgiastic glee as they impale their comrades on maggot-encrusted spikes, it is what Hellraiser would have been with a budget. Sadly, this is mostly at the end of the film, and is entirely formulaic as the ship endows its avatar with superhuman strength, and they deal with him Ripley style. It’s not a bad way to spend a spooky night in front of the TV, but it is entirely overrated by the internet nerd horde. From the gravity drive itself, which while ridiculously gothic does look quite cool, to the nightmares it spawns, you’ll definitely want eyes.