13. Event Horizon

Schlocktoberfest #13: Event Horizon

“Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes”

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.

science gone maaaaad

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.

I’m burnin’ for you…

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.

no funny caption required

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.


Death Race vs. Death Race 2000

I remember hunting down Death Race 2000 on VHS in high school with friend Pita-San. We were nerds who played “Car Wars” and this was on the required viewing list for players of that old game; we were not prepared for its dark satire, or the crazy camp. It amazed us. We did not think such movies were made. We loved it. So I was sort of excited about a remake, which could be a lot of fun- cars exploding, over the top villains, and a dark satirical future. I was sorely disappointed.

Frankenstein’s monster car

Let’s begin with the original. In a post-apocalyptic future, America is led by a brown-shirt President who blames all our problems on the French (some things never change). The populace is kept distracted by a violent cross-country road race in which drivers gain points by running down pedestrians in their suped-up, blade-festooned vehicles. Frankenstein (David Carradine) is the favorite driver- so called because he’s been in so many wrecks that most of him has been replaced. He drives a Godzilla-inspired Corvette with razor spines from nose to tail. His biggest rival is Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone), a gangster Guido with sadly inoperable tommy-guns and a huge Bowie knife mounted on his car; others include the Nazis Mathilda the Hun and Herman the German in their V-2 rocket-propelled Buzzbomb (complete with Prussian spike nosecone), Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov, Rock ‘n Roll High School) a cowgirl with longhorns on her hood, and Nero the pretty-boy, who thankfully gets killed first.

I hate Illinois Nazis.

It’s an utter campfest, as they plow through construction crews, guys playing chicken with them, and Rebels trying to sabotage the race. Frankenstein is saddled with a new navigator that he thinks is a government spy; he wants to win this last race so he can meet the President, and give him a handshake… with a “hand grenade!” Yeah, his metallic hand has a grenade built into it. There’s fake red blood galore, but it’s all well directed- the cars are sped up a little on camera, but they seem to be going pretty fast, and the stunts are decent. Whenever they aren’t racing and things get a little slow, director Paul Bartel wisely makes the girls (even his wife Mary W.!) show off their boobies. So all in all, it’s a slice of ’70s delight.

Carradine was fresh out of “Kung Fu” on TV and needed to break away from his Kwai Chang Cane character; Sly was probably raising money for Rocky, and they both chew into the roles with relish. The newscasters who follow the race are a mockery of TV talking heads, with a Howard Cosell talk-alike and others who drip with insincerity as government stooges. The budget is all spent on the goofy cars, but everyone involved goes at it with gusto. The Arnie movie The Running Man has more in common with this than the Stephen King story it’s based on, and while it’s pacing is slow for modern audiences, there’s nothing else quite like Death Race 2000. Name another movie where the doctors would roll out the elderly patients for “Euthanasia Day” only to be run over themselves. Paul Bartel knew how to make good trash, but this and Eating Raoul are his best. If you must see the “re-imagining” in theaters now, find a way to see the original.

Machine Gun Joe’s murdermobile

Death Race is a another video game movie from that master of mediocrity, who should be banned from having a name similar to Paul Thomas Anderson’s and Wes Anderson’s. Like a dog wiping his ass across the white carpet of cinema, he’s left a brown streak across the movie rack that cannot be ignored. I’ve seen Alien vs. Predator (the most boring of all the Alien films), Resident Evil (the worst of the trilogy), Event Horizon (probably the most overrated nerd-beloved film of all time, Hellraiser in space) and now Death Race, which mixes NASCAR, machine guns, and pinball in a prison movie. I’m told Soldier is saved somewhat by Kurt Russell, so I’ll rent that the next time I’ve watched too many enjoyable movies and need a letdown.

Driving my career into the toilet

There’s nothing surprising about Death Race. Ian McShane (“Deadwood,” Sitting Target) and his gravelly voice manage to uplift his scenes, but Jason Statham coasts by, having cast off any emoting ability sometime after Cellular. I loved him in Guy Ritchie’s movies, and as The Transporter, but he’s really become Vin Diesel’s grittier brother. Joan Allen (Manhunter, the Bourne Trilogy) must owe someone a favor; she’s horrible as the steely warden Hennessy, who runs the private prison with a cool and ruthless demeanor. The problem is she only has one note. Angie Dickinson in Payback: Straight Up was believable; Hennessy is not. Hearing her say nonsensical vulgarities like “Okay you, cocksucker. Fuck with me, and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk!” is hilarious; you’d think McShane of the legendary Al Swearingen would have coached her on how to cuss!

Mad tite whip, yo

Crowd favorite Frankenstein died in his last race, so Hennessy frames ex-NASCAR driver Jensen Ames (Statham) for murder to get him to replace the masked marauder. Carradine voices Frankenstein in the opener, which was a nice touch (there are a few forgettable nods to the first movie). The rest of the drivers are all tokens- Machine Gun Joe is now a twofer, a gay black musclehead played by Tyrese Gibson (Four Brothers); 14k is the Asian nod to the ricer Fast and the Furious crowd, there’s Pachenko the Russian, a nondescript Latino dude whose job is to yell vulgarities in Spanish, and an Aryan Brotherhood guy who’ll be the bad guy among bad guys. I was hoping there’d be an obnoxious Guido driver so I could point up at the screen and say, “hurr! he’s like me! I can now relate to this story!” They also bus in women prisoners so the gals have someone to cheer, but they are only allowed to serve as navigators- McCain must be president in 2012. The lithe ladies all have boomboxes in their cooches, which play riffs if they sway their hips in slow motion while they walk on screen. I must get Firecracker one of those. Natalie Martinez plays Frankenstein’s navigator Case, so maybe it’s just something hot Latinas are born with.

We need more uniforms like this in women’s prison

This movie is all about the action, but it’s mostly boring. Armored cars with machine-guns, flamethrowers and rocket launchers hammer at each other as they lap the track, which has Power Ups (they’re actually called this) scattered around it, like Mario Kart meets Twisted Metal. The guns barely seem to hurt the cars’ armor, and most kills are of the crash & explode variety. PWSA tries to up the gore factor now and then, but it’s bad CG the few times we see a pedestrian get plowed. We actually see a guy explode as soon as a car touches him, for example; I’d rather have fake red blood on an actual stunt man, thanks. During the final lap, Hennessy releases “the Dreadnought,” a tricked out semi with a tank gun, and its wheels have those spinning blades we’ve seen a dozen times- the token Asian’s navigator gets chewed up by it, which involves her jiggling in her seat with her tongue hanging out. The driver doesn’t even get blood on him. It would have been funnier if we just heard her scream and see him get splattered with her innards, but you can’t expect clever from this Anderson.

The infamous hand grenade!

The ending seems like an afterthought and I think PWSA (pronounced Pwissa) wrote it on toilet paper in between grunts. It’s as if they ran out of time, needed a prison break, and then forgot that they didn’t kill the evil warden. When they do escape in their death cars, try not to roll your eyes when the guards chase them in regular old police cars, as if escape never crossed their minds; the cars are all rigged with kill switches on the weapons, but Hennessy never imagined they could be bypassed. They chase them with helicopters across the only bridge off the prison island, which is protected by … a chain link fence. Even prisons that don’t hold death races have better security than this. But we ran out of time, so they need to escape easily. So much for finales.

How the remake feels!

Jason Statham, what’s gotten into you? It’s an easy paycheck, I know. I really liked The Transporter. If you can’t tell what made that more fun than the latest string of movies you’ve made, fire your agent before you lose any remaining cred. We’ll always have Turkish.

And as a bonus here are two photos from Death Race 2000 that look like they’re from an S&M movie, or a Batman porno.