In a year when the big movies were things like Titanic, Good Will Hunting and Batman & Robin, no one really gave a shit about Event Horizon back in August of 1997. It was an Alien-meets-Hellraiser hybrid that had been rushed to fill the release slot Titanic had vacated as it fell into production troubles. On a budget of $60M it failed to make back even half of that at the box-office, and critics weren't too impressed. And then something interesting happened…
In the year following Event Horizon’s release, Paramount noticed that the film had become a hit among the home entertainment crowd and was only continuing to gain momentum from there. In an attempt to capitalise on its growing popularity, they urged director Paul W.S. Anderson to release a director’s cut – something rarely done in the age before DVD releases – that would revert back to how he originally wanted the film and how it originally played to test audiences. That edit had scored the kiss-of-death among US censors – an NC-17 rating, the equivalent to Australia's R18+ – and had seen audiences and the studio react negatively to what they thought was excessive gore. What was released was a rushed, toned-down cut delivered by the skin of its teeth before the film’s wide release. Yet despite all of that, time has been kind to this piece of high-concept sci-fi horror.
So kind, in fact, that Event Horizon is now a reference point and it has inspired a legion of imitators. While Alien was obviously the bar-setter in terms of space horror, Event Horizon came some 20 years later and was somewhat more accessible to a contemporary mass audience. There were better sci-fi movies that year – Men In Black, The Fifth Element and Starship Troopers all spring to mind – but it was Paul W.S. Anderson’s third film that spawned movies like Infini, Sunshine, Lockout and Pandorum. Each evoked Event Horizon's use of an A-grade cast of thespians pulling off what is unashamedly a B-grade concept (a space ship that stumbles upon a hell dimension? Come on, this is what Troma dreams are made of). For this kind of material, there are few substitutes for the combined power of Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs and Sean Pertwee, not to mention the rest of the crew who fill out the ranks of people who have the privilege to die horribly. After all, if Aliens taught us anything it’s that the bigger the cast, the more opportunity you have for exciting deaths. And Event Horizon had ‘em: from eviscerated spines to hollowed eye sockets. It also had unapologetic winks to its influences, with Hellraiser being the big one; Clive Barker even consulted on the film in its development stage. From the way the haunted ship moves to the puzzle box elements to the (yes) hellish aspects, Anderson’s love of Barker’s twisted worlds is clear.
It even contains political foresight, and it's safe to say none of Anderson’s other films ever did. Not Mortal Kombat, not The Three Musketeers, not any of the Resident Evil franchise and definitely not Pompeii. Set in 2047, Anderson had production designers work with the actors so that the country flags displayed on their uniforms would likely reflect what future designs would be. That included the British Union Jack being replaced with the European Union (hello Brexit), the United States flag with 55 stars and the Australian flag featuring the Aboriginal flag in place of where the Union Jack sat. Although Neill is a Kiwi, he played an Australian in the film, and suggested the amendment to reflect a politically unified future. They were little more than Easter eggs but they’re something that continues to surprise and delight audiences who are still finding the film – even in 2017. The film's audience continues to grow while the cultural impact of other (and in some cases, better) films have stuttered and stumbled to a halt. Alien: Resurrection was released the same year, but Event Horizon managed to be a more faithful Alien film in every way. Save for a few CGI effects that haven’t dated well, Event Horizon as a whole has done what critics at the time thought was way beyond its grasp. Filmcritic.com wrote upon the film’s release that it was “a retarded Goth version of 2001: A Space Odyssey”. It says a lot when the criticisms of the movie have dated more than the movie itself.
Event Horizon airs as part of SBS Viceland's Sci-Fi Season, Saturday 17th June at 8:30pm: