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Event Horizon (1997) - Sam Neill, horror icon

Event Horizon – 25 years of inter-dimensional horror

4/5

Released in 1997, Event Horizon is a sci-fi horror film that explores the dark depths of cosmos and the dangers that lurk just outside our view. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, the movie stars Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan, and Joely Richardson. Event Horizon has developed a cult following over the years, and for a a lot of reasons, this should not be surprising.

Finding the Event Horizon

The plot of the film revolves around a rescue mission to retrieve the missing spacecraft, Event Horizon, which disappeared seven years earlier. The ship travels faster than light by creating a black hole and then traveling through it, effectively shortening the distance between two points in space. Rather than traveling the vastness of space, the Event Horizon folds space and punches a hole through its fabric. However, something went horribly wrong during the ship’s maiden voyage, and it vanished without a trace.

The rescue team, led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), is sent to investigate the Event Horizon’s reappearance near Neptune. The team includes Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), the ship’s designer, who believes that he can help recover the ship and provide insight as to what happened to it. As the crew locates and boards the Event Horizon, they begin to experience strange and terrifying visions. It quickly becomes apparent that something went very wrong on the ship’s voyage, and the team may not make it back to Earth alive.

Event Horizon (1997) - The Event Horizon's Gravity Drive
The Event Horizon’s gravity drive opens portals to chaos

We Have Such Sights to Show You

One of the things that make Event Horizon such an effective horror film is its setting. Space is a vast and terrifying void, and the idea of being stranded with no way home is horrifying. Coupled with a Lovecraftian evil as vast as space itself, the film doubles down on the cosmic horror theme. Underlying the whole of our existence, a dimensional plane of reality built on chaos and evil is always just one wormhole away. This evil is so mind-bending that it drives anyone that witnesses it to madness.

In an interesting parallel, Event Horizon evokes much of the same imagery of another Lovcraftian gem from Clive Barker, Hellraiser (1987). Just outside the perception of man, a realm of pure pleasure through pain exists. One only needs the key to punch a hole in reality to witness it. Likewise, Event Horizon evokes similar imagery and it could be said that Dr. Weir’s “Core”, the gravity drive, shares stylistic characteristics with Barker’s Lament Configuration puzzle box from Hellraiser. When Dr. Weir crosses the threshold of sanity his physical form could be a drop-in for Barker’s Cenobites.

I would be remiss If I didn’t mention the films homage to the great Tobe Hoppers sci-fi vampire extravaganza, Lifeforce (1985).

Event Horizon (1997) - Gory cosmic kills punctuate this sci-fi horror gem

1997 – The Pinnacle of Practical Effects

The movie was made before the cost of CGI entered the realm of lower tier feature films. The filmmakers relied on practical effects to create much of the horror. The ship’s design is genuinely disturbing, with its organic-looking corridors and twisted metal. The makeup effects used to create the crew’s gruesome deaths are also impressive and gruesome. The ship borrows some of the blue collar charm of Aliens (1979), but also incorporates cutting edge design sensibilities that make it unique.

Another notable aspect of “Event Horizon” is its use of sound. The film’s score, composed by Michael Kamen, is haunting and otherworldly. The sounds of the ship’s engines and the creaking metal of the ship create an ever-present sense of dread. Some truly terrifying moments lend their effectiveness directly to the sound design, provoking a response that may have otherwise slipped through the cosmic cracks.

Event Horizon (1997) - Sam Neill, horror icon?
Is Sam Neill a horror icon? We think so.

Unsung Horror Master, Sam Neill

The cast of “Event Horizon” is excellent, with Sam Neill giving a standout performance as Dr. Weir. To be honest, this next bit might be appropriate for a dedicated blog entry itself, but Sam Neil possesses some serious horror credentials. In fact, as far as genre films are concerned, it stands out as his specialty.

  1. In the Mouth of Madness” (1994) – Neill plays an insurance investigator who is sent to find a missing horror novelist.
  2. “The Ninth Configuration” (1980) – Although this film is more of a psychological thriller than a horror movie, it has some horror elements. Neill plays a psychiatrist who is sent to a remote castle to help treat a group of psychologically disturbed veterans.
  3. “Possession” (1981) – This film is a surreal horror-drama about a couple whose marriage falls apart in a disturbing way. Strangely, this classic also shares some aspects with Event Horizon.
  4. “The Omen III: The Final Conflict” (1981) – Neill plays Damien Thorn, the adult Antichrist set on taking over the world.

It could be argued that Jurassic Park checks all of the boxes of a Sci-fi techno-horror film as well. His performance in Event Horizon as he descends into madness ranks among his absolute best.

Laurence Fishburne is fantastic as the pragmatic and stern Captain Miller. His character brings a stoic and commanding presence to the role. The rest of the cast is also strong, with Kathleen Quinlan and Joely Richardson both delivering solid performances.

Not Too Many, Just Right

A major criticism of the film, and one I am not inclined to agree with, that it’s a bit of a mishmash of different horror genres. The movie has elements of, sci-fi, slasher films and cosmic horror. You’re damn right it does. While some people feel that the film would have been better if it had focused on one particular sub-genre, I couldn’t disagree more. The mix of genres is one of the movie’s strengths and certainly one of the reasons that time has been very kind to to the film. While it takes a certain level of horror sophistication to appreciate it, it keeps the audience guessing as it incorporates a rich tapestry of styles.

Singularity

Overall, Event Horizon is a fantastic sci-fi horror film that well deserves its cult status. The movie is well-directed, well-acted, and genuinely terrifying. The use of practical effects gives the film a visceral quality that is often missing in modern horror movies. If you’re a fan of horror, this one will tickle your sensibilities across multiple sub-genres. I highly recommend giving this inter-dimensional horror gem a watch as it serves as a brilliant example of late 90’s horror.

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