Where we're going we won't need eyes to see, but they might come in handy while reading this 20th-anniversary tribute to Paul W.S. Anderson's R-rated masterpiece of sci-fi horror, Event Horizon.
Only John Carpenter's The Thing elicits more devoted fan love than this 1997 cult fright flick, which contains some of the most perverse and unsettling imagery ever caught on film. The original NC-17, 130-minute director's cut, based on a script by Phil Eisner, was brutally chopped down to appease nervous Paramount studio executives and the MPAA, and the result is a diluted, 95-minute gem that still resonates today as a haunting cinematic experience immersed in religious symbolism and eye-catching set design.
More than just "Hellraiser in Space," it boasts a killer cast including Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Jason Isaac, Joely Richardson, and Kathleen Quinlan. Shot for $60 million on seven cavernous Pinewood Studios soundstages outside London and released on August 15, 1997, Event Horizon was a certified box-office bomb. As with 2009's Pandorum, audiences were not (initially) thrilled with its perilous mission to rescue a lost deep-space research vessel after it emerges from a black hole near Neptune's orbit.
If you've never witnessed the shocking pleasures of Event Horizon, let me hold your trembling hand in the grinding gears of the ominous trans-dimensional spaceship's experimental gravity drive as punishment ... then direct you to these five reasons why you should peer into the film's absorbing hellbound horrors.
I have such wonderful sights to show you! (And sometimes some rather bloody ones -- be warned of potential NSFW video!)
The cathedral-like tomb of the Event Horizon
We've already gone into geeky fits over just how insanely cool the spaceship design for the titular vessel is, but there's always room for more accolades. It's reminiscent in some aspects of the Discovery from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it was love at first sight as we glimpse its insectoid immensity along with the crew of the Lewis and Clark rescue craft as it appears out of a Neptunian gas cloud like a crucifix-shaped harbinger of interdimensional doom, shuttered and devoid of all life. The unholy heart of its intimidating hull is a space-folding gravity drive that spins and swirls like some spiked Lovecraftian Rubik's Cube. The filming model measured 70 feet long and was built by a dozen maverick model-makers.
A menacing, magisterial score by Michael Kamen and Orbital
Having listened to this soundtrack a half-dozen times in the past year, I can attest that it's one of the most unnerving orchestral scores to any sci-fi movie in recent memory, with echoes of Jerry Goldsmith's Alien tracks and Elliot Goldenthal's Alien 3 music. Recorded with the ambient industrial band, Orbital, it has a semi-dated techno style matched with the late pop music producer Michael Kamen's sweeping, old-fashioned adventure themes interspersed courtesy of the London Metropolitan Orchestra. Dim the lights and trip out into the far boundaries of infinity with this slightly twisted experimental blend of the modern and classic.
Adrian Biddle's striking cinematography
Director Paul W. S. Anderson envisioned the derelict hell-craft as a giant floating chapel and instructed production designer Joseph Bennett and crew to create Christian iconography into the interior and exteriors of the evil ghost ship. It was shot by the late, great Adrian Biddle (Aliens, Willow), who went for a Cinema Pur approach in many scenes, harkening back to an avant-garde film movement of the '20s and '30s that held elemental cinematic principals of pure light and movement in high regard. Illumination of eyes and windows play a vital thematic role in Biddle's breathtaking, atmospheric shots, taking full advantage of the stunning gothic sets and interplay of light and shadow.
The legendary blood orgy scene
Paramount, the studio known for the optimistic Star Trek franchise, totally freaked out when they saw Anderson's extra gory director's cut, and once test audiences were said to have vomited and passed out, severe cuts were demanded. The no-fun bunch at the MPAA slapped an NC-17 rating on the film for scenes of extreme mutilation, cannibalism, vivisection, crucifixion, bondage and disembowelment during the "Blood Orgy" flashbacks. Paramount tried to recover the lost footage for an unrated cut to release on home video later, but it simply does not exist as it was destroyed or left to the elements in the era of VHS releases before Director's Cut editions. Some of the legendary footage was discovered in an old Transylvanian salt mine (I'm not making this stuff up, honest!) years ago. The location had been converted to a storage facility and when the cans were opened, the film stock was too badly damaged to use. Historians are still searching!
That mesmerizing gravity drive
A triumph of medieval set design and disturbing cinematic aesthetics, the core engine of the Event Horizon is a marvel of experimental technology, enabling its crew to artificially create a black hole in order to fold space and instantly relocate to exotic ports in the universe ... like the veil of Hell! It's a hypnotic piece of machinery that also has the disturbing side effects of eliciting your worst nightmares, a little oversight the engineers neglected to tell anyone about. Check out this swirling mass of metal, but don't stand too close -- you may get sucked into its dimensional gateway and remember that time you forgot to send your mom a birthday card!