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Looking Back: Event Horizon (1997)

In 2047, a crew of blue collar astronauts is assigned to investigate the appearance of long-believed gone space craft called the Event Horizon. A wise doctor (played by Sam Neill) is the wise, mysterious expert who leads an unhappy captain (Laurence Fishburne) and his crew (which includes actors like Joely Richardson, Kathleen Quinlan and Jason Isaacs) onto the ship. They discover massive amounts of blood scattered about, as well as a recording of what the last crew experienced. Then, things get much, much worse.

Does the plot sound familiar? Perhaps the inclusion of Jonesy the Cat would have cemented just how much the set up, costumes and even a few of the sets here resemble Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” Once the crew boards the ship, the themes touch upon Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris,” as well as later films like “Sphere” and “Supernova.” Neill’s explanation of how a black hole works has been done in a similar fashion in everything from “Interstellar” to “Timeline.” Nothing here is on the level of “2001- A Space Odyssey” or either version of “Solaris” but, as far as lavish, obvious attempts to mimic “Alien” go, this is one of the best ones.

The problem with Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Event Horizon” isn’t just how its cobbled from other movie but how overdone the climax is. Considering how raw the gore is and genuinely disturbing the visions of hell are, Anderson didn’t need fight scenes coupled with more shots of actors bracing themselves s everything around them explodes. That said, when stuff goes boom (and boy, does it ever in this movie), it looks amazing. As do the sets and even the early CGI, which occasionally has that cartoonish gloss but mostly conveys the grand intentions of Philip Eisner’s screenplay.

Neill is the whole show here, as his brooding, layered performance just gets better and better. His character is the only one given an extended back story and his trajectory takes him to some far out places. Although Neill is a versatile, highly accomplished and nuanced actor, he always gives genre films everything he’s got. Fishburne and his co-stars are stuck in one-note roles with sometimes cartoonish dialog. It helps that he, Quinlan, Fisher and Isaacs are so commanding. The talented Richard T. Jones plays the film’s comic relief, which would normally be out of place in a film like this but, considering how ugly this gets, his contribution is more than welcome.

When Anderson’s film appeared, it was hard to take seriously, as it opened the same day as the prestigious Sylvester Stallone comeback vehicle, “Cop Land.” While a pre-“Matrix” Fishburne had firmly established himself as an actor capable in any genre, he was coming off a bunch of non-starters. While this film did little to elevate his once unsteady choices (he once went from playing Ike Turner and Othello to “Fled’), he’s very good here.

Although this has an unsteady, overly busy wrap up that doesn’t entirely explore the possibilities of its premise, it’s easy to see why this has a loyal following. What “Event Horizon” lacks, it makes up with thick dollops of dread and an-ahead-of-its-time nastiness, uncommon in a mainstream studio film. Few films can inspire a fear of hell, both as a concept and a physical place, better than this one, which is an unusual and impressive feat for a horror film.

I have a few buddies from college who, when asked what the scariest movie they’ve ever seen is, always say “Event Horizon.” In fact, I’ve met others over the years who say it’s the movie they found the most frightening and disturbing. Well, why not? Does every single Scariest Movies Of All Time lists have to always begin with “The Exorcist” or “Night of the Living Dead” or “Psycho”? Why not a disreputable sci-fi horror tale, a big flop in its day, that has become a well regarded cult film? It was the second film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. His directorial debut was “Mortal Kombat,” and he later made the rotten “Soldier,” “Death Race,” “Pompeii” and “Resident Evil” parts 1, 4, 5 and 6. “Event Horizon” is easily his best, most accomplished work.

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