Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson and written by Philip Eisner
Released in 1997
Despite rumors of the film’s gore-laden extra footage, much of entertainment horror, for me anyway, is powered by our imagination, and Event Horizon, as it currently stands, feeds on that premise and gives us plenty. Also, despite strong hat tips to Alien/Aliens, Hellraiser, and The Shining, supported by an excellent cast, it still manages to hold its own as a taut, scary space thriller with plenty of atmosphere and some cool special effects. I’ve also seen the film repeatedly described as a “haunted house in space,” but for me it’s never felt quite right, so instead, for a moment, let’s talk about ships.
Ships, both real and imagined, are fully capable of carrying their own folklore and mystique, while all manner of horrors, real and imagined, are equally happy to climb on board. The Mary Celeste in 1872, the Titanic in 1912, the Erebus and the Terror (1845 – 1848), and more recently, the harrowing account of container ship El Faro, bound for Puerto Rico, that sank in a Category 3 hurricane in 2015. Are they haunted? How can they not be? The Demeter in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the mythical Flying Dutchman, the list goes on.
And let’s face it: The land, we’re familiar with; the sea, we’re at the mercy of. It’s an important distinction, while space travel takes the latter to a whole new level.
We first meet the Event Horizon in a decaying orbit around Neptune after being missing for seven years. She’s a beautiful ship, business at the front, and as we’re about to discover, the party’s at the back. But what happened to her crew?
Those aboard rescue ship Lewis and Clark – Captain Miller, Lieutenant Starck, pilot Smith, medical technician Peters, engineer Ensign Justin, doctor DJ, and rescue technician Cooper - are brought up to speed by their passenger Dr. William Weir, the designer of the Event Horizon who attempts to explain how his experimental gravity drive folds space. And while it reduces time taken to travel between points A and B, ultimately, it also appears to be the crux of the Event Horizon’s troubles. As sea vessels endeavor not to go down, the following tale suggests their space equivalents should never go through.
Conflict grows between the crew and Weir regarding what can, and what should not, be done. As for the horrors, they begin with a vulnerable Dr. Weir who experiences hallucinations regarding his dead wife, closely followed by an illustration of the rigors of space travel and inherent isolation.
“At thirty Gs, the force will liquefy your skull,” DJ tells Weir while prepping him for his protective grav couch and interplanetary travel. It’s certainly enough to put me on edge as we arrive at the presumably abandoned ship.
On arrival, Millar’s assertion, “This place is a tomb,” sets the tone, although until engineer Justin sets off to examine the gravity drive at the rear, I’m unsure of how the horrors will continue to manifest until Dr. Weir’s impressive, but sinister, gyroscopic contraption snatches Justin and pulls him into another dimension.
After being rescued by Cooper, Justin is utterly traumatized. “It shows you things… horrible things,” he tells the others before attempting suicide via airlock.
Other members of the crew and Dr. Weir are also experiencing hallucinations fueled by various trauma from their past. Dead wives and children, fallen comrades, some crew members fare better than others, but when pilot Smith suggests to the captain “This ship is fucked,” everyone, with the exception of its maker, Dr. Weir, is inclined to agree.
Meanwhile, working conditions at the front of the ship aren’t exactly ideal as Starck, DJ, and Peters attempt to discover what happened to the previous crew while being surrounded by liquefied remains and a dead body or two.
Sifting through barely discernible information, a distress call evolves into a warning, while a terrifying video emerges of the Event Horizon crew tearing one another to pieces. It’s time to leave, except the ship has other ideas and has found the perfect agent to carry out its plans in the form of its creator, Dr. Weir.
Weir, tormented with visions of his suicidal wife, succumbs quickly, despite tearing out his own eyeballs in an effort to negate his inner terror. He becomes a physical manifestation of whatever the Event Horizon has become, destroying the docked Lewis and Clark and attacking the crew. Needless to say, he isn’t in the best shape when confronted.
But no matter, he remains a formidable opponent, prepping the ship for its final journey to Hell while extolling the virtues of the other dimension like a scary, demented travel agent.
“She tore a hole in our universe, a gateway to another dimension. A dimension of pure chaos. Pure… evil.”
“Hell is only a word. The reality is much, much worse.”
“You are all coming with me.”
Thankfully, Captain Miller has other ideas, and by blowing the ship in half, enables his remaining crew to escape in the front section while keeping Weir and his beastly gravity drive occupied at the rear.
In the midst of a huge, fiery conflagration, the rear of the ship is sucked into a dark hole, leaving remaining crew members Starck, Cooper, and a badly injured Justin to limp home. And yet, while emerging from her grav couch, Starck awakens to discover Dr. Weir has followed them home. But it’s okay I’m assured, it’s just a nightmare. Finally, they’ve reached civilization, they’re being rescued and they’re safe.
Or are they?
About Janet Joyce Holden
Janet Joyce Holden lives in Southern California and is a writer of dark, contemporary fiction. She is the author of the Origins of Blood vampire series, the Carousel fantasy series, and the new Palladium series featuring a clairvoyant, an old Victorian house, and maybe a ghost or two.