‘Event Horizon’ at 25: how ‘Titanic’ sunk Paul W.S. Anderson’s cult horror

The late-'90s sci-fi flopped on release, admits its director, but don't blame him

“We were supposed to be a movie that got released in the fall,” Paul W.S. Anderson explains to NME, reflecting 25 years down the line on the primary reason his cult sci-fi horror, Event Horizon, underperformed at the box office. It was a fudged release strategy, according to the director. It opened during blockbuster season. “For a movie like Event Horizon, I think Halloween would have been more appropriate. [It’s a] scary movie. It’s definitely not a summer movie.”

And why was Event Horizon rushed out to cinemas in August 1997? James Cameron’s boat movie. “Originally, Titanic was supposed to be a summer movie, a big summer movie,” Anderson remembers, “and then Cameron told them (Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures), that they weren’t getting it until Christmas. Suddenly, Paramount had an open summer slot.”

Event Horizon
‘Event Horizon’ director Paul W.S. Anderson. CREDIT: Press

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Event Horizon is the story of a missing spaceship. Sent out to explore the stars, the craft vanishes in mysterious circumstances. Seven years later, it reappears out of the blue. An investigative team manning the Lewis and Clark shuttle is dispatched to solve the mystery. We learn the Event Horizon punctured through the space-time continuum into a hell dimension and returned as a nuclear-powered haunted house. If you’ve seen the movie, you know it soon becomes Hellraiser in outer space. “The work of [Hellraiser director] Clive Barker was a big influence,” Anderson admits, “and, you know [those elements], another dimension, the imagery of Sam Neill’s character’s [disfigured] body and face towards the end, it had a Cenobite-y feel to it.”

The shoot itself was plain sailing, Paramount “left us alone” says Anderson. “I had a great time, it was really a dream, and the cast was fabulous. I learned a lot from Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, who were very pleasant people to work with.” But when the studio saw his 130-minute rough cut, they were not happy. “I [quickly] discovered the people at Paramount hadn’t really been paying attention to what we were shooting, because at the test screening they saw all the Visions of Hell, which I’d never had a single [studio exec] note about, but now they were horrified by it and hadn’t realised how dark and unpleasant the movie was.”

Event Horizon
Sam Neill’s disfigured character Weir. CREDIT: Alamy

The infamous sequence known as the Visions of Hell, which Anderson mentions, is when the Lewis and Clark rescuers, via video playback, find out what really happened to the Event Horizon (it isn’t pretty). An orgy of deranged sex, murder and self-mutilation, “they definitely wanted it dialled back,” Anderson recalls. “In retrospect, I think that made the movie more powerful, because, you know, sometimes less is more. Restricting it to flashes, we allowed audiences to use their imaginations a little bit. They knew they’d seen something unpleasant, but quite often imagined things that were far more horrific than what I’d actually shot.”

Critically panned and dismissed as an Alien knockoff, though Anderson doesn’t mind the comparison, no matter how superficial – “Alien has a monster, our one doesn’t” and “thematically, they’re very different,” he keenly points out – Event Horizon has always had its fans. The cult following has kept its reputation alive throughout the decades. Anderson was aware of it being a hit with a certain core audience at the time of its release. “I’d seen that it had an effect on audiences,” he says. The director also remembered something actor Kurt Russell once told him. Set to work together on Anderson’s next film, 1998’s action-sci-fi Soldier, the pair watched Event Horizon during planning. According to Anderson, Russell too saw its cult potential from the off. “I said I was disappointed by the muted response and box office [returns], and Kurt watched it and he said, ‘You know, Paul, in 20 years’ time, this is going to be the one you are glad you made.’ And he was right.”

Paul W.S. Anderson
Paul W.S. Anderson looks over his set. CREDIT: Alamy

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In time, word spread of a director’s cut existing. It was said to be a gorier, sexually explicit version. But hold your horses. Anderson says the material simply doesn’t exist, blaming Paramount for failing to safely archive the excised footage. “There is more [material] but it’s from an early edit. It’s not at the quality that you could reintegrate into a film,” he says, making it clear the 96-minute Event Horizon we have today is the only version we’re ever going to get, despite all the internet chatter.

Another fascinating aspect to Event Horizon is its techno and electro-inspired score. The late Michael Kamen penned the music in collaboration with dance duo Orbital (who receive an ‘additional music by’ credit). “We hired [late composer] Michael Kamen to do the music. I almost felt like the film had such an extreme look, a specialness, [and so] I wanted it to have a special sound. I thought: ‘I’m never going to get that by having a traditional score. Michael is a very accomplished composer, he could do the job for sure, but would it be something that really stood out in an audio way?]’ I thought not, so we brought in Orbital. They worked a lot with Michael. He would record them, use the noises they’d created, and the tracks, and then put the whole thing together… I really felt they raised the bar with him, and I think it’s one of Michael’s more distinct soundtracks.”

‘Event Horizon’ is available on 4K Ultra HD™ now

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