On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age.
First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing.
Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.
The Pitch: It’s the Sagrada Familia of Shitty Horror Movies
“Oh, this is your Sagrada Familia,” IndieWire’s Christian Zilko said to me as the credits of “Event Horizon” rolled, tears from laughter still streaming down my face. “You’re like one of those architecture nerds who think it’s more beautiful because it’s unfinished.”
Much like the semi-sentient spaceship in Paul W. S. Anderson’s magnificently misguided horror flick from 1997, Zilko knows me so well that I’m occasionally startled by his insights into my cinematic soul. That’s exactly the sort of person you want sitting next to you when you watch “Event Horizon”: the infamously strange tale of explorers on a mysterious mission to Neptune investigating the disappearance of another vessel, the titular Event Horizon, and its doomed crew from years before.
Saddled with an untenable production timeline by Paramount, thanks in part to delays on James Cameron’s “Titanic,” the end result of what was once ostensibly a promising horror concept is best likened to the chunky afterbirth of Anderson’s truly hellish creative labor. Sliding schedules, meddling executives, and the unwelcome specter of “Alien” plagued the project (the director’s first after his significantly better received “Mortal Kombat”) and turned its “haunted house in space” angle into a killing floor for dozens of design ideas and acting efforts that almost, almost, almost work. This is the kind of a misfire movie midnights were made for: funny, fucked up, and forever adrift in its lofty ambitions to pull off something that even done right wouldn’t be as entertaining as what actually got made.
Sam Neill stars as Dr. William G. Weir, a physicist and engineer who unlocked the key to light-speed space travel when he designed the Event Horizon. Set seven years after the ship’s presumed demise, Weir is determined to recover the equipment on board and understand what went wrong with his invention. To do that, he’ll need the help of Captain S. J. Miller (an unintentionally hilarious Laurence Fishburne) and the six-man crew of the Lewis & Clark (Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Kathleen Quinlan, Jack Noseworthy, Sean Pertwee, and Jason Isaacs) — each of whom sports the sort of plug-and-play personalities you’d find in a C-movie themed action figure set. (We’ve got Nice Lady Doctor! Funny Break-the-Rules Guy! Engineer with Cigarette! The young whipper snapper this script is legitimately going to refer to as Baby Bear on multiple occasions! And more!)
The commercial and critical flop is a little more mainstream than IndieWire After Dark typically goes; it has been referenced in everything from “Family Guy” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and has a legitimate cult following that could actually fill the world’s largest unfinished Catholic church. It’s also a staple on plenty of other folks’ midnight movie lists with enough defenses to question whether it needs defending at all. (Jim Hemphill interviewed Anderson for IndieWire’s ’90s Week last summer and, fun fact, learned that the sprawling, Gothic-looking spaceship was modeled after Notre-Dame)
But cue up “Event Horizon” and try muscling your way through its zero-gravity opening sequence — a scene that our dear Friend of the Column Conor correctly compared to the visual effects of “Spy Kids” during our viewing — and you’ll understand why this true-blue fringe fest isn’t earnestly beloved by the masses. This is a movie that absolutely has bad moments and the beginning is a particularly painful slog through shoddy-looking visual effects and agonizingly poor pacing. Still, like stained glass splattered with blood, there’s light that shines through the congealed goop gumming up its cracks you should find a way to get past. That’s all the encouragement you’ll get from me, since it’s plot is significantly better left unspoiled. Just trust that it’s worth toughing out the first third of the film to reach its sensationally strange center.
Anderson reportedly had a much longer cut of the movie that was lost in the shuffle to get it to VHS release (the footage was supposedly destroyed; although extended descriptions of these scenes can be found online), and that’s what inspired Zilko’s pitch-perfect comparison to Barcelona’s perpetually under-construction cathedral. I’ll always wonder what Anderson’s first R-rated outing might have been given more agency and time. And yet, even as it stands, there’s nothing I worship like “Event Horizon.” To quote its most famous line, “Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see.” Have faith and good luck. —AF
The Aftermath: Thank God We Hung Onto Our Eyes Long Enough to Watch This
I’ve always been fascinated by literary and cinematic depictions of Hell.* Say what you will about the lack of moral nuance offered by medieval religions, but they sure gave artists a lot to think about. And given that so many undisputed masterpieces of cinema have achieved immortality by offering brutal portrayals of things that are merely “very bad” without devolving into “the literal kingdom of Satan,” I’m always amused when an artist has the guts to cast their cinematic gaze on Hell itself.
(*All of my regular drinking buddies have by now heard about my obsession with the differences between Dante’s depiction of the Devil in the “Divine Comedy” and Milton’s in “Paradise Lost,” and the ways that cultural shifts from one personification of evil to the other explains larger changes in artistic tastes.)
So while I was willing to take Mr. Neill at his word when he promised us that we wouldn’t need eyes to see the wildly convoluted conclusion of “Event Horizon,” I was certainly glad that I had mine on hand. Despite this movie’s rabid cult following, my knowledge of it prior to this week was virtually nonexistent. I was expecting a ridiculous piece of ’90s sci-fi nonsense — a promise on which the film more than delivered — but I wasn’t remotely prepared for the depths I was about to brave.
Despite the fact that this technologically advanced starship was powered by an engine that looked like something ancient Druids would use to turn lead into gold, it never occurred to me that the ship would magically become sentient. I was not prepared to see a portal into Hell opened up. And I really was not prepared to see how much anal sex was contained in an otherwise mundane depiction of Hell. Every time I thought I had reached the weirdest part of this film, it managed to cram another undeserved surprise into its 96-minute runtime.
Given all of the other apathetic choices that the movie makes, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that Anderson’s version of Hell wasn’t remotely hellish. After all, the utter lack of chemistry between Neill and Fishburne and the film’s reliance on one-shots makes “Event Horizon” feel like the final frontier of pandemic filmmaking, with every actor filming their takes in separate locations before being edited together. Obviously that did not happen, but the fact that both actors give what would have been decent performances in completely different movies often makes it feel like the only explanation.
But for all of its myriad flaws, “Event Horizon” is undeniably an IndieWire After Dark movie. Any movie that has the gall to turn a plot about a workplace dispute between starship maintenance guys into a “Paradise Lost”-esque exploration of cosmic evil is something worth cherishing. The fact that Fishburne treats those evils with all the seriousness of an annoyed father on a family road trip, relying on eye rolls and the occasional “fuck this” as his weapons of choice, only adds to the fun. While the Sagrada Familia will tragically be finished in 2026 (yes, I’m one of “those architecture nerds” who was disappointed by the news), perhaps the strange theatrical cut of “Event Horizon” will take its place as our permanent reminder of mankind’s inability to truly compete with God. —CZ
Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “Event Horizon” with Showtime. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…
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- ‘Creative Control’ Promises That Sexual Mediocrity Will Outlive the A.I. Revolution