In a way, you can blame the failure of Event Horizon on two people – James Cameron and Nicolas Cage. Released on this date, Aug. 15, in 1997, Event Horizon was originally intended to be released during the Fall movie season to go along with Halloween.
However, there were two issues that arose. By the mid-1990s, Cage had become an A-list celebrity and a hot commodity. He had a three-picture deal with Disney at the time. They had made two of his big hits, The Rock and Con Air. However, when Paramount wanted Cage to play both the hero and the villain in Face/Off, Disney wanted in on the action. The now-defunct Touchstone Pictures had helped produce it and while Paramount was handling the North American distribution, Disney got the international distribution and got a bigger chunk of the $250 million worldwide gross.
But Paramount was hoping Cameron’s Titanic would be the summer hit of 1997 they needed. But following a production that included members of the cast and crew getting food poisoning with PCP reportedly in spiked clam chowder, some of the buzz was painting Titanic to sink just like the ship. By the time the summer months got closer, it appeared that Titanic wouldn’t be ready. One report indicated the special effects had screwed up the rotation of the propellers, a scene that wouldn’t last but a few seconds of screen time had to be redone. Well, it’s a good thing, they waited because that ending where Bill Paxton cackles like a pscyhopath when he watches the old woman toss that necklace in the ocean might have ruined the Oscar winner’s chances of awarded Best Picture.
Paramount’s troubles in the 1990s led to them needing a hit film but they had a few problems with the production over Wayne’s World 2, the failure of Jade following a huge pay salary to writer Joe Eszterhas and problems with Lorne Michaels over Tommy Boy and Black Sheep. So, with 20th Century Fox, who was going to distribute Titanic internationally, making a fourth Alien movie that was highly anticipated, Paramount wanted their own sci-fi/horror flick.
Event Horizon draws up comparisons to Solaris as if you added a slasher element to it. This was years before New Line would make Jason X but this wasn’t really a slasher. The movie is supposed to be more about space exploration and the dangers of using technology we’re not familiar with. It’s also touches on psychological terror as we create our own fears. The movie is set in 2047 where the ship titled Event Horizon has sent out a distress call picked up off the orbit of Neptune. Seven years earlier, on its maiden voyage, it was supposed to go to Proxima Centauri, but disappeared.
A rescue vessel, Lewis and Clark, captained by S.J. Miller (Laurence Fishburne) travels to the ship. On the Lewis and Clark is Dr. William G. “Billy” Weir (Sam Neill), who designed the Event Horizon. Weir explains to Miller and the other six members including Lt. M.L. Starck (Joely Richardson) that the Horizon had technology that could fold space-time. On the Horizon, the crew members find that there has been a massacre. D.J. (Jason Isaacs), the medical officer says the distress call had someone saying in Latin “Liberate me” or “Save me.”
Strange things start to happen. Weir sees images of his late wife, Claire (Holley Chant) who committed suicide, and Peters (Kathleen Quinlan), a medical technician, claims to see images of her son, Denney (Barclay Wright), who had lesions on his legs when she left him with her ex-husband. Miller, himself, also sees Edmund Corrick (Noah Hunley), a former shipmate when he was on the Goliath, who he abandoned to die.
The young F.M. Justin (Jason Noseworthy) gets pulled into the portal of the gravity drive and a shockwave damages the Lewis and Clark. Justin goes into a catatonic state and then tries to commit suicide by decompression. All these strange events mean that something ominous is happening but the kicker of the movie is its revelation in the final act.
The Event Horizon opened a gateway to a hellish dimension. Weir becomes possessed by the evil presence and tells Miller that “Hell is only a word. The reality is much much worse.” Are they in the Biblical Hell? No. I think the Event Horizon, as Weir explained able to fold dimensions but in fact folded itself in an alternate universe where cruelty, pain, violence and sexual depravity is the way. And the ship itself has become sentinence and is able to project this presence on the people inside the ship.
Haunted house movies have existed for years. Having a haunted spaceship was done in the first Alien. But I wouldn’t really say Horizon is a haunted ship. You can’t watch it without seeing similarities with the first Hellraiser. Director Paul W.S. Anderson and writer Philip Eisner take what Ridley Scott and Clive Barker have done and advance on it. There’s something menacing about the gravity drive with its metal and spikes as well as a corridor of jagged metal that spins likes it’s about to chop up whoever walks through it.
To the audience, it does like like Hell. The Horizon was able to torment Miller, Weir and Peters with their guilt. This is similar to Solaris except Anderson pumps up the terror and violence. He did so much that test audiences reportedly were surprised by it. People even reportedly fainted. Horizon is a movie not for the faint of heart with deleted scenes of orgy sex scenes involving real pornographic actors and amputees as well as reported images of Denny with maggots all over his legs.
The original cut of Horizon ran 130 minutes long, which Anderson planned to wittle down. However, because Paramount wanted the movie in theaters during the summer, Anderson agreed to only six weeks of post-production editing even though the Directors Guild of America requires directors get a minimum of 10 weeks. Add that Anderson had to spend two weeks on top of prinicpal photography doing second-unit work, he only had four weeks to edit it.
So, the test audiences and Paramount executives saw the same version together. This led to them making some heavy cuts to the final movie where it runs a mere 96 minutes including credits. Anderson has said that he wanted to restore about 10 more minutes into the theatrical cut but didn’t have the chance. It was only natural that when the movie opened on Aug. 15, it would become a failure only making about $26.6 million at the America’s box office and an additional $16 million in other countries.
Because of its shortened run time, critics weren’t too kind to it and most dismissed it. Horizon has a 30 percent rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes. However, the movie found a fan base on home video. I became interested in it when someone in college told me about the twist that they were in Hell even though I doubt they’re acting in the Biblical Hell. Yet, I could tell it was uneven at times. I didn’t really understand how Weir could suddenly become possessed.
And sadly, we’ll probably never know. After the movie became popular on home video and the cable market, that meant a Director’s Cut would have been imminent and inevitable, right? Unfortunately, the deleted footage wasn’t too well preserved. Anderson has repeatedly said over the years that there never will be a longer cut because a lot of the deleted footage is lost and the rest isn’t of good quality. And I think a lot of fan base is due to the footage being lost and a question of what might have been.
In August of 2019, it was reported Paramount and Amazon Studios was considering a TV series based on the movie with Adam Wingard producing along with Lloyd Levin and Lawrence Gordon, who produced the movie, involved. Anderson, who went on to have success with the Resident Evil movies, reportedly isn’t involved. Yet I couldn’t find any information if anything has been written or filmed. Most of what has been reported is two years old, so the project could’ve been abandoned during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even though I feel that the movie resorts to becoming a slasher in space, I felt there could’ve been some extra scenes that might have made it more coherent. Instead, the movie is rather clunky at times with jumpscares. I really think the movie should’ve never been released during the summer. People see a movie about ships in space being released during the summer, they expect a more action space-cowboy movie. The $64,000 question is whether or not it would’ve been successful had it had those 10 extra minutes and been released in the fall months closer to Halloween.
Some movies are just weird in where and how they find their fans and core audience.
What do you think? Please comment.