It’s Halloween and we at RevPub are doing our own horror movie retrospective. Not a list of favorites or least favorites, but specific categories each week! This week I’m taking a look at what I think is the most underrated horror movie in recent memory…
Event Horizon: Do You See?!
What makes a great horror film? Mood, build of tension, and good characters are definitely on the list. Many will point to successful other horror movies, Carpenter’s Halloween, Hitchcock’s Psycho, as achieving these things, but the overlooked gem Event Horizon does them as well as any horror film I’ve seen.
I won’t go into the plot beyond the set up: Sam Neil stars as Dr. Weir, a scientist accompanying a mission to investigate the ship “Event Horizon,” which vanished years ago and he had a hand in designing. Lawrence Fishburn is Miller, the captain of the salvage team which is also full of great character actors and diverse personalities within the film from a no-nonsense pilot, flippant rescue tech, and a motherly XO.
While this all sounds traditionally sci-fi, the film actually belongs more in the haunted house genre, and is one of the most effective in that category. Mixing equal parts Aliens, Hellraiser, The Shining, and Amityville Horror Event Horizon succeeds where so many genre mash ups have failed. Yes, it’s set in space, but the scares are psychological. It has as much in common with Poltergeist as it does Alien 3 and the nature of the scares is actually more personal than many modern horror movies. Since it was in all the adverts for it I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to mention that the ship left space and ended up in a horrifying dimension, an excellent concept and one used to perfect effect. No creepy monsters or aliens here…all the scares and all the evil is cerebral and comes from people… It is terrifically subtle. Yes there are jump scares, but they mostly occur early and due to sound so it gets you tense early and then never uses the “cheap” jump scare tactic again. It also has gore but it is either seen in quick flashes or is obscured by the scene so it never loses its impact.
Add to this the excellent set and sound design and superb cast and you have a perfect storm of horror film-ology. So why isn’t it considered a modern classic instead of a lost treasure? One reason is probably the casting. The actors in the film are terrific character actors known for intense and effective performances and likely cast because they fit the roles perfectly; this rather than shoe horning in some marquee draw who has no place in the film and is only there to sell tickets. There are also no eye-candy characters (see THIS post…), everyone looks like they belong to a crew of a salvage team. And finally, the premise: a space ship that creates a black hole and ends up in another dimension doesn’t sound like horror potential. So many of the slasher (and later torture) fans gave it a miss. And what a tragedy as it does horror far better than many of the movies in those genres have.
If you look at it’s the success of its descendants it makes me wonder if the film may be on the verge of a renaissance. Games like Dead Space lifted its premise, tone, and environments whole-cloth. Even my beloved Warhammer 40k, though it predates the film, borrowed some of the concepts in its later editions. I’m hoping, as the audience has matured and become more sophisticated (strangely because of movies like Event Horizon) the progenitor of so much of modern sci-fi horror will finally get its due.
I’m holding out hope the next time I exclaim “Do you See?!” to a room full of horror fans the response from the vast majority will be “Yes……I see….”