Event Horizon looks like Alien, feels like Alien, hell there's even eight crew members (okay, so Alien only had seven) stranded aboard a spaceship with a terrifying, chest-ripping, sanity-fraying nightmare which gleefully slaughters them, one by one. But unlike Ridley Scott's '79 frightener, Event Horizon has no tangible big beastie for the crew to battle against. As its writer Philip Eisner admits, the film is an unashamed homage to the haunted house features he grew up with, casting its influences among such classic shock stuff as The Shining and The Haunting. It's one thing to try and scare an audience with murksome sets and a half-glimpsed bloke-cum-hammerhead lizard clad in a drool-drenched latex suit, and quite another to attempt to unnerve us with an unseen, unstoppable, supernatural evil out of another dimension.
This is precisely what Event Horizon sets out to do. After a fairly traditional sci-fi opening (all flimsy space stations, Alien-style sleep tanks, and techno-theorising about the possibilities of hyperspace travel), Fishburne and pals reach the Event Horizon and tip-toe into the ship's desolate innards like the gang from Scooby Doo skulking about the old haunted house on the hill - - the one with the coal cellar you really shouldn't go into. Lit by lightning and hanging dramatically in the swirling Neptune storm clouds like a giant crucifix, the starship is a tomb - - its crew have been savaged and what's left of them is now an inch-thick splatter of blood on the walls of the control room. What killed them? Where has the Event Horizon been for the last seven years? What is the faint Latin message that can be heard among all the shrieking wails in the distress signal?
After about half-an-hour, the answers to these fundamental questions begin to be answered, and Event Horizon sets about its job of trying to scare the shit out of us. All hell thus breaks loose (literally) as the supernatural force begins to mess with the crew's psyches, plunging into each member's subconscious to pull out and recreate their personal nightmare. For Dr Wier (played by Sam Neill), it's tormented visions of his wife who committed suicide; for Captain Miller (the booming-voiced Fishburne) it's a crewman he left to die in a fire. Rather than a chitinous xenomorph or a guy with pins in his head, Event Horizon is a psychological horror that builds up the edge-of-the-cinema-seat tension with great aplomb, before launching headlong into a buckets-of-blood finale that almost rivals Se7en for it's graphic organ spillage and gorey grimness. ""This ship is fucked"," screams Pertwee's intimidated technician in one of the complement's rather less constructive moments.
Whether all the mind games, blood 'n' guts and loud bangs scare you or not depends on your tolerance of gore and horror, but director Paul Anderson keeps the picture stealthy and dark, aided by a crashing score from Mark Kamen which lends the film a close, oppressive, and threatening air. Bolstered by some impressive visual effects (the Event Horizon itself looks like a gargantuan Gothic cathedral, with globs of frozen liquid spinning slowly in zero gravity) and some peculiar, techno-medieval set design (spiked metal, huge archways), the sci-fi trappings sit slightly uneasily with the supernatural, haunted ship theme. But some competent turns from the ensemble line-up of Fishburne, Pertwee, Neill et al propel the film along through the jumps, deaths, and grisly guts to the violent finale.
On it's most basic level, it's 90-odd minutes of utter tension, relieved by big bangs, desperate battles and some blood- curdling arghs. Okay, it loses it during the middle section (director Anderson says 40 minutes have gone from the final cut), with little explanation for the weirdness, but Event Horizon still entertains from start to finish. It steals everything from Alien to teen slasher flicks, but the setting lends it a nervy edge. Catch it.