The year was 1997. I was 15 and smack in the middle of my dark and brooding phase. It was kind of a crappy year for horror. Devil’s Advocate, Mimic, Alien Resurrection, these movies focused a lot on slick aesthetics and effects, but lacked in actual fear. Everything was very sexy and cool and not terribly scary. I had given up on horror by this point. Never again would there be an Exorcist or The Thing, I had given up all hope. When Event Horizon released in the theater, it did terribly. Everybody hated it, so I didn’t pay much attention. Then, one fateful weekend, my parents went out of town. In an attempt to keep me out of trouble, my mom stocked up on snacks and we went to rent videos. Back then, Blockbuster held your entertainment destiny in its hands. I grew up in such a small town, we only had two video stores, so if you didn’t get there early, the options were pretty limited. I knew I wanted Romeo + Juliet. I was 15 after all, and Shakespeare spoke to my soul. Also, Leo. I also knew I wanted something scary. Snuggled up all alone in a dark room with a scary movie is my idea of a good time. Pickings were slim, I’d seen most everything and there weren’t a lot of options to begin with. What there was, was Event Horizon.
Growing up an aspiring paleontologist, Alan Grant was my hero. If he’s in it, it can’t be all bad, right? Sci-Fi horror had never really been my thing, it always seemed a little cheap. I mean, how hard is it to make an alien scary, right? A cool creature is all well and good, but I was into possession and supernatural enemies. How do you kill something that doesn’t actually exist? That is true horror, in my opinion. But, I took a chance and brought it home.
I watched Romeo +Juliet while having nachos for dinner. I wept and swooned and ached over the knowledge that I would never know love so pure. Gag. Did I mention I was 15? I was so very 15. I talked on the phone (my own line, so baller) and around 10:00, I decided to pop in Event Horizon and maybe, probably, fall asleep watching. It opened as expected, there’s a spaceship, a rag tag crew of misfits who aren’t even supposed to be here today, and an outsider that’s hiding something. Not revolutionary but OK. I was a bit intrigued by the science, though. Sci-Fi, especially the sci-fi of the 90’s, tended to forget about the science, but Alan Grant (that’s his name, forever, deal with it) actually sold me on the physics. It was grounded enough in actual theory that I was happy to go along with the premise.
So we get to the ship, and surprise! Everybody is dead. Didn’t see that coming. The whole time, I was waiting for the monster, but the monster never came. Instead, it’s revealed that instead of traveling to the other side of the galaxy, the ship has actually gone to Hell and in doing so, is now alive. That … is awesome. I was instantly back in, this is definitely my kind of horror. The crew members start seeing things, things from their past that haunt them. Cowboy Curtis lost a crew member back in the day that appears on fire and calling out to him. Alan Grant relives his wife’s suicide, Apollo 13’s wife sees her son, whom she left behind, sick and dying. One by one, insanity claims the crew members as the ship takes control of them. Eventually, the ship possesses Alan Grant completely and he rips out his own eyes. From that moment on, he becomes the embodiment of the ship and the remaining crew members have to race to repair their ship and take off before they are all sucked back into the portal to Hell. Long story short, this movie scared the Hell out of me.
The brilliance of this type of horror is that there is nothing tangible to fight. When you have a bad guy or a monster, it’s just a case of finding the right weapon. That never really scared me because it always just seemed so doable. If it’s a case of hiding, then attacking, I’m reasonably certain that in those extreme circumstances, I can fight my way to survival. But when you are talking about your own personal demons being used against you, or a bad guy that can literally be any one, that really gets me. How do you fight that? You could be alone in a fortified room and it can still get you. That shit is scary.
Event Horizon is not without its faults. It doesn’t have the best effects, or the best actors (shout out to Lucius Malfoy as the melodramatic, Latin speaking DJ) but it just works. Jack Noseworthy plays Baby Bear with such sweetness that I was actually standing up on my bed begging Apollo 13’s wife to save him when he was being sucked out an airlock (it’s a space movie, you have to do that). Joely Richardson has the best scared face on the planet, and when she makes that face while absolutely bathed in blood, it’s chilling. Alan Grant is creepy as hell, which, having only seen him in Jurassic Park at that point, really bothered me. And in a stunning turn of events, the sassy black character survives! All the way to the end! If that’s not groundbreaking, I don’t know what is. I don’t know if it was a perfect storm of events for me, the empty house, the raw emotions brought on by brooding Leo, and the low expectations, but this movie knocked my socks off. I’m not too proud to admit that I had to play Romeo +Juliet on a loop after it was over in order to sleep.
Tiff is a contributing writer in The Think Tank, and is also involved in projects with Dan Ryan from time to time.