Sci-fi horror Event Horizon was one of the scariest movies in the 90s. Basically a haunted house movie in space, the tense and gruesome movie sees experimental vessel the Event Horizon suddenly return from hitherto unexplored regions of space, bringing back something very powerful and extremely dangerous. Let’s take a look back at this 1997 sci-fi shocker with some facts you might not have known.
20. The original cut was over two hours long
The version of Event Horizon released to cinemas in 1997 clocked in at 96 minutes. The original director’s cut, however, lasted 130 minutes – and much of that deleted footage was heavy on graphic violence. It was too much for test audiences, with viewers and the studio alike balking at the gruesome content.
Paramount made Paul WS Anderson cut 30 minutes of the film, and he reluctantly obliged. However, the director has remarked since that he regrets making these cuts, feeling that the lost scenes take away some of the real essence of the film.
19. The spacesuits were so heavy the actors had to rest in special hanging poles between takes
The spacesuits created for Event Horizon were incredibly heavy at about 30 kilograms (4.5 stones) each. Due to this weight, it was difficult for the cast to stand in them for long without injuring their backs, but the large rucksack also meant it was impossible for them to sit down in them. The crew came up with a novel way to tackle this problem.
Special poles were installed on set, from which the actors were able to suspend themselves between takes. According to other members of the cast, leading man Laurence Fishburne nicknamed his suit Doris. Screenwriter Philip Eisner recalls that when he visited the set, Fishburne pointed at him and roared in a mock-threatening voice, “You! You Eisner! You did this to me!”
18. Director Paul WS Anderson turned down a chance to direct the first X-Men to make Event Horizon
- Credit: Gage Skidmore
Director Paul Anderson (who later added the initials WS to his professional name) was a hot Hollywood newcomer in the 90s. After breaking through with low-budget debut Shopping, the British filmmaker went stateside to direct Mortal Kombat. Off the back of this, Anderson was offered the chance to direct the first X-Men film.
However, the director felt a stronger connection to Event Horizon, and opted to take on that project instead. X-Men remained in development for a couple of years before it finally got off the ground with Bryan Singer directing. The box office success of the Marvel comics adaptation in 2000 paved the way for the boom in superhero movies.
17. There are nods to the video game Doom
Doom is a first-person shooter-style game franchise, with the first in the series released in 1993. Near the start of Event Horizon, Doctor Weir opens the blinds in his room and a whining noise is heard. The sound effect is taken from the sound effect of doors opening in the video game Doom.
Doom has a similar premise to Event Horizon, as it is set in outer space and sees Hell being unleashed. Director Anderson is a big video game fan, as is reflected in his body of work. As well as breaking through with Mortal Kombat, Anderson went on to make the Resident Evil series and Monster Hunter.
16. One shot of a space station cost a third of the entire FX budget
As with any good sci-fi movie set in outer space, Event Horizon boasts some impressive special effects. A particular amount of care – and money – went into a single shot in the first few minutes. This is the moment when the camera zooms out from Sam Neill looking through a space station window.
The shot then pulls all the way back, revealing the full size of the mighty space station revolving in orbit. While the shot lasts just 45 seconds, it took ten weeks of work to get it on film. The crew reportedly spent a third of their entire FX budget getting this impressive early shot just right.
15. The film was completed just 10 months after it was green-lit
For such a complex and effects-heavy movie, Event Horizon was completed incredibly quickly. In fact, it took just 10 months from being green-lit to being completed in its entirety. Studio Paramount gave the filmmakers the go-ahead a mere 10 weeks before filming was scheduled to start.
This is an unusually short amount of time for pre-production on a major film, so the pressure was on. After many leading production designers turning the film down, Joseph Bennett took on the role. He then set about finding a British crew who could build the set in just four weeks, which is an impressive achievement.
14. It was a critical and commercial flop on release
Having cost $60 million to make, hopes were high that Event Horizon would be a major money-maker. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case – at least, not when the film was first released. Event Horizon made a significant loss at the box office, ultimately making just $42 million worldwide.
Nor were the reviews especially kind; even today, the film sits on an unflattering 29% score at Rotten Tomatoes. Among those critical of Event Horizon was the influential Roger Ebert, who remarked that it boasted “a sense of foreboding and after-boding, but no actual boding.” Happily for the filmmakers and the studio, the film proved to be a greater success once it was released to home video.
13. Kurt Russell predicted the film’s eventual success
Director Paul WS Anderson went straight from Event Horizon to another big-budget sci-fi movie, Soldier. During production on that 1998 movie, Anderson was comforted over Event Horizon’s commercial failure by his Soldier leading man Kurt Russell. According to Anderson, Russell told him: “Forget about what this movie’s doing now. In 15 years’ time, this is going to be the movie you’re glad you made.”
Unfortunately for Anderson and Kurt Russell, Soldier also proved to be a major flop which, unlike Event Horizon, has not enjoyed a latter-day reassessment. Indeed, none of Anderson’s films have gone down well with critics; literally nothing he has directed or produced has a ‘fresh’ rating at Rotten Tomatoes (although some of his audience ratings are more favourable).
12. The film predicted nations changing in the future
Event Horizon is set in the year 2047, a full half-century ahead of the film’s 1997 release date. As well as suggesting that space travel will have significantly advanced, the film also hints at major changes on Earth itself. Characters portrayed by British actors wear a European Union flag with 22 stars, replacing the former Union Flag. (Was this a foretelling of Brexit?!)
As well as this, American actors’ characters wear a flag of the United States with 55 stars, implying that several more states have since joined that union. Meanwhile, Sam Neill’s character wears a modified Australian flag, with the Union Jack removed from the top left-hand corner, bearing the Aboriginal flag instead.
11. The cut footage is probably lost forever
Not long after Event Horizon came out, the DVD boom provided a new platform for previously deleted footage from movies. However, it turns out that on Event Horizon, studio Paramount hadn’t paid very close attention to the scenes cut from the film. Director Paul WS Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt have searched far and wide for all the lost footage.
This search took them to some bizarre places: reportedly some lost footage was found in an abandoned Transylvanian salt mine. Unfortunately, after all these years it looks unlikely that any of original film cans of the cut footage are ever likely to be found. Some cut footage is said to only be on VHS tapes – but there have proved to be serious issues with these.
10. There were problems with the footage that was recovered
Although Anderson and Bold managed to retrieve some of the footage, much of this was damaged or otherwise degraded. Some the surviving deleted scenes are featured on the Special Collector’s Edition DVD, and survived only in videotape form. This includes a scene where Sam Neill’s Dr. Weir is informed of the re-appearance of the Event Horizon.
Some of the scenes were without dialogue or sound effects. The DVD also includes storyboards of of a space walk sequence which was ultimately abandoned due to budget constraints. An alternate ending was also featured on the DVD, and was narrated by Anderson himself. A VHS copy of a rough edit did eventually resurface, but unfortunately Anderson revealed that this version was too heavily damaged to be in any way usable.
9. Screenwriter Philip Eisner wrote the movie after a family tragedy
Event Horizon was the first produced screenplay by an American writer named Philip Eisner. As might not be too surprising given the film’s dark subject matter, Eisner was in a dark place personally at the time. The writer had suffered a personal tragedy, and came up with the idea of writing “The Shining in space” to purge his demons.
Reportedly, Eisner’s original vision was quite different from what ended up being filmed; it was set aboard a galactic cruise ship invaded by tentacled alien beings. However, director Paul WS Anderson worried this was too close to the Alien movies, and worked with Eisner to revise the script. Event Horizon’s commercial failure hurt Eisner’s career, but he recently wrote and produced Jason Momoa film Sweet Girl.
8. The film was released earlier than expected because Titanic was delayed
Event Horizon was released by Paramount, who was also the studio behind Titanic. The production of James Cameron‘s historical disaster epic was plagued with delays, meaning that its release date had to be postponed. Titanic was originally set to be released in July 1997, but due to the delays, it deferred until December.
This left Paramount with a gap in its summer movie schedule, so they proposed to Anderson that Event Horizon could be released in this slot. Being suddenly obliged to meet this August deadline explains why the production schedule on Event Horizon was incredibly rushed. As you’ll probably be aware, the wait proved worth it for Titanic, which wound up the first movie ever to gross over $1 billion at the box office.
7. The film is full of hellish symbolism
While at a glance Event Horizon may look like a fairly standard sci-fi movie, closer inspection of the sets reveal the film’s horror heritage. Every angle of the ship was intended to to invoke images of hell, with the dark and ominous appearance of the ship only aided by the abundant use of blood and guts.
When Katherine Quinlan’s character runs through the portals chasing her ghostly son, they are shaped like coffins. This foreshadows the deaths that are to come. As well as this, the airlock that Lewis and Clark docks in is Roman numeral 13. Meanwhile, the rotating corridor that separates the drive from the rest of the ship symbolises Dante’s nine circles of Hell.
6. Some much nastier footage was shot of the original Event Horizon crew
In horror fan circles, the most legendary missing footage from Event Horizon is the CCTV recordings of the original ship’s crew. Brief, disturbing glimpses of this are seen in the final film, making it clear that the ship’s trip to another dimension turned all its inhabitants into homicidal maniacs. In order to make these grisly scenes as graphic and realistic as possible, the filmmakers cast real-life amputees.
Adult film performers were also hired for the more sexual moments. According to producer Jeremy Bolt, some test audience members fainted at the sight of this unpleasant footage. This lost footage has become a Holy Grail of sorts for horror devotees; the search for the footage continues, even though Anderson himself believes it is gone for good.
5. The actors made up their characters’ backstories
In order for the actors to feel a connection to their characters, they were asked to create a backstory for them. Jason Isaacs, who played D.J, based his character on his brother, who was also a doctor. In the backstory Isaacs came up with, D.J had undergone extensive surgery as a child. This would explain the scars on his chest, as well as the flashbacks in which he was cut open.
Isaacs took quite a shine to the dummy of his character with its chest cut open, even going so far as to ask the special effects department if he could take it home. They were shocked by this request, and told him they still needed the dummy, despite filming having already been completed.
4. The film had an unusual soundtrack
Anderson had initially hired British electronic dance act Orbital to compose the music for the film. The director had wanted to work with Orbital ever since using their track Halcyon + On + On in his second movie, Mortal Kombat. Unfortunately, executives at Paramount were skeptical, feeling that the band were too unknown for such a big budget film.
Anderson then approached established film composer Michael Kamen, proposing that he collaborate with the band. This resulted in a unique fusion of orchestral and techno sounds, helping build an unusual, otherworldly atmosphere. Event Horizon also features a track from another British electronic act, The Prodigy, over the end credits.
3. The Event Horizon was based on Notre Dame cathedral
The Event Horizon had a unique shape, but it was not as original as you might have thought. In fact, the ship was actually modelled on Notre Dame cathedral in Paris (before it burnt down, obviously). Its long corridor resembles a church nave, whilst its interior is filled with cruciforms, columns and vaults, and its engines resembles resembled rotated church towers.
The whole movie was produced entirely in the UK, including the special effects. Filming took up seven sound stages at the famed Pinewood Studios, in West London. At the same time they were shooting, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut was being filmed in the adjacent rooms.
2. The ‘chompers’ scene in Galaxy Quest was inspired by Event Horizon
Event Horizon may have been a box office flop in 1997, but it did go to influence another sci-fi movie of the era. One key sequence in 1999 space comedy Galaxy Quest was directly inspired by Paul WS Anderson’s sci-fi horror. The scene in question comes toward the end, when Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) and Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) have to traverse an impassable tunnel in a spaceship.
They face an alarming tunnel of ‘chompers,’ which Galaxy Quest writer Robert Gordon says was inspired by Event Horizon. However, as Galaxy Quest is a more family-friendly film, things don’t get anywhere as grisly as they do in Event Horizon. Not unlike Event Horizon, Galaxy Quest under-performed on release but has since developed an enthusiastic cult following.
1. It’s being adapted into a TV series
While the fully uncut version of Event Horizon may never be released, fans can look forward to a new take on the story. In 2019, it was announced that a TV series adaptation of the 1997 film is in the works. Paramount Television and Amazon are collaborating on the show, which will be executive produced by Godzilla vs Kong director Adam Wingard.
Paul WS Anderson has declared that he has no involvement in the series, and that he “[wouldn’t] have any interest in returning to the world of Event Horizon.” The director explained, “I want to leave it alone because I’m really proud of what we did. And I want to just let that stand, because I think it’s become a stronger piece of work over time…. [I don’t] want to go back and answer all the questions presented by the movie, you know?”