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In 1997 cinematic horror wasn’t in such a great place. Big cinema releases included Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer. It was the heyday of the meta-slasher. Self aware? Yes. Almost a parody? Yes. But scary or shocking? Not in the least.

Where could a horror fan find his much-needed portion of fear and disgust back then? Luckily that year also saw the release of Event Horizon, a transgressive explosion of horror, dread, sci-fi and hyper-violence. Especially two sequences in the film quickly became notorious for their graphic and violent nature: the so called “Blood Orgy” scene, and the “Visions of Hell”. So, what’s all the fuss about, and is it worth it?

Event Horizon Movie Explained: Basically The Shining in Space

If you haven’t yet seen Event Horizon, I envy you! You’re in for a treat. Apparently screenwriter Phil Eisner pitched his screenplay as “The Shining but set in Space”. And that still remains a quite apt description.

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Event Horizon, 1997

The film is set in the year 2047, and suddenly the lost spaceship Event Horizon reappears near Neptune after vanishing for several years. The ship contained an experimental gravity gateway, “the Core,” which could enable it to travel through space by creating a small black hole. A rescue ship and mission are dispatched under command of captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) to make contact with the Event Horizon and find out what happened. Accompanying them is the Event Horizon’s designer and inventor of The Core: Dr. Weir (Sam Neill).

(warning: major spoilers from this point on)

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Once they board the ship, it is still intact but apparently empty: the crew is missing or may have all been slaughtered.

Slowly Miller’s crew starts having hallucinations, revealing past trauma and personal guilt. Weir sees his wife who committed suicide, Miller sees one of his crewmen whom he had to sacrifice to save the others.

The ship and certainly The Core become a very eerie place. What caused the disappearance of the crew? Is there something else present on the ship? Aliens lurking in the vents? Ghosts hiding in the darkness? A supernatural entity? And where did the ship?

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Finally, the fate of the original crew is revealed when a video-log is retrieved and repaired. Captain Miller and his crew watch in horror as they discover the true nature of this mystery. The video message shows the original crew members in an insane rage. They dismember, torture, rape and kill each other in the now aforementioned Blood Orgy.

Near the ending of the movie it is quite clear where the Event Horizon went as it passed through its self-created black hole. Another dimension of a certain (evil) kind: Hell. (And now I also understand why I should have paid more attention in my Latin classes in high school.)

Weir – who has now been possessed and transformed in a hellish monster, shows Miller in a short vision what Hell looks like. Believe me, reader, when I say to you that those images still haunt and fascinate me today. You can see both sequences in glorious slow motion for your viewing experience here.

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Event Horizon, 1997

Origins: Barker, Bosch, Breughel, Witkin

The impact of these sequences can be attributed to several things. Hearing the Event Horizon movie explained, it becomes apparent that it is basically a haunted house set in space. It builds a heavy sense of dread and atmosphere: creepy corridors, empty hallways, eerie appearances… In many ways this film is a classic gothic tale. This enlarges the impact when those graphic grotesque scenes do suddenly appear and bursts onto the screen. It shocks us even more, even if we knew something was coming sooner or later.

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A second reason for the strength of those scenes is what influenced them. Clive Barker is the first one. The similarities between Barker’s “Hellraiser” and Event Horizon are obvious. Both have geometric shaped objects that open a portal to another negative realm (Hell). Hellraiser’s Cenobites (Pinhead being the most famous one) quite look like Evil Dr. Weir – he might as well be one of them. And finally, they share their sadomasochistic nature, combining violence and self-inflicted pain with a sexual overtone.

Older influences can be traced back to classic late medieval painters like Bosch and Brueghel, who excel in portraying the grotesque and macabre. Just look at Bosch’s depiction of hell or this painting from Brueghel.

A final influence – as mentioned in this interview – is the work of Joel-Peter Witkin. He constructs photographic works featuring deformed people, amputees, corpses, intersex persons… His pictures are a special kind of phantasmagorical tableaux, unique in their grotesqueness and hellish vision. In a similar way, the Blood Orgy scenes were filmed using real amputees, as well as adult film performers.

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Art by Joel-Peter Witkin

The Lost Footage: That Bold “Blood Orgy”

When you hear the Event Horizon movie explained, it does seem like possibly not one for the masses. While it was initially a box office bomb and a critical failure, it slowly built an ever growing fanbase. It is probably also the best entry in director Paul W.S. Anderson’s filmography. That might not be a great achievement at all, considering that Mr. Anderson also directed Mortal Kombat, Alien Vs. Predator and the Resident Evil series (I apologize to you, Resident Evil-fans, but I just can’t stand those films).

Several years after its release and with the first editions on DVD and Blu-ray, something interesting happened. Rumors started to spread speaking of an original director’s cut, which had a longer screening time and additional scenes. This included extra material for the Blood Orgy and Visions of Hell scenes. But the footage was believed to be lost forever, archived in some kind of salt mine in Eastern Europe and now forever destroyed (whoever taught it was a good idea to keep a 35 mm film negative in salt mine should take a class in film preservation). But wait: maybe it still exists on VHS as a screener copy somewhere… ?

Fact and fiction are strangely intertwined in this story, where it is hard to know what is true or not. It this just a kind of buzz-marketing technique or is there really somewhere a lost treasure (more Blood Orgy / Hell) to be found?

Maybe time will tell. Shout factory is set to release the Event Horizon Collector’s Edition on March 23th this year. The company has of course an excellent reputation for releasing physical media with lots of extra content, but they haven’t officially communicated about the ‘lost tapes’ of this one. In the description of the disc we can see this item: “Secrets – Deleted And Extended Scenes With Director’s Commentary”. We can only wait and pray that it will include the additional material we are all so longing for. Just remember to keep your eyes to see…

Last Updated on March 16, 2021.

Jasper Vrancken
Jasper Vrancken is a filmmaker, teacher and researcher, specializing in the horror genre. He teaches film and video production at the Luca School of Arts in Belgium, and is currently pursuing a PhD in the Arts. You can catch his work on his Vimeo page.

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