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'Event Horizon': Blood Simple

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Aug. 15, 1997

If you want to have that "Event Horizon" experience without spending the seven bucks, try this instead: Put a bucket on your head. Have a loved one beat on it vigorously with a wrench for 100 minutes. Same difference, and think of the gas you'll save.

The movie is very loud. It is pointlessly loud, arbitrarily loud, assaultively loud. No metal door shuts when it may bang, and nobody says hello when he can shout. A pin drops with the sound of a car hitting an aircraft carrier deck from 300 feet. In fact, the film is an orchestration of things that go clang in the night. If your nervous system needs a jump start, it's just the ticket.

We're in a familiar section of the near future, originally explored by Mario Bava's "Planet of the Vampires" in 1965, then exponentially expanded by Ridley Scott in "Alien." It's where time, space and genre collapse, and the outer raiments of science fiction conceal a heart of horror. In other words, it's the old one about the haunted spaceship.

A surprisingly upscale cast -- Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson -- voyages by small craft to an orbit off Neptune where the 7,000-foot-long Event Horizon has been discovered. The ship had disappeared seven years earlier on a top-secret faster-than-light mission during which its new technology has punched through the wall of the universe and let it roam beyond the stars. Now it has returned, except that everybody aboard is not merely dead but ruptured and smeared as well. (The movie, by the way, is extremely bloody, easily the bloodiest film of the summer).

Event Horizon is a curious piece of work. For one thing, it carries its own name lit up like a movie marquee on the nose, in case the beings from beyond the stars read English. For another, it looks like a praying mantis with a severe pituitary disorder. And finally, by some art director's delirious conceit, it's certainly the only space vessel ever designed whose interior resembles a medieval torture chamber, complete with spikes and bone-grinding devices. That's a style most futurists never thought of: Early Inquisition.

Soon enough, the crew members begin suffering hallucinations that come uniquely from each's deepest, most private memory, and soon enough after that, they begin dying in ways that demonstrate to the drop how many pints of blood each human body contains.

The technical effects are convincing and the high-priced performers work hard to justify their pay scales, with Fishburne's heroic Capt. Miller the clear champ and Quinlan's achingly vulnerable Peters a close second.

But the nerdy imaginationless punk inside of me was extremely dissatisfied with the ultimate explanation for the phantom of the space opera, which proved to be both obvious (think of Doc Frankenstein screaming "It's alive!") and unresonant. My inner atavistic teen boy, on the other hand, liked the clammy sense of intensity and the several neat movie deaths, space explosions and other scenes of gore and ick (Hell is envisioned as an endless landscape of crucifixion: cool!).

The grown-up in me merely walked out wishing his ears would stop ringing.

Event Horizon, at area theaters, is rated R for scenes of intense violence and a fake-blood budget that must have been higher than the effects budget.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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