Sunday, June 9, 2013
The Synergy of Science Fiction and Horror: the lost potential of “Event Horizon”.
The film “Event Horizon” was on television over the weekend. I saw it in the theater when released in 1997 and I wondered if it was really as laughably bad as I remembered it.
Time has mellowed my opinion of it. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good either, but it wasn’t bad.
Some of the movie’s worst crimes mellowed on the small screen; by that I mean the cheap scare tactics weren’t as bad when not amplified. When I left the theater in 1997 I told my friend (and fellow movie-attendee) Jon, “Next time let’s save some money. Instead of paying to see this movie, we should just randomly startle each other every two or three minutes and achieve the same effect.”
This led throughout the night and the next week or so with our conversations peppered with the following routine.
That was the total sum of the scariness of “Event Horizon” – build-up, build-up, build-up, soundtrack getting more and more ominous ... and then … and then …
The music stopped, the character’s fear was unfounded. The strange thingie he thought was approaching him was … nothing. Sigh of relief.
Boo! Oh no! The thingie attacks!
Actual scene – Sam Neil hears his dead wife’s voice. The lights fade in and out. “Sara?” Lights on, Sam is on the right of the screen. Lights go out. Lights go on. Sam is still alone. Music swells.
“Get it over with!” I shouted.
Lights go up. Nothing. He turns to his right. Oh no! The ghost of his dead wife is to his right, not left! Music swells! He screams! The horror! The horror!
A member of an as-yet-undiscovered tribe in the Amazon would see that coming. And the movie is filled with this tactic.
I still dislike the movie despite the amazing cast. Sam Neill, Lawrence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlin, Joely Richardson, Sean Pertwee (the son of Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee) and a pre-Draco Malfoy Jason Isaacs. Richard Jones overplays the black crewmember in all his token glory. He was the first one I wanted to go… Of all the shortcuts taken in this movie his was the worst. The other characters at least TRIED to appear three-dimensional. It was obvious the writers, producers and directors could not handle horror. They apparently can’t handle a black character that possesses dignity and self-respect either. The film made LL Cool J from “Deep Blue Sea” seem like Poitier…
I was (and am) disappointed. With the right tweeking here and there it could have been a horror masterpiece up there with 1963’s “The Haunting” and perhaps even passing that OTHER famous scary sci-fi movie … the mother of them all ... but more on “Alien” in a moment.
Horror and science fiction fit very well together. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. Some like peanut butter with other things, some like jelly with other things, some like only one and not the other, some like neither. But you cannot deny their popularity as a team.
Or compare it to two brothers who are identical yet a decade apart in age. They go together even though at times they are vastly different.
“Frankenstein” is arguably the first science fiction novel. If so it is definitely the first science fiction/horror novel.
Of course, a movie or a book with science fiction elements doesn’t make it science fiction; no more than a book or movie with scary moments makes it a horror flick.
If that were the case “Godzilla” and almost every monster movie would be labeled “sci-fi/horror”. They are monster movies. Some are very good monster movies, but not sci-fi/horror. (“Deep Blue Sea” could be considered a sci-fi/horror film, but it was more of a monster flick…)
Any sci-fi/horror blend has to be compared to the movie “Alien”. Isn’t that a monster movie too? In a way, but only in the way that a serial-killer movie is a monster movie. If “Alien” is a monster movie, then so is “Silence of the Lambs”.
“Alien” had horrific situations folded in science fiction trappings. Want an easy way to describe it? “Jaws” in space. Or better – “Halloween” in space.
But making it that simple misses the greatness of the movie. In “Alien” we have solid characters (not necessarily likeable one, which is important) and truly frightening and/or intense scenes. Hitchcock would have approved of the monitor scene. The alien is shown as an electronic blip slowly approaching the captain in an access crawl space. We see it coming and all we can do is what Ripley did, “Run! He’s getting closer!”
It is good science fiction and scary as hell. The sequel “Aliens” is also a good movie, but it is works better as an action movie than a horror movie. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make a difference. You watch “Aliens” to be thrilled and cheer on the good guys, not to be scared or creeped out.
The bad guys in “Event Horizon” were originally written to be an alien race. The movie-makers wanted to wisely avoid the “Alien” comparison and decided to get their horror from another vein. They went Lovecraftian. The pitched it as “The Shining” in space.
This is why I had such high hopes for the film. The few moments of true creepiness were overshadowed by “the startle” – the cheap way to get a scare (“Boo!”). They should have let a horror writer come up with ideas.
Ironically, Sam Neil appeared in one of the most genuinely scary movies out there - “In the Mouth of Madness”. A flick firmly ensconced in the Lovecraft/Stephen King mold. Plus it was directed by John Carpenter. That kind of fear-making should have been incorporated into “Event Horizon”.
I’m reminded of an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” called “Night Terrors”. The crew finds a missing Federation starship as a derelict with the crew missing (except one). They discovered that the crew of the missing ship killed each other and the Enterprise crew starts exhibiting the same symptoms – paranoia, violence and hostility. That’s the plot of “Event Horizon” too…
There are moments when the “Star Trek” could have been horrifying. When Dr. Crusher was in the morgue with the dead crew of the missing ship, she hallucinated the bodies had sat up (the audience never sees the bodies move). She clenched her eyes shut and the scene pans out to show the bodies lying on their slabs again. I waited for the next inevitable moment, but it never happened. The show moved on to the next scene.
The bodies should have flailed. They should have thrashed around while the doctor screamed her pretty red head off. A scary moment missed.
That was “Event Horizon” – the scary moments were right there. Right. There. Ready to be exploited. But it went for the “Boo!”
Or it went for the gore. Evisceration is not scary. The before and after, if done right, can be.
A shame, really. Such potential. That’s why I still don’t like “Event Horizon”.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry