‘Event Horizon’ at 25: Paul Anderson Scared Paramount With Horror Film

When Paramount got its first look at a cut of “Event Horizon” in 1997, some studio executives thought that director Paul W.S. Anderson had made a film so disturbing that it slandered outer space itself.

“Someone actually said to me, ‘We’re the studio that makes Star Trek!’” Anderson recalled with a grin on his face. “They weren’t only horrified by my movie; they felt I was besmirching ‘Star Trek’ somehow, because I was also in space and doing all this terrible stuff.”

Peppered with images of unspooled astronaut guts and suicidal blood orgies, it’s safe to say that “Event Horizon” had boldly gone where no “Star Trek” entry had gone before. The film follows a crew venturing to the outer reaches of the solar system to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a space ship and its even more perplexing reappearance seven years later. What begins as a cautious exploration of metallic caverns builds to a frenzy of hallucinatory gore after the bloody fate of the ship’s crew is uncovered. Turns out (spoiler alert) they opened a space portal… to hell.

“Event Horizon” boasts an impressive ensemble, led by ’90s kings Laurence Fishburne, who plays the crew’s cautious leader, and Sam Neill, as the suspect engineer behind the missing ship’s experimental engine. The remaining members of the crew, a varied group of work buddies, are played by Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy and Sean Pertwee. Most of them meet untimely ends.

“I don’t think we were ever going to test great because the end of the movie is a bit of a downer,” Anderson shared. “When you disturb an audience they’re not going to go, ‘Oh that was an excellent cinema-going experience.’ But we delivered a movie that really stayed with people. I think that overtime it’s been appreciated for that.”

Although “Event Horizon” wasn’t built to succeed as a summer tentpole in theaters, it has become one of the premier cult films of the ’90s. Paramount has even come around on the film, with its home entertainment branch launching a new limited edition 4K Ultra Blu-Ray SteelBook of “Event Horizon,” just a few days before the film celebrates its 25th anniversary on Aug. 15.

To commemorate the silver anniversary of “Event Horizon,” Anderson sat down for a conversation with Variety to discuss the film’s troubled post-production process, its growing following and how it unleashed a love for the horror genre that has influenced the director’s entire career.

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A member of the team studies the experimental engine of the Event Horizon.
Paramount/Everett Collection

I rewatched the movie with the commentary by you and producer Jeremy Bolt. It sounds like test screenings played a major role in shaping the final cut.

It was a very intense testing procedure. Testing is not any director’s favorite part of the filmmaking process. You’re putting your movie that you’ve worked on for a long time in front of an audience of 350 people who don’t care about how hard you worked. You either entertain them or you don’t. We were in a very strange position in that our release date changed suddenly. Paramount was producing “Titanic” with 20th Century Fox at the time and James Cameron had just announced that would be pushing to the winter. Suddenly, Paramount had a big slot open in the summer. We only had four weeks or so to do a cut before we first put it in front of an audience. Normally you’d have 14 to 15 weeks. So the cut of the movie was quite baggy, quite long.

Can you recall what the studio’s first reaction to the film was?

I think Paramount was a little shocked. It had all this gross horror and all these disturbing images. I don’t think anyone at the studio had really seen that stuff before because I was shooting in England. Generally, people from the studio watch what the main unit shoots, but all of the horror stuff was being done second unit, directed by me on the weekends. I don’t think anyone at the studio actually watched the second unit material, so they hadn’t seen all the impalings and all the other people getting their eyes out and the intestines. I got a lot of tough notes.

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Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) investigates a spaceship in “Event Horizon”
©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

The film has endured — we’re talking about 25 years later, after all. What has been your experience observing its following grow over time?

When the movie was first released, it did okay business, but it wasn’t what I had hoped for it. I was going on to make a movie with Kurt Russell (1998’s sci-fi action film “Soldier”) and I showed him “Event Horizon.” He said, “Paul, in 20 years time, that’s the movie you’re going be really glad you made.” He was right! I thought it was very generous of Kurt, considering I was about to go make a movie with him. The film was striking. It didn’t pull its punches and it was true to what it wanted to do. We didn’t have a huge amount of time to cut trailers and do posters and do a very elaborate campaign, but over time people found the movie. It’s been a wonderful experience to see the audience for it grow.

You aired some frustrations in the commentary about the poster that Paramount landed on to promote the film.

Listen, you could throw a plate at the screen and randomly select a better image to be the poster than what we ultimately ended up with. But it was just a rushed process. You think about “Alien” and the very elaborate promotional campaign that movie had, where they started with an alien egg on teaser posters. We didn’t have the benefit of any of that.

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An original 1997 poster for “Event Horizon”
Paramount/Everett Collection

The film is full of striking images. Are you nostalgic at all for this time when most visuals could be created in-camera? Doing digital effects in post-production has become much more commonplace.

I worked with this very good VFX supervisor named Richard Yuricich, who’d worked on “2001” and “Blade Runner” and all these movies where the visual effects really hold up overtime. I was very interested in why that was. Richard said, “I always pushed to just do it for real. If you can do it for real, it’s better than doing it as a visual effect. Or, if it has to be a visual effect, are there elements of it that you can do for real? That has a kind of reality baked into it.” He was a great mentor and I’ve tried to do that in pretty much all of my movies since then. I also learned a lot from Laurence Fishburne; he used to write N.A.R. in his script besides some of the scenes, which stood for “No Acting Required.” That was when I put him in an intense enough position where he could just react, rather than having to imagine what was on a blue screen. That’s why a lot of my movies have been mounted in that way — as much practical as possible.

You’ve stated that making this film after directing “Mortal Kombat,” a PG-13 movie, really liberated your imagination as a filmmaker. There are horror elements in a lot of your subsequent movies, but would you be interested in making another full-bodied horror film like “Event Horizon”?

Absolutely I would. I’m actually planning to do a kind of straight horror movie in the near future. It’s something I’ve always been interested in. My career has gone more in an action direction, but it’s always been kind of scary action. I’ve always tried for some great jumps, even in the PG-13 movies I’ve made. But I would like to embrace doing a more full-on horror movie, absolutely — one that works more on a psychological level, a return to what “Event Horizon” was.

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Joely Richardson, Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill in “Event Horizon”
©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

Looking ahead, how are things progressing on your next film, “In the Lost Lands”?

We start shooting on Nov. 14, so I’m actively involved in prepping the movie right now. It’s Milla [Jovovich] and Dave Bautista, who are going be amazing. Seeing them go head-to-head is just going to be fabulous.

So they’re going to fight each other?

Oh yeah, I mean you can’t have Milla and Dave in a movie and not have them have a go at it. It’s an adaptation of a George R.R. Martin story so you know it’s going to be dark and twisted and have wonderful characters. Because that’s what George does.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The new limited edition 4K Ultra Blu-Ray SteelBook of “Event Horizon” is now available.

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