Paul WS Anderson shouldn’t be considered one of the all-time great auteurs. He’s a director heavily inspired by the genre output of John Carpenter, James Cameron, George Miller, Walter Hill and many others, but while those directors often infuse their work with recurring themes or subtext, Anderson is often just about B-movie thrills. His work is filled with exciting action and pretty visuals, but when the characters start talking it’s usually just to motivate the next setpiece.
That said, there’s something kind of pure about how ruthlessly he strips his movies to the bone. Take Resident Evil: Retribution, for example, the fifth entry in the movie franchise. It’s got arguably the best setpieces, the most creative production design and an assortment of pretty people firing machine guns, but it’s virtually plot-free and calling the characters one note would suggest they had a note to start with. If you surrender to his cinematic sensory overloads you’ll (usually) have a good time; if you stop and question anything that happens, you probably won’t.
Even filmmakers with a less than stellar reputation usually have one movie even their detractors will give them a pass for. Michael Bay has The Rock, Jan De Bont has Speed, and Paul has Event Horizon, his nightmarish sci-fi horror movie. Like most of his output the plot is relatively straightforward: an experimental spaceship returns from a black hole after disappearing seven years earlier, and a rescue team are sent to investigate.
Hell literally breaks loose.
It’s not a perfect movie and has telltale signs of re-editing – more on this in a moment – but it remains a disturbing, visceral chiller loaded with a suffocating atmosphere of dread. It’s the rare big budget horror flick that actually gets under the skin and has a quality cast to boot, including Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Jason Isaacs. Despite being considered Anderson’s best work, it was a bomb back in 1997, making back less than half its budget and receiving mediocre reviews.
While it didn’t bother the accounting department of Paramount on release, the cult of Event Horizon steadily grew over the years, and it started doing tidy business on DVD. Soon stories of the troubled post-production grew among the fanbase, including the near-legendary screening of a hastily edited rough cut that had executives running for the door. Due to the movie’s tight production schedule, Anderson was only left with four weeks to assemble the first cut, instead of the usual ten. This resulted in an edit that ran just over two hours, but the lack of time to finesse it resulted in slack pacing, unfinished effects sequences, and a terrible sound edit.
Then there was the gore. Oh yes, the gore.
While Paramount had looked in on the production early on, they mostly left Anderson to his own devices during the shoot in England, so they weren’t expecting the high level of viscera he unleashed. This rough cut was loaded with stomach churning scenes and imagery, which apparently caused some of the test audience to faint. Needless to say, Paramount were not happy with their young director, demanding a sweeping re-edit to dial back the nastiness and the runtime be cut to around 90 minutes. While Anderson knew Event Horizon needed tightening, he felt the released version was too short and could have benefited from more character building scenes and reinserting some of the gore.
Sadly, he probably won’t get the chance to release a director’s cut, since the film came out prior to the rise in special edition DVDs. The unused footage was packaged off to a Transylvanian salt mine for storage, so when he came looking for the footage it was in such poor shape it was no longer usable. Anderson himself has recently reaffirmed this, seemingly dashing any hope of the lost footage re-emerging from a black hole, like the titular ship itself.
So what hit the editing room floor? To start with, there were a few more scenes centered on the supporting characters and examining their fears. We learned Cooper’s biggest fear is losing someone he cares about, which is why he’s so upset when his chum Justin nearly kills himself. There was a backstory for DJ’s (Jason Isaacs) body scar, which was the result of childhood operations, and he would have revealed his big fear is being dissected alive. Sadly, that one doesn’t work out well for him. There was also an extension of the scene where Peters hallucinates her son with horrible wounds on his legs. She would have seen maggots crawling all over them.
Justin featured prominently in a deleted jump scare too, where the crew are gathered around his cryo-pod after his suicide attempt. While the others discuss what happened, Sam Neill’s Dr. Weir briefly hallucinates Justin turning into his late wife, who stares at him despite her notable lack of eyes. The flashback to her suicide is also bloodier and more harrowing, but it’s reduced to quick flashes in the final cut.
The special edition DVD managed to find a couple of deleted moments, including a briefing scene establishing the re-emergence of the Event Horizon. There was a disconcerting moment where Captain Miller initially explores the ship and finds a strange object floating around. He snatches it out of the air to find it’s a tooth with bits of gum still attached.
The creepiest deletion comes from the finale, during the scene where a cryo-tank fills with blood and unleashes a torrent towards Joely Richardson’s Starck. A brief extension has Dr. Weir – who has now gone full-blown demonic – crawling down the ladder like a spider, smiling at the fleeing crew members. It doesn’t add much, but the sight of a naked, blood-soaked Sam Neill is one that lingers in the mind. Neill’s body make-up in the finale was also quite elaborate and detailed, but in the final edit he’s mostly only seen in tight close-ups on his face.
The scene that haunts the nightmares of anyone who’s seen Event Horizon is the video revealing the fate of the original crew, who literally tear each other to pieces. The crew log is edited in quick cuts showcasing all manners of mutilation, with one chap pulling his own guts out through his mouth. Despite only running for twenty seconds, a lot more footage was shot, which would have earned an NC-17 without breaking a sweat.
Effects supervisor Dave Bonneywell has described his time shooting the sequence and some of the gruesome details that didn’t make it. Deleted shots include a female crew member who had her mouth held open by clamps, while a crazed guy performs amateur dentistry by drilling screws into her teeth. Another unlucky chap has his legs smashed apart by steel bars and crawls away leaving parts of them behind, while another crew member had her breasts torn off. The scene also included more cannibalism and sex, with adult performers being hired to simulate the… errr, intensity of the scene. The director realized most of it probably wouldn’t be used, but he filmed it regardless.
While it’s sad a director’s cut likely won’t happen, Event Horizon remains a solid big budget horror film with some memorable sequences, and its reputation is only likely to grow in the years ahead. Maybe hope isn’t entirely lost, though. While chatting with the San Diego Reader about Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Anderson mentioned Event Horizon’s producer Lloyd Levin recovered an old VHS tape that possibly contained his original cut. Despite this, the two men haven’t been in the same place at the same time to have a look, so neither of them know what’s on the tape.
Mr. Levin, if you ever read this, maybe break out the old video machine and have a quick peek.