The 'Snyder cut' of horror: Will we finally see the original version of Event Horizon?
Scream Factory is hoping to include lost footage from the Laurence Fishburne-starring movie in an upcoming Blu-ray release.
Most people are not looking to see more visions of hell, especially these days. But horror fans got very excited this week at the prospect of witnessing just that.
On Monday, horror-oriented imprint Scream Factory announced that it is releasing a Collector's Edition Blu-ray of Paramount's 1997 haunted spaceship movie Event Horizon. The news came with a request concerning footage which had been shot for the movie, and included in a version shown at the film's first test screening, but was later lost. "As for any much-inquired-about additional footage, we are looking into it as best we can," stated the press release from Scream Factory. "We welcome any leads you may have alongside our efforts."
If Scream Factory can find the footage, it will delight those in the horror community who have long hungered to see the original cut of director Paul W. S. Anderson's movie, an incarnation which surprised and alarmed Paramount executives. "All the people from Paramount I think were just really really shocked by what they saw," Anderson said in a 2006 documentary about the making of the film. "You've got to remember this was the studio that made Star Trek, so I think in their minds they kind of thought it was like Star Trek again but with a bit more violence or something. I don’t think they were really expecting what they got."
Anderson was barely out of his 20s when Paramount approached him to direct Event Horizon, following the success of the British director's 1995 video game adaptation Mortal Kombat. Shot at Pinewood Studios outside London, and set in 2047, the film stars Laurence Fishburne, Joely Richardson, and Kathleen Quinlan, among others, as a rescue team of astronauts and Sam Neill as the designer of an experimental spaceship called the Event Horizon which disappeared on its maiden voyage back in 2040. Seven years on, the ship has returned, seemingly alive, and definitely dangerous. Turns out, the Event Horizon has been to hell and back as the Fishburne-led team slowly realize as they start to experience nightmarish visions after boarding the craft. In one of the movie's more disturbing moments, the rescue team watch footage of the spaceship's now presumably deceased crew indulging in a literal orgy of sex and violence. Although this footage is only briefly seen in the movie, make-up effects artist Bob Keen would estimate that the sequence took around a week to film, and was preceded by a month's worth of prep, to ready the scenes many grotesque "gags." "We used amputees and porn stars," producer Jeremy Bolt said of shooting the footage during a 2011 Q&A. "We figured, if you’re going to go to hell, you've really got to do it. You can’t tap dance."
The "hell" footage was shot on weekends and, Anderson believes, was not closely inspected at the time by Paramount executives. "What happened is, I would shoot with the main unit on the weeks and I would shoot the weekends with what we called a reduced unit," said the director. "I think because it was reduced unit footage, the studio never bothered watching it, because they thought, Oh, it’s inserts of buttons being pressed or something like that. But it was actually all of the hell footage. So, it was endless amounts of orgies and blood and intestines and big stakes shoved up people’s arses. I mean, it was really disturbing stuff and very sadomasochistic and very influenced by Hieronymus Bosch and Brueghel as well. So, there was a real beauty to it even though it was very disturbing."
The Event Horizon shoot was a long and tough one for the cast, who collectively spent much of the production being made up with complex prosthetics, filming scenes which required taxing wire-work, or being drenched with fake blood. When EW spoke with Joely Richardson on the Portugal set of Richard Stanley's science fiction-horror movie The Color Out of Space last year, the actress compared the easygoing nature of that shoot with the endurance test of making Event Horizon. "I did a horror film years ago, Event Horizon," she said. "Okay, now that wasn't such a fun project, though a lot of the people were lovely. Lots of things went wrong on that."
For Anderson, the real-life horror story began once shooting was over. Paramount's big summer movie of 1997 was supposed to be James Cameron's Titanic, whose massive budget the studio was co-financing with Twentieth Century Fox. When it became clear that Cameron would be unable it make the planned release date, Paramount postponed the release of Titanic and began looking around for a film to take its place in the schedule, eventually singling out Event Horizon. "We became their big summer movie, which was probably not a very good idea," said Anderson. "We got the summer slot that Titanic would have had and Titanic obviously is more of a four-quadrant, family, rounded entertainment whereas we were a rather distressing and disturbing horror film."
Anderson was forced to rush the post-production process and effectively edit the film in just four weeks. "It was a huge amount of work to do in four weeks and frankly we didn't manage to do it," said Anderson. Paramount executives first saw the film at the test screening, which took place at the studio lot in Los Angeles. In addition to featuring more of the hell footage than would be included in the released version, the movie also boasted other disturbing material, including a scene in which Fishburne's character encounters, and collects, a tooth floating in zero gravity. Anderson would recall that this 130 minute-long cut of the film revolted many members of the audience. "The first test screening that we had of Event was just disastrous," he said. "It didn’t go well at all….This was the first time I’d walked into a room of 350 people, they watched the movie, and in the end they just didn’t like it. Or, some people liked it passionately, but not enough."
Anderson cut around 30 minutes of footage from the film. Although the director agreed that version shows at the test screening was too long he would come to believe that, in his haste to finish the film in time, he removed too much material. "We had to go back to America a week later, and test the movie again," he said. "And, if you only have a week, it’s very hard to make rational, well thought out, decisions. So, I think we went from one end of the spectrum, where the movie was too long undoubtedly, and then we cut it, and then I think it became too short. And then, the release of the film was looming and we ended up releasing that version of the movie and I think that was a big mistake because I felt there definitely were very good scenes that weren't quite reaching their potential but could have done if we’d had more time to work on them. But because the studio was adamant about releasing the movie on a certain date we just never had time to really fix the film."
Event Horizon was negatively reviewed. In Entertainment Weekly, critic Owen Gleiberman noted that the film "unleashes some of the most unsettling imagery in years" and praised Anderson as "a stylist" but complained that the film "could have used a decent script." Event Horizon opened at #4 at the box office (behind Cop Land, Airforce One, and Conspiracy Theory) and earned a disappointing $26 million at the domestic box office. But even in its shortened form, the movie packed a gruesome punch, not least thanks to Neill's increasingly unhinged Dr. Weir who, having torn out his own eyeballs, announces at one point, "Where we're going, you won't need eyes to see!" The film's fanbase started to expand significantly following its video and DVD release and over time the movie would become recognized as one of the best and certainly one of the flat-out nastiest horror movies to be released by a major studio in the '90s.
Writer-director Axelle Carolyn (Tales of Halloween, the upcoming The Haunting of Bly Manor) was among those who first saw the film when it landed on VHS. "I still remember at the time seeing the advertising before the release and getting very excited," Carolyn recalled while discussing the film for the website Trailers From Hell. "And then I discovered it on VHS. What's left today of the movie as we know it is kind of clunky and cheesy in places but it's kept enough of the original idea to deserve a special place in the hearts of horror fans. It's ambitious, it's gothic, it's gloomy, it's weird, it looks super striking."
Event Horizon proved such a successful home entertainment release that Paramount approached Anderson about assembling a director's cut which would include some of the footage which had been cut after the test screening. The filmmaker was amenable to the idea, but then discovered that the material had vanished. "The idea came up of doing a restored version of the movie," said Anderson. "But when they’d originally stored all the negative, most of it had been thrown away or it had been stored badly, or it had been stored for five years and then thrown away."
That sounds definitive — but there there are previous examples of seemingly destroyed or irretrievably lost footage being found, and one of the most famous can be found in the back catalog of Scream Factory. In the late '80s, Hellraiser horror author and writer-director Clive Barker adapted is novella Cabal into the movie Nightbreed, which he intended to be a "Star Wars for monsters." Barker claims his original two-and-a-half hour-long cut was met with little enthusiasm by executives at the film's studio Morgan Creek and the movie was reduced to 100 minutes before its ultimately unsuccessful theatrical release in 1990. The longer cut of the film swiftly gained legendary status among horror fans. Barker himself planned on putting together a version that was 25 minutes longer but, like Anderson, was unable to locate the footage. “The people I sign books for at conventions have mentioned Nightbreed repeatedly and said, ‘Is there ever a chance that we will see the whole thing?’” Barker told EW. “I’ve always had to say, ‘Frankly no.’ I felt that, if it was there to be found, I would have found it by now.” Eventually, much of the lost film was located in a storage facility in the mid-West, which allowed Scream Factory to release a longer version of the movie on Blu-ray. "It sounds like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Barker said. “I have no knowledge of why that stuff was there, how it got there. All I know is the cinema gods must have loved us because it was all there.”
A more recent example of a "lost" version of a film making it to the screen is, of course, the "Snyder Cut" of 2017's Justice League, which fans of the director had campaigned to see since the movie's release. Last month, it was announced that director Zack Snyder's cut of the DC superhero film would premiere on HBO Max in 2021. Even if Scream Factory doesn't succeed in its quest to find the lost Event Horizon footage, fans' desire for more hell-ish space horrors looks likely to be satiated on the small screen. Last August, EW confirmed that Amazon and Paramount Television are developing a TV show adaptation of the movie with You're Next and Godzilla vs. Kong filmmaker Adam Wingard set to executive produce and direct the series. To misquote Neill's character, where Event Horizon fans are going, they will need eyes to see.