“Liberate tutumet ex inferis (Save yourself from hell).” ~ Demon From the Realm of Pure Evil (Event Horizon)
I have read articles and participated in discussions comparing Event Horizon (1997) to Hellraiser (1988) and vice versa, more than a few times. The similarities are obvious, although some say it’s like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. Some say the fact that Hellraiser came first, trumps all else, leaving Event Horizon as an outer-space-themed knockoff, better titled Cenobites in Space. As for which gets a prize (for something), it depends on your criteria. However, for fans, using a rubric with true horror scoring the most points–horror with the most realistic visual effects and stomach-churning terror–there is a clear winner. Is the ultimate in hellish blood, pain, and suffering more intergalactic than supernatural, more cenobitic than extraterrestrial, or, perhaps, a little of both?
In Hellraiser, Plillip LeMarchand’s Lament Configuration opens the gateway to hell, with pain too much for even the most extreme masochist. Three demons called cenobites, mutilated, clad in skin-tight leather, equipped with barbaric tools of torture, wait eternally, for those who solve the puzzle–The Box. Once called upon, the cenobites vivisect and desecrate the flesh of of those who seek them, creating ever more of their own. Seeking pain as pleasure, they claim no state of being could be better. Leviathan–the god of cenobitic hell–is the master of their realm, if not the devil himself by another name. In a place where great pain is “legendary,” where repressed desires and curiosity lead to Hell, all to the tune of a music box, what could be more horrific? How much more juxtaposition of ironic song and suffering does it take to be most horrific? Possibly not much, all outdone by a lot more? Helping us realize the horrors are a host of victims, offering up their souls for knowledge of the flesh, in pain and agony. The first is Frank (Sean Chapman), followed by Julia (Clare Higgins), and finally Kirsty (Ashley Laurence). Oh, what sights they have to show us! For your consideration, with a few suggestive comments (sorry), is a taste of the suffering!
In Event Horizon, a gravity drive, created by Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), is aboard the intergalactic exploration vessel of the movie’s title, Event Horizon. Having disappeared for seven years, in a black hole created by the gravity drive, the Event Horizon is back, near Neptune, sending a distress beacon to Earth. The crew of the Lewis and Clark, lead by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) is, thus, sent to uncover the mystery and rescue possible survivors. Later, we learn that Weir’s invention actually opens a gateway to a dimension of what is described as “pure evil.” In this realm, beyond space and time we know, flesh is flayed and mutilated, and vivisections (like those in Hellraiser) are relentless. Therein, an orgy of terror, with orgasms of pain and suffering, is eternal. Humans scream in pain, tortured by a new god, and horrifying sights are seen, with or without eyes. A starship possessed by inter-dimensional demons, baits humans, preying upon repressed desires and guilt. Yes! That’s the synopsis of Event Horizon, in a nutshell, as needed for comparison. With all of that, could “infinite space,” as the movie poster asserts, truly have “infinite terror,” eclipsing even Hellraiser?
“Your suffering will be legendary, even in hell.” ~ Pinhead (Hellraiser)
For starters, take away the starship and space, and the similarities are striking. Yes! Event Horizon writer Philip Eisner was clearly influenced by Hellraiser. In both movies, horrors inflicted upon the flesh are performed as a right of passage into comparable realms of hell, without the consent of victims. In both, pain and suffering are self-inflicted, with humankind making the choice, out of greed and/or curiosity, either by playing with a box or activating a gravity drive on a starship. In both, a mechanism created by man enchants and condemns humans to hell. In both, victims of hellish torture talk of the better, more pleasurable, insightful states of being. In both, otherworldly demons mangle and mutilate new minions, primed to worship a demon god or pure evil. However, are the two movies really the same beyond all of that…compared to the element that matters most? Are they equally horrific…or is one more horrific, more truly realistic, and entrail-ripping than the other? I say, “Yes!” (Are we thinking of cenobites in space right now–as in Hellraiser: Bloodline–still another year before Event Horizon?)
To me, the winner is a simple and obvious choice–a gut reaction requiring little thought. Event Horizon has a lot more of what makes the greatest and most truly visceral horror. The violence shown, even briefly in Event Horizon, is exponentially greater, more realistic, and more disturbing. During the video, eventually recovered and played back on the ship, brutality, chaos, and carnage are unmatched. Victims scream in agonizing pain, bloody and skewered, subjecting one another to horrible tortures and sexual abominations. Bodies covered with maggots are impaled, from anus to mouth. Humans fuck one another to death, while entrails are torn, with clenched fists, from the throats of victims gurgling in agony. The video alone, in it’s short time (barely ten seconds), shows all of this, in fleeting images, making Hellraiser look tame by comparison. Orgasms of pain follow ejaculations of blood, endlessly, in the minds of viewers, while not literally shown on screen. Images of horror throughout are equally more powerful, realistic, and indelible. Hellraiser’s special effects, by comparison, often look antiquated and dated, more prosthetic and sometimes more mechanical than the mind can excuse. (I’m thinking of the scene where Frank is resurrected by a drop of blood, as he sprouts from the floor, forming almost comically, from a dripping, primordial mess.) Yes! A short video and all else in Event Horizon, with so many horrors they plant in the mind, leave chills far colder, far more unsettling than the more unrefined effects of Hellraiser.
“Oh, no tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.” ~ Pinhead (Hellraiser)
Of course, some may say that the Hellraiser scene showing Frank pulled apart by chains and hooks is as gory and disturbing as anything in Event Horizon. I disagree. As far as what is happening, it is; as for how it is executed, it is not! Again, a potentially powerful scene looks more prosthetic and fake than anything I can believe is real. Consequently, I must force myself to believe it is real…and that, certainly, is not horror! (And the scene where Pinhead reassembles pieces of Franks face, after his body has exploded screams “Fake face!”) Yes! In many ways, with respect to horror and special effects, Event Horizon is the movie Hellraiser should have been. In Event Horizon, gore, blood, maggots, and mutilation require NO imagination! Below are some choice screencaptures to illustrate the movie’s superior, more realistic horror. Included are images aboard the Event Horizon, including screencaptures from the video from Hell. Unlike the Hellraiser photos, these speak for themselves!
Believe it or not, with all of the winning extremes in Event Horizon, director Paul W.S. Anderson says (in a behind-the-scenes feature on the DVD and Bluray) that much more such violence and gore was originally planned and filmed. The complete film, with unfinished effects, Anderson says, was originally 170 minutes–a full 44 minutes longer than the 96 minute cut we have today, of course, said to include additional gore! As Anderson explains, deadlines for film completion, pacing issues, along with the studio’s resistance, prevented the film from being even more bloody, violent, and yes…more horrifying. Sadly, due to deadlines preventing the completion of additional effects at the time of production, a director’s cut is not possible, because completed, cut footage does not exist. Yes! I know that more violence and gore does not, per se, make a movie more horrifying. Sometimes, as they say, less really is more. However, that is not the case with Event Horizon. This is a movie, like Hellraiser, that defines itself, and sets itself apart from others, by being more graphic and bold with overt imagery and cutting-edge depravity. Here, in-your-face, realistic brutality, perversion, and carnage are what make the movie more effective, and…more horrifying! Yes! Like most fans, I’d love to see the 170-minute cut, and see if “infinite space” truly has room for “infinite terror.”
“This ship has been beyond the boundaries of our universe of known scientific reality. Who knows where it’s been, what it’s seen, and what it’s brought back with it.” ~ Dr. William Weir
I know the consequences of giving second place to a cult film in the horror genre. No fans are more dedicated, and I know it as well as any. Hardcore lover’s of Pinhead, Butterball, and The Chatterer will, no doubt, curse me to the bowels of cenobite hell, with legendary suffering to quote. They may wonder how anything from the mind of Clive Barker could not win. They may say that I have not given credit to the many special effects and horrors in Hellraiser that are most effective and realistic. (And I agree that there are many.) They may say that I have placed too much importance on the realism of special effects, ignoring the story. They may say that I have, at least, not given Hellraiser fair consideration (or let it slide a bit) being a film that’s nine years older; perhaps, it’s senior status gives its limitations reasons to be overlooked. Yes, yes, of course! I’m aware of all of that. But, that has nothing to do with the subject of my debate–a movie being more horrifying than another, being judged by criteria that would make it most effective. After all, in horror, mercy is not an option. Review the photos above for comparison, and the difference is clear. Like me, feel your gut reaction; let it churn your stomach and sicken you, before you think and let bias overtake you.
“We have such sights to show you.” ~ Pinhead (Hellraiser)
As for bias, I have certainly set mine aside. My opinion here has nothing to do with how much I like Hellraiser; it’s a movie I rewatch more than most in my collection. It’s a movie I quote far more than anything I remember said in Event Horizon. Although Hellraiser doesn’t win this contest, it is, without a doubt, a favorite, easily in my top ten horror films, easily earning ten rockets on Space Jockey Reviews. I have more Pinhead figures than I can count, and several puzzle boxes in glass domes, resting on red silk, just like Dr. Channard displays them in Hellbound: Hellraiser II. (I even have one puzzle box that is mechanical and plays music!) Yes! While Hellraiser doesn’t win my award for most realistic horror, it does hold a place on my list of movies most influential to me–a very important thing, indeed! Never will I forgot seeing the cardboard figure of Pinhead, standing at the entrance to the local theater, tempting me with “The Box.” Way back then, even as fake as the cutout was, it sure scared the hell of me!
Yes! If it be the case that I am cursed for my decision, I’ll see you in hell. However, in the meantime, I must defend my position here on Earth. Is this a scientific study, with a control group, tallying votes from the masses? No! It is my opinion, born of impulse and primal fears, supported with visual evidence and reasoning. Giving first place to the movie that takes us to space, to hell, bringing it all back, terrifying and unsettling us with blood and depravity was inevitable. As much as I love Hellraiser, superior horror cannot be denied its proper place. Humans covered with maggots, screaming, fucking themselves to death in bloody orgasms, is horrific beyond imagination. Fists thrust down mouths, while tearing entrails from the throats of victims gurgling in pain, is horror that wins, like it or not. Liberate tutamet ex inferis.
“Is hell an endless orgasm of pain and suffering? Do maggot-covered bodies ejaculate blood, screaming and impaling one another for eternity? My horrified mind says yes!” ~ Chris Rennirt