The summer of 1997 ended like most movie summers, with a whimper rather than a bang. After more than three months of dinosaurs, aliens, superheroes, terrorist villains, international mystery men and Nicolas Cage action vehicles, Hollywood had reached the release schedule stretch it invariably reserves. to its least auspicious plans — that time just before Labor Day when studios embark on a self-fulfilling prophecy of sluggish box offices and half-empty auditoriums.
In 1997, this annual last gasp of summer brought two sci-fi horror films set in dark, cavernous spaces – both featuring overqualified casts, both directed by future someones in their childhoods. creative, and both destined to fail in an unceremonious back-to-back release. . A quarter of a century ago, neither the public nor the critics gave much thought to Event horizon Where Imitate, the R-rated scare machines that hit theaters back-to-back, literally a week apart. Today, however, they look like the Platonic twin ideal of a certain type of reliably undervalued Hollywood entertainment: the unassuming studio thriller relegated to the dump every year in late August, after the last of the giant FX extravaganzas of the season has come and gone from the multiplex.
Part of the appeal of the late August thriller is that it could never be mistaken for a bigger production. These films are the digestives of a season of bloated, calorie-rich blockbusters. They are leaner and meaner, often emphasizing the mean. In a way you could call Event horizon and Imitate distortions of the bizarro world of traditional summer movie thrills: their special effects spectacle is cheaper and more macabre. Both even had big-budget analogues that summer. If you rolled your eyes through the delicate sensations of Contactthe antidote was Horizonconversely the breathtaking vision of interstellar communion. Likewise, while The Lost World: Jurassic Park let a brave teen follow a raptor with her gymnastic moves, Guillermo del Toro’s giant insect creature feature Imitate taboos shattered by having its own leaping CGI attraction rip some little kids to shreds.
Disturbing Space Tale
Directed by Paul WS Anderson, fresh off the dormant hit of his mortal combat adaptation, Event horizon exemplifies the energetic, cannibalistic spirit of late August thrillers. For Anderson, this story of a spacecraft sent to investigate the disappearance of a much larger vessel just beyond Neptune becomes an opportunity to paint the blood of the touchstones of the genre. There is a bit of hellraiser and Jacob’s ladder in his shock cuts of sadomasochistic reverie from the Grand Guignol, and from the brilliant in its ghostly hallucinations and elevators spilling torrents of red blood. Main inspiration is probably Ridley Scott’s original Extraterrestrialfrom which Anderson borrows elements of futuristic production design (narrow hallways, high, leaky ceilings, gothic-industrial grandeur) and the testy banter of Laurence Fishburne’s crew, emerging from cryosleep into a waking nightmare.
Event horizon really annoying, even scary at times.
For all his liberal recycling, Event horizon has its own flavor. It’s an entertaining movie about a haunted house in deep space, a Lovecraftian B movie with a B+ budget. If nothing else, it can make a modern viewer nostalgic for the days when studios would throw a healthy but not excessive $60 million at a project. Anderson spends that money well on building towering Baroque sets and intricate scale models; only the digital effects date the film detrimentally, and they’re used more sparingly than was the norm in 1997. (Compare the occasional unsightly ripple of cosmic energy to the relentless rush of lousy video game graphics that make up the same month Spawn.)
It helps, of course, that Event horizon is really annoying, even scary at times. While Anderson arguably made his name on a slightly more kinetic brand of youthful joystick pulp, he’s more deliberate here, building up real suspense in the first act (another echo of Extraterrestrial) and creating pockets of eerie, pungent silence that he can disrupt with a flash of violence. Event horizon ends up fulfilling his promise to release hell from his hapless astronauts. What’s sneakily effective is the way Anderson delivers graphics fangory fare in almost subliminal doses, shaking us with random, flashing glimpses and you miss them of a literal orgy of blood. The effect is that what you imagine is worse than what you actually see – a classic trick from late August, twisting restrictions on gruesome content to haunting and suggestive advantage.
Rushed to theaters by Paramount to fill the void created when Titanic missed its original summer release date, Event horizon made a measly $26 million at the domestic box office. It’s since become a cult following, however, with fans recently calling for the restoration of excised footage, including unused splashes. (A new 25th anniversary Blu-ray collects some deleted scenes, but Anderson insists a true director’s cut would require Snyder Cut-style reshoots.)
There is now a director’s cut of Imitatereleased in theaters a week later Event horizon. But while the film would unlikely spawn a few direct-to-video sequels, it didn’t earn the reputation of an unsung classic, even as Guillermo del Toro went on to become one of the scene’s most beloved genre directors today. today. One might wonder, in fact, whether his more mature later work left his compromised Hollywood debut looking like minor transitional madness – though he’s teeming with concerns he’d continue to indulge from here, including slimy bugs, themes of sin and trauma, and a perverted career-long obsession with putting adorable pint-sized kids in mortal danger.
Whether Event horizon get the stranger out of Extraterrestrial, Imitate take Extraterrestrial out of space and drops it into the sprawling sewers and subways of Manhattan. Granted, there’s a hefty dollop of xenomorph DNA in del Toro’s design of the title creature, an invasive species of designer-impostor insect introduced into the city’s cockroach pollution by an entomologist (Mira Sorvino) trying to stop the spread of a virus that is – you guessed it – killing children. Three years later, the insect survived its supposed suicide gene and quickly evolved to the size of a grizzly bear but with a special talent for mimicking its natural predator. Namely, us.
Even so early on, del Toro had his eye on designing top notch creatures. The monster of Imitate is a crafty delight – a hulking, clickable masquerade performer who can close his shell to approximate the rough outline of a human face and his wings to create the illusion of a tall man in a trench coat. (The reveal of his disguise is the film’s most memorable image, as a mad magazine terror retreat.) Unfortunately, the effects don’t always do the beast justice. Contrary to Event horizon, Imitate goes pretty heavy on the CGIand it has aged badly for more than 25 years and it continues.
Imitate definitely fits the profile of a satisfying and intelligent late August movie.
At its core, the film is an absurd Saturday night creepshow, updating the mid-century genre of radioactively-enlarged bugs for a new era of monsters born of genetic modification and computer magic. Suffice to say that despite its flaws, Imitate fits the profile of a satisfying and clever late-August film entirely, feeding a hungry audience cheap thrills and plenty of racing, screaming, and expositional dialogue (delivered by an above-average cast that includes Charles S. Dutton, F. Murray Abraham, and a young Josh Brolin). It also happens to be very skillfully directed, with del Toro flexing his growing muscle behind the camera with biblical-like imagery and chiaroscuro lighting that gives Manhattan the dark, dark feel of Sevenis the same rainy city out of nowhere.
Del Toro would of course bounce back from the disappointing reception to Imitate, and the supposedly torturous experience of trying to do so under the intimidating and controlling supervision of Harvey Weinstein. He’s now a revered geeky visionary, with a resume heavy on both Oscar-winning fantasies (Pan’s Labyrinth, The shape of water) and cartoon pulp (Blade 2, the Hellboy movies). Anderson, meanwhile, would veer off in a different direction, dedicating his career to a geometrically inventive, less well-regarded video game shlock like the resident Evil movies; it gained its own discerning fan base, made up of moviegoers who could appreciate a good sense of style over substance. Interestingly, the two men were indulging in their Extraterrestrial enthusiasm again – Del Toro through a menagerie of distant monsters from HR Giger’s, Anderson through a direct benefits.
The unofficial double characteristic of Imitate and Event horizon mark 1997 as the best year for the late August thriller? The canon grows every year, with each summer bringing new favorites. This month of August, for example, offered vertigo To fall and the Idris Elba safari survival thriller gone wrong The beast — the kind of well-reviewed, modest-scale, no-frills scary fare that gives August a good name. When it comes to studio horror, one person’s month-old garbage can is another’s genre treasure.
Event horizon is available to rent or buy from major digital services such as First video. Imitate currently broadcasting on HBO Max. To learn more about the writings of AA Dowd, please visit his Author page.