Event Horizon and Pandorum: Two Tales of Cosmic Terror

It’s hard to believe that Paul W.S. Anderson, the schlockmeister behind Death Race, Pompeii, and the entire Resident Evil series, also directed Event Horizon. It’s difficult because Event Horizon is so much smarter than those other movies. I’m not trying to say that Anderson is a stupid person, just that some of his movies are kind of dumb. Event Horizon, however, is not one of those movies.

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The easiest way of describing Event Horizon is that it’s basically Alien meets The Shining. The film takes place in 2047 and follows the crew of the Lewis and Clark, a rescue vessel on a top-secret mission, led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne). The mission is so top-secret that the crew doesn’t even know exactly what it is until they have almost reached their destination. A spoiler alert is in effect from here on.

When they have been awoken from their stasis pods, they are brought up to speed by Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill), a guest on their ship. He explains to them that they are there to investigate a distress signal sent from a ship called the Event Horizon, which disappeared several years earlier. He also tells them that the Event Horizon was built to test a new experimental gravity drive he designed. The drive generates an artificial black hole in order to bridge two points in spacetime, which vastly reduces travel time over great astronomical distances.

Things start to go wrong almost as soon as the crew of the Lewis and Clark crosses over to the Event Horizon. They find mutilated bodies and crew members start to experience vivid hallucinations connected to deeply personal events from their lives. Captain Miller is haunted by a crewman he once failed to save, Weir sees images of his dead wife with bloody eyes (she is later revealed to have committed suicide), and another crewmember is hounded by the sight of her disabled son with his legs covered with maggot-infested wounds.

The crew discovers the video log from the crew of the Event Horizon, the last entry of which shows them going completely insane and violently murdering each other in a sadomasochistic orgy. Yeesh. Some of the gore scenes in this film push the limits of good taste, not to mention strain the boundaries of an R rating. Anderson’s Resident Evil movies have their share of gore, but the violence in Event Horizon makes the Resident Evil series look like Disney flicks. The initial cut of the movie was so gruesome that the studio forced Anderson to tone it down, and the thought that there was even more horrific footage that wasn’t included in the movie is chilling.

As it turns out, something went terribly wrong (surprise!) with Dr. Weir’s experimental gravity drive, and Captain Miller and Dr. Weir theorize that the ship opened a portal into a dimension outside of the known universe, which is not stated specifically to have been hell, but it’s strongly implied. After its return from wherever it went, the Event Horizon itself became a sentient being, and now torments its occupants and tries to lure them back to hell. The ship itself is evil! And while Dr. Weir later becomes possessed by the evil that controls the ship, the ship itself is the true villain. That’s quite similar to The Shining, where the Overlook Hotel is itself evil, and possesses the weak-willed to do its terrible bidding (or at least that’s my interpretation of it).

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I like this movie a lot. Its horrific violence and grotesque imagery make it a film that is not for everybody, but it’s absolutely chilling and the ideas behind it are much more interesting than anything in Anderson’s other films. It benefits from solid lead performances from Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill, as well as strong supporting work from Jason Isaacs and Joely Richardson.

The special effects are also quite good. The movie came out in 1997 but watching it nearly 20 years later it’s easy to forget that this is a movie that is almost two decades old. The space ships in the film aren’t shiny and new-looking, like cinematic spacecraft tend to be. They look grungy and lived-in. Event Horizon is an incredibly atmospheric film, and the down-to-earth designs of the interiors of the spacecraft go a long way toward making the outlandish story believable.

Although it performed poorly at the box office and was met with generally negative reviews upon its initial release, the film has amassed a cult following. The look of the film also heavily influenced the Dead Space series of video games, in which the lived-in spaceships and overwhelming sense of cosmic doom are very much intact.

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Speaking of cosmic doom, in 2009 a film called Pandorum was released. The film stars Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster and is so stylistically similar to Event Horizon that it’s fun to think of the two films as taking place in the same universe. As far as I know there is no big fan theory connecting these movies, but it isn’t difficult to imagine. As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that Paul W.S. Anderson was one of the producers of Pandorum.

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Pandorum is set hundreds of years in the future, when Earth’s population has grown out of control. In order to save themselves, mankind builds a massive spaceship called Elysium and fills it with 60,000 people, then sends it into space on a 123-year mission to an Earth-like planet called Tanis. The setup is not dissimilar to Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar, but Pandorum is less focused on family dynamics and more focused on white-knuckle terror.

At some point in the Elysium’s mission, crewmembers named Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) and Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid) awaken from an extended period of hypersleep. Due to being improperly awakened from their hibernation, they are both suffering from amnesia and don’t know what the status is of the ship or the mission. Bower ventures out into the bowels of the ship while Payton stays behind to monitor the situation. Bower eventually finds a few survivors, as well as terrifying monsters.

There are some great plot twists in this movie. More spoilers lie ahead. It is assumed at the beginning of the film that the ship is adrift in deep space, but it turns out that the ship actually landed in the ocean of Tanis after 123 years as planned, and that the ship is in year 923 of its mission, having spent the last 800 years underwater. Trippy! There’s also a Fight Club-esque “Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are the same person” twist, as well as a very cool twist involving the film’s monsters.

The monsters in this movie scare the shit out of me. They frighten me so badly I don’t want to even look at the damn things. Pure nightmare fuel. Bower and his compatriots assume that the creatures are passengers of the ship who have mutated, but this is only partly true. They turn out to be the descendants of some of the ship’s passengers who were awakened hundreds of years ago, and have since evolved to adapt to the dark environs of the ship, becoming cannibalistic and tribal in the process. Badass!

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Pandorum and Event Horizon are smart, trippy, gory sci-fi. The spaceships in both movies look grungy and worn instead of sleek and shiny, and the movies conjure some memorably horrific imagery. Both contain brutal gore, solid acting and trippy plot twists. They make for a great Halloween double feature, although you might want a shower afterwards.

Happy Halloween!

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What to Expect From Wolverine 3

Wolverine 3 Trailer Speculation

Last week, two trailers dropped for big Marvel movies coming out next year. The first was for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn’s hotly-anticipated sequel to the hit 2014 movie. The teaser for Guardians 2 reveals next to nothing in terms of plot, but serves its purpose in whetting the audience’s appetite. It shows the zany humor that made the first film such a hit, and prominently features the same song, “Hooked on a Feeling,” that helped make the first movie’s trailers so memorable.

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But what I’m here to talk about in more detail today is the second trailer. The second trailer was for the third solo Wolverine movie, simply titled “Logan.” The movie is directed by James Mangold, who also helmed The Wolverine in 2013. The filmmakers have said that the film’s storyline will be partly inspired by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan storyline, and there are strong whiffs of that story in the trailer.

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But just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a little background. Millar’s story takes place in what you might call a dystopian or maybe even post-apocalyptic world, where the United States have been conquered and subsequently divided up by supervillains. The heroes are all either dead or in hiding, with Logan living a quiet life with his wife and two kids. Of course, Logan’s quiet life does not last long and he is pulled into a cross-country journey with Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, who is now blind. The story is kind of like Mad Max with Wolverine.

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The trailer for the movie really sells the grim nature of the story. It features a Johnny Cash song for crying out loud, so you know they’re serious about the pain and suffering. I’m sure the movie won’t follow the Old Man Logan comic 100%, but there are hints of it in the trailer. The big twist in the comic is that (spoiler alert) Logan was tricked by the villains into killing all of the X-Men, which is part of what enabled the villains to take over in the first place. And while that sounds way too extreme for a movie, there is a possible allusion to it in the trailer.

At the beginning of the trailer, Professor X is heard saying, “Logan…what did you do?”

It could of course just be misdirection or tricky trailer editing, but that line has got me thinking. The movie’s story synopsis on the Internet Movie Database reads: “Set in the future, Logan and Professor Charles Xavier must cope with the loss of the X-Men when a corporation led by Nathaniel Essex is destroying the world. With Logan’s healing abilities slowly fading away and Xavier’s Alzheimer’s forcing him to forget, Logan must defeat Nathaniel Essex with the help of a young girl named Laura Kinney, a female clone of Wolverine.”

Well, that gives us a few more possible hints. It also ties in to the post-credits scene from this year’s X-Men Apocalypse, which featured a mysterious group of men taking Logan’s blood sample from the Weapon X program and putting it in a case marked “Essex Corp.” Nathaniel Essex just so happens to be none other than the infamous villain Mr. Sinister.

So…in the movie, it seems highly likely that Sinister is involved in whatever has happened to the world. And maybe Logan had something to do with it as well…intentionally or otherwise.

I’m excited for Wolverine 3. Since the success of Deadpool, it has been confirmed that Logan will be rated R, which will finally give us a chance to see some really brutal violence. Wolverine has been in like six movies now, but we have yet to see him lop off any limbs with those razor-sharp adamantium claws, and I for one am quite looking forward to seeing him put those claws to use.

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But the trailer also delivers the emotional heft. Professor X is a character who has always been known for his mind (he is psychic after all) but this movie seems to be, if not taking that ability away from him entirely, then severely limiting it. Both Logan and Professor X are looking downright grizzled, and since it’s said to be the final appearance of both actors as these characters, it’s entirely possible one or both of them might die.

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Man, March 3 can’t come fast enough. Given the extremely convoluted timeline of the X-Men movie universe, all of my rampant speculation here might very well turn out to be completely wrong, but we’ll all know one way or another in just a few months.

Ben Affleck Kicks Ass And Takes Numbers In The Accountant

The life of an accountant is fraught with danger. Just ask my dad. We saw the movie together over the weekend, and he was happy to finally see his profession so accurately represented onscreen. Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff. At first glance, he appears to be a perfectly normal small-town accountant, whose clients consist mainly of the businesses in the same strip mall as his small accounting firm, as well as local farmers.

But secretly, Mr. Wolff crunches the numbers for dangerous criminal organizations. He is also autistic. When he was a child, his father, a military officer, decided not to enroll his son at a specialized care facility, instead believing that Christian should learn to adapt to the world, instead of the other way around. As a result, Christian’s father trained him and his brother in martial arts and marksmanship, and as an adult Christian is highly skilled in both areas.

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All of Christian’s skills come in handy when he is hired to uncook the books for Lamar Blackburn, the CEO of a successful robotics corporation. One of Blackburn’s accountants, Dana Cummings, played by the infinitely likable Anna Kendrick, has discovered suspicious financial dealings, and Christian is able to discover that tens of millions of dollars have been embezzled from the company.

Needless to say, there is more going on here than meets the eye. There’s a mysterious assassin on the loose, who is played by Jon Bernthal of The Walking Dead fame, as well as playing the Punisher on the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil. I like Bernthal as an actor, he’s charming and likable while still being kind of a bastard.

The Accountant is a difficult movie to classify. You’ll probably find it in the action/adventure category when the Blu-Ray is released, but it’s hard to assign it one particular genre. I feel like calling it an action movie is kind of misleading, it’s more like a drama interspersed with hard-hitting action scenes. And the movie does have some very good action scenes. Affleck is a big man, and he uses his physicality quite effectively when it becomes time for Christian to get his hands dirty. He’s very believable as a kicker of asses, and the movie’s fight scenes are brutal and well-staged.

The Accountant is what I like to call a Loud Gun Movie. It’s easy to forget that guns in real life are LOUD, and this movie portrays them as such. The echoing roar of Christian’s .50-caliber rifle would be deafening in real life, and it’s almost deafening watching the movie. The machine guns and handguns used elsewhere in the film are similarly noisy, which gives the action scenes a lot of weight.

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Affleck’s performance in the movie is to be commended. A lot of movies that feature characters with mental conditions seem to overdo it, but this one doesn’t. Affleck subtly underplays Christian’s quirks, giving him a couple of recognizable tics without rubbing his character’s condition in the audience’s face. And the subtlety of his performance is emblematic of the movie as a whole. It’s subtle. There are at least two major plot twists near the end of the film, but the film doesn’t make a big deal out of them. It presents them and then lets the audience make the connections for themselves. The Accountant is a movie that respects its audience, which is something I always appreciate.

The character of Christian Wolff is also quite fascinating. He lives in a house that’s pretty much an empty shell, and his true home is a trailer that he keeps hidden in a storage unit. His trailer houses all kinds of goodies, from original Renoir and Pollock paintings to gold bars, lots of cash in euros and dollars, and at least one mint condition copy of the very first Superman comic, as well as his arsenal of weaponry. The contents of Christian’s trailer are worth millions and provide him with an escape, a place that he truly feels at home, which is something everyone can relate to.

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The movie was directed very well by Gavin O’Connor. I had only seen one of O’Connor’s films before this one. Unfortunately, it was a movie I absolutely hated. It was a movie called Pride and Glory, which I hated so much I included it on one of my lists  of really bad movies. The Accountant is substantially better. It received mixed critical reviews but has a high user rating on the Internet Movie Database, which seems to indicate that it resonated more strongly with audiences than it did with critics. I’m not sure why that would be, but my dad and I both liked the film a lot.

It has a strong lead performance from Ben Affleck and benefits from solid work from the supporting cast of J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal and John Lithgow. It has a plot that keeps you guessing, with twists that are surprising but not so far out of left field that they don’t make any sense. It has well-executed, hard-hitting action sequences, and it treats its audience with respect. What’s not to like?

Bruce Campbell Vs. The Army of Darkness

I have a new Halloween tradition, and that tradition’s name is ARMY OF DARKNESS. It has been a long time since I enjoyed a movie as much as I enjoyed Army of Darkness, which is the third film in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy.

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The film picks up right where its predecessor EVIL DEAD II left off, with hero Ash Williams, played by Bruce Campbell, stranded in the middle ages after being sucked through a time portal.

In case you’re not familiar with the franchise, in the very first Evil Dead film, released in 1981, a group of friends goes to a cabin in the woods for a getaway. There they find the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the Book of the Dead. They play a recording of a researcher reading sections of the book, which unleashes unspeakable horrors.

The first Evil Dead movie is notoriously gruesome, it was originally given an X rating solely for violence and gore, which almost never happens. The X rating is now known as NC-17, and most NC-17 ratings are given to films with graphic sexual content, being rated NC-17 for violence alone is rare. And the movie earns the rating. It is incredibly gory, even by today’s standards. Director Sam Raimi and producer Rob Tapert didn’t care about censorship when they were making the movie, and therefore made it as gruesome as possible, and it shows.

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The 1987 sequel, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, takes a more slapstick approach to the story. It is not clear if the sequel is a remake of the original or just a straight sequel, since it summarizes the events of the previous movie but excludes some of the characters. This is because when he got around to making the sequel, Raimi did not have the rights to the original film, since the sequel was produced by a different company, so Raimi was forced to summarize.

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Evil Dead II is an excellent sequel, delivering just the right mix of horror and comedy. Those are two genres that are difficult to mesh, but Raimi makes it look easy. At the end of the second movie, hero Ash manages to send the evil force back to where it came from, but in the process gets sucked through a portal and deposited in the Middle Ages, which leads to Army of Darkness.

Released in 1992, Army of Darkness is an absolutely glorious movie. I watched it a few days ago from start to finish for the very first time and adored every single moment of it. It’s the least gory and the least frightening of Raimi’s Evil Dead films, and as such may be looked down upon by hardcore horror fans. And to be honest, the film isn’t particularly scary, but it is a hell of a lot of fun and is much more accessible to casual viewers who don’t necessarily want to drown in a sea of gore.

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Let me just say right now that I love Bruce Campbell. The guy is an incredibly gifted physical actor, and he’s an extremely likable protagonist. Before becoming an Evil Dead fan, I mostly knew Campbell for his role on the TV show Burn Notice and his cameos in all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, but The Evil Dead is where Campbell got his start. He seems like a really great guy in every interview I’ve seen with him, and I consider myself a big Bruce Campbell fan.

The guy will probably never win any Academy Awards, but when he’s as entertaining and endlessly watchable as he is in movies like Army of Darkness, who the hell cares? He has several iconic lines in these movies (“This… is my BOOMSTICK!!”) that he delivers with aplomb (“Good, bad, I’m the guy with the gun.”). I just freaking love him, seriously, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the shotgun-wielding, chainsaw-handed Ash in these movies.

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Army of Darkness is as campy as it is enjoyable. Ash is promptly imprisoned by the men of Lord Arthur, who suspect him of being an associate of Duke Henry. Lord Arthur and Duke Henry are at war, and no one likes Ash when they arrive at Lord Arthur’s stronghold. Ash convinces them otherwise by destroying a deadite, one of the series’ signature baddies, and afterwards goes on a quest to find the Necronomicon, defeat the evil, and find a way back to his own time.

But Ash being Ash, he completely bungles it and ends up unleashing an Army of the Dead, led by his own evil clone. Whoops!

The special effects in this movie are absolutely fantastic. I can’t say for sure but I highly doubt that there is any CGI in the movie, which means that most if not all of the effects were done practically. The army of skeleton warriors looks great, and some of them have different clothes, weapons and voices, which gives them a lot of personality. I also love the squeaky skeleton voices, some of which were done by Sam Raimi himself.

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The effects were done by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, who are movie veterans perhaps best known these days for creating the zombies on The Walking Dead, and they did incredible work creating the skeleton warriors in Amy of Darkness.

Army of Darkness isn’t particularly scary, it’s too campy and full of slapstick to be very frightening. But it is tremendously entertaining and a perfect Halloween movie. The special effects are kick-ass, the story is fun, and Bruce Campbell is perfect in the lead role.

Evil Dead fans are probably feeling pretty spoiled these days, since in 2013 there was a successful remake of the original Evil Dead that took the franchise back to its gore-soaked roots. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the remake and, well, let’s just say the words “bits and pieces” were chosen intentionally. There are scenes of violence in the remake that are so stomach-churning I won’t even describe them here, but if you’re a glutton for punishment a lot of the gory highlights are included in the film’s red-band trailer. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Mind you, I’m not saying the remake is bad necessarily, in terms of modern remakes of classic horror movies, most of which are a dime a dozen, the 2013 Evil Dead remake is viewed as being one of the better ones. All I’m saying is that the squeamish need not apply.

And in 2015, Starz debuted Ash Vs. Evil Dead, a TV series continuing the exploits of Ash, everyone’s favorite goofball monster hunter. I watched the first season and enjoyed it immensely. Bruce Campbell is as great as Ash as he ever was and the show finds that crucial balance between slapstick humor and brutal horror, and even manages to tell a story that keeps you guessing and delivers surprisingly solid character development. If you’re a fan of the Evil Dead franchise but haven’t watched the show yet, check it out ASAP.

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So that’s my little overview of the Evil Dead series, with special emphasis on Army of Darkness. I’m a relatively new fan of the franchise, and it’s not for everyone, but if you can stomach it the series knows just how to deliver the gory goods.