As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s telling when half of the first fifteen horror movies I can think of aren’t pure horror movies. That said, I think a lot of them do the horror genre good, and most of them have the same tropes and techniques that makes the horror genre what it is.
Like this one, Pitch Black. I watched it again a few weeks ago, and it blew me away. Not because of its special effects, which aren’t bad but look dated. (Then again, I also watched The Fellowship of the Rings, and the “amazing” intro CGI battle at the foot of Mount Doom that blew everyone away years ago was just painful compared to Avatar or Cloverfield.) No, it reminded me of just how good a horror-thriller this film is.
Another basic horror movie setup, only merged with stock science fiction: after being pulverized by meteorites, a cargo ship crash lands on a desert planet baked by three suns. As the survivors begin to patch up and try to figure out how to get rescued, they start being picked off one by one… and it’s not because of Vin Diesel’s Riddick, the bloodthirsty serial killer being transported by a questionable cop.
It’s when the lights go out that things really start heating up: pursued by unstoppable monsters, previously dormant under the surface, relying on the questionable cop and the even more questionable serial killer. Diesel’s performance as the brutal anti-hero is top-notch, and launched the actor into stardom. The actual horror-thriller elements create a fine atmosphere of tension and desperation, as the survivors languish (and die) over a mere two-mile trek.
Why is it scary?
Again, the basics of horror: a group of people, without proper equipment, isolated from civilization, in desperate need of help. Also, it’s the middle of a permanent eclipse, so throw in humanity’s primal fear of the dark. And there are killer monsters out there, that we don’t see until after they’ve killed a handful of people. Also, the only person the survivors can trust is a psychotic killer who’s had cats-eye implants in prison.
It’s a hellish situation for the characters, and I think that translates to the viewers. This film is full of tension and great twists, and has the masterstroke of having Riddick as red herring and threat rolled into a single package. It’s a perfect hybrid of genres, and I think it works very well (obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t have thought of it). One very underrated film.
Its sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, dropped the horror-thriller angles to focus on being an action-movie/unauthorized Warhammer 40k fanfic, and wasn’t as successful. I didn’t think it was as terrible as everyone else in the world, but it wasn’t half as effective at being an action movie as Pitch Black was at being horror.