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Pitch Black (2000)

Man has always been afraid of the dark. From the days when we lived in caves and had to learn to run from or hunt down every scary thing that presented themselves, the dark has a special place in the human lizard-brain as something to fear because of what you can’t see – the horrible nasty things that might be hiding therein, able to see you while you fumble around blindly. Fortunately, we have daytime as a respite from the unknown scary shit. But what if this wasn’t the case – and what if there was something worse with you?

Pitch Black is a science fiction horror film directed by David Twohy and written by Ken and Jim Wheat. It stars Vin “The Fast and the Furious” Diesel, Radha “Phone Booth” Mitchell, Claudia “Farscape” Black, Cole “Good Will Hunting” Hauser, Keith “They Live” David, and Lewis “The Shiralee” Fitz-Gerald.

When the transport ship Hunter-Grautzner passes through the tail of a comet while on autopilot, debris ruptures the hull and kills some of the crew, including the captain. The remaining crew is awakened, and docking pilot Carolyn Fry (Mitchell) crash-lands on a nearby moon, despite nearly dumping the passenger compartment. While many survive, the ship is completely trashed, leaving them stuck on what appears to be a dead, arid desert world, illuminated constantly by three suns. Amongst the passengers is one Richard B. Riddick (Diesel, in his breakout role), a dangerous criminal, who escapes in the crash. While he is running loose, another passenger is killed in a nearby cave, leading the bounty hunter William J. Johns (Hauser) to naturally blame Riddick when he recaptures the latter. A group of the survivors make their way to a nearby geological research station for supplies, and finds water and a spaceship they could use to get escape, though the latter lacks power cells. Everything seems to be going almost fine, until the passengers discover a rather nasty but light-sensitive species living in the caves under the moon’s surface. Good news: Since the moon is in constant sunlight, the dark-loving beasties can’t come out to menace our intrepid heroes. Bad news: In a few days, the moon is going to experience a triple eclipse. That’s right – all three suns will be obscured, a month-long event that occurs every 22 years, which means that, hey, the monsters can come out to play, which rather gruesomely explains what happened to the conspicuously absent research team. Of all the stupid sucky timing…

As the surviving passengers race to get supplies back to the ship, the eclipse begins, and the monsters emerge from the caves and attack. Riddick reveals that he had illegal surgery performed on his eyes while he was locked up in a prison called Butcher Bay to give him perfect night vision – necessary for survival, as the place was basically a deep dark hole – leaving the rest of the passengers dependent upon him to guide them to safety. Johns, however, is still hell-bent on turning in Riddick for the bounty on his head, and the lines between hero, anti-hero, and pure monster become blurred as the shadows close in on all of them…

Pitch Black pretty much flew in under the radar on its original release, and I didn’t even known much about it when I rented it. I hadn’t heard of any of the actors in it, least of all Vin Diesel (who has become a major star). I was overall pleased, though, when I watched it. The overarching plot was simple, focusing almost entirely on their arrival on the moon (apparently called Hades) and the discovery of Very Bad Things there with them, and how they react when they find Yet Another reason to be afraid of the dark. The character of Riddick has since been expanded upon in other media, but here he’s basically That Scary Dude with the right amount of badassery to face off against things that might even be nastier than he is.

And the monsters – variously called bio-raptors or demons (and both terms fit) – are nasty critters. Because light burns them, you only get a few clear looks at them, leaving you to imagine what could have slaughtered all the inhabitants of a research station and apparently everything else on the planet, all the while navigating with eerie whoops and howls like evil dolphins. They are ravenous and tenacious, and while they’re not the brightest monsters I’ve seen, what they lack in smarts they make up for in sheer Eat Your Face factor. Having set up Riddick as a nasty customer himself, the bio-raptors mainly serve to demonstrate that he is not the worst thing the universe can create, not by a long shot.

So, if you’re looking for a good dark, scary movie, check out Pitch Black. While Vin Diesel has since achieved starhood, this movie is a nice look at where he started, and a nice little horror movie in its own right.

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