Dark Star (1974)

DVD Release Date: March 23, 1999


Dark Star is a 1974 comedy science fiction film that follows the eponymous space craft to its conflict with a circular alien.  The film was a student project for then USC student, John Carpenter.

I love the monster films of the 1950s because of the basic special effects. Dark Star opens with a smarmy looking guy sending the crew of the ship a message from Earth in which he both acknowledges an explosion that killed their captain and saying they spare the crew or ship to send them required protection gear. We soon discover the mandate of the ship is to destroy “unstable planets.” I couldn’t help but think of the 1979 television series Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in terms of production quality and isolationist story lines. Though Ford and Arthur are traveling with others, there’s a lot not within their control and they’re essentially stuck with each as are the crew of Dark Star.

Navigator Boiler (played by Cal Kuniholm) finds himself in his alone time with his hand flat on the table missing his fingers with the tip of a switchblade. He’s almost obsessively trimming his mustache. Is that to feel, one wonders? He’s clearly bored with his job but trapped. Sergeant Doolittle (Brian Narelle) plays an instrument made of a wood frame with bottles and cans. Talby has a certain Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) quality to him. He has isolated himself in the target bubble on the top of the ship and doesn’t like venturing into the body of the ship since Captain Powell’s demise. Played by Andreijah Pahich, John Carpenter provides Talby’s voice.  Dan O’Bannon co-wrote and edited the film and also takes the role of Sergeant Pinback. He longs to be reunited with his beach and board. Pinback took an alien into the ship as a mascot and seems to have developed some contempt toward it. The alien is literally a beachball with clawed feet. It takes pleasure in toying with Pinback. They are all assisted by an on-ship computer with a sexpot voice provided by Barbara “Cookie” Knapp. Set in the twenty-second century, all of the characters are very of the time when the film was made. My mom watched with me and momentarily disputed my memory of the 1970s (I was around for all but eleven months of the decade) but then conceded that the actors, music, etc. … and manner of speaking were very in line with what one expects from people who didn’t grow up in the heartland and still follow the poodle skirt and saddle shoe fashion philosophy.

Going into Dark Star, I expected very little. For a student film, the quality and story are good. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, mostly centered around Pinback and the alien. Pinback himself turns out not to be who he seemed to be but simply in the right place and the right time. The story is really about when the crew finds themselves facing a crisis with the potential to kill them all. Inspiration from Dark Star can be seen in other films Carpenter and O’Bannon worked on. The beach ball alien idea was used by O’Bannon in Aliens.

So how does Dark Star tie in with Towel Day? Its simply a solid science fiction film made by two men who went on to do much greater things. If you’re looking for something to do on Friday and have yet to see this movie, give it a shot. If nothing else, the conversation between the sexpot computer and the bomb will crack you up.

Dark Star is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

Amazon U.S.   Amazon U.K.   Amazon CA


Title Dark Star
Director John Carpenter
Actors Dan O’Bannon, Dre Pahich, Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Adam Beckenbaugh
Length 1 hour and 28 minutes
Rating G
DVD Release March 23, 1999

Leave a Reply