When one thinks of John Carpenter films, a host of classics spring to mind – The Thing, Escape from New York, The Fog, Halloween. In addition to the big hits of his career, there were also cult classics such as Prince of Darkness, a truly moving and thought provoking film, Ghosts of Mars, a B movie full to the brim with gore and action, and the hugely beloved movies Big Trouble in Little China and They Live. It’s highly unlikely however, that anyone would think of his SF film Darkstar which is quite possibly among the worst films ever produced in the history of cinema, in the eyes of many sober viewers. That said, I would imagine that if one were high, the film just might become a masterpiece of bad effects, cool music, and weird humor. Shot on a budget of only sixty thousand dollars in the early 1970s, Darkstar was released in 1974 and was unsurprisingly met by harsh reviews from the critics of the time.
The effects used in Darkstar are beyond lackluster, being flat out stomach churning at just how bad they are. They make the Atari video game graphics of the early 80s seem look like works of genius by today’s standards. The ship itself, the Darkstar, is largely uninspiring and boring in its exterior design. The alien that the crew have brought aboard is literally a beachball with halloween, monster gloves attached to it. The images of space around the ship in the scenes from its observation module are freaky and more psychodelic than realistc. The one great design of the movie is Darkstar’s insanely crowded and small control room which serves to truly deliver the clautrophobia its crew is surely experiencing from their many years, alone, in space.
Darkstar is loaded with quirky and fantastic ideas for its time though such as talking, somewhat self-aware bombs, the knife jabbing between the fingers game that is later used in James Cameron’s Aliens, and many more. Despite its trashiness, Darkstar can be considered a very influential work as many of its tropes continue to be seen in SF movies even today. The cast certainly did the best they could, sometimes delivering true emotions that can be felt by its viewers and when set against the bizarre backdrop of Darkstar’s world are only heightened.
The film certainly doesn’t live up to the rest of Carpenter’s work but it far from being completely worthless to the genre thanks its script and the efforts of its cast to do what they could with what truly little they were given.