Dark Stars and Good Times

Have you ever watched a movie so bad it’s good?

My answer is, “yes,” and I’m not too proud to admit it. And of all the bad movies I’ve seen, one will always have a special place in my heart, John Carpenter’s Dark Star. Yes…that John Carpenter. The guy who gave us Halloween, The Thing, and Escape From New York was once a lowly film student, and back in the ancient days of 1974, he made Dark Star as a student film project.

The story revolves around a half dozen hippie astronauts on a never-ending journey, not to explore space and discover its mysteries. Nope. Their job is to seek out “unstable planets” and blow them the hell up. To do this they have a hyperspace capable ship called the Dark Star with a bomb bay full of self-aware planet-busting bombs.

Fun right?

I first encountered this little gem of a film on late-night TV back in the early 1980s. This was back in the days when local stations would shut down for the day at about 3:00am, play the national anthem, and then go dark until 6:00am. Dark Star, if it showed at all, would always be shown just before the anthem.

Later, I re-discovered it at science fiction conventions in the late 80s and earily90s. In those days, conventions always featured a “movie room” where classic SF films would be shown round the clock. I always found the movie rooms to be a great retreat from the hustle and bustle of the con. Tired of your friend’s drama? Kick back in the movie room for a few hours and eat some popcorn. I often found myself doing just that after midnight, and Dark Star was always shown after midnight.

I suppose lawsuits ended the movie room tradition as I haven’t seen a con feature one in decades. For this reason, I doubt if many young fans have ever heard of Dark Star. Still, it’s a movie that deserves to be remembered.

For a student film it was pretty darn good and for that reason, Carpenter managed to get it distributed professionally. Upon release, it mostly was shown at second run theaters and at drive-ins. Considering its shoestring budget, I’m pretty sure it made a profit after the first hundred or so ticket sales. I highly recommend it for your late night viewing. It’s silly, stupid, irreverent and has one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. No really, when your film’s climax is an astronaut debating phenomenology with an artificially intelligent, planet-destroying bomb you just can’t lose.

Besides, whoever said science fiction was supposed to be serious anyway?

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