John Carpenter and Dan OBannon originally made Dark Star on a budget of $5,000, using the USC student facilities and a cast and crew corralled from the people around them. The finished film impressed Jack H. Harris, producer of The Blob (1958), so much that he offered them $60,000 to bring the film out to feature length. Carpenter and OBannon went away and shot new scenes, which mostly consist of the ones with OBannon being chased around the ship by the beachball alien. Although Dark Star was not a major success when it initially came out, by the late 1970s it had become a cult science-fiction comedy.
Dark Star is a wicked and funny send-up of both Star Trek (1966-9) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It offers an hilarious flip side to in particular Star Treks boldly going where no man has gone before ... rhetoric. Rather than discovering new worlds, new lifeforms yada yada the ships mission is to blow up alien planets. Instead of nobly making the universe safe for democracy, its crew are suffering from cabin fever and going crazy from boredom. Rather than the pristine white space stations and bland astronauts of 2001, the ship here is dirty and falling to pieces. The climactic scenes with the bomb are an hysterical take on HAL 9000 in 2001.
Dark Star has a strung-out sense of humour that at once suggests a Philip K. Dick in his saner moments or some of the works of Robert Sheckley. (John Carpenter once wittily referred to Dark Star as his Waiting for Godot in Space). The film has a sense of deadpan humour that sits there and keeps building to the blackly hysterical. There is a sequence with Dan OBannon chasing the giggling beach-ball alien through the ship corridors where he becomes trapped in the middle of lift-shafts beneath a descending elevator and jammed in its emergency hatch where the sequence keeps going until one is reduced to hysterics. The climax, which features Brian Narelle having to don spacesuit to go and argue epistemology with the bomb in order to convince it to stop the countdown, is one of the funniest sequences in science-fiction. The final image of Brian Narelle surfing down into the atmosphere of an alien planet on a piece of debris from the ship suits the films spun-out lunacy perfectly.
The effects are extremely ambitious for the films budget. Greater technical sophistication today makes these look cheesy but in their time these were highly accomplished. The sets are also exceptional considering that they were built on a next-to-no budget.
Let There Be Light: The Odyssey of Dark Star (2010) is a documentary about the making of the film.
John Carpenters other genre films are: the urban siege film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976); Halloween (1978); the stalker psycho-thriller Someones Watching Me (tv movie, 1978); the ghost story The Fog (1980); the sf action film Escape from New York (1981); the remake of The Thing (1982); the Stephen King killer car adaptation Christine (1983); the alien visitor effort Starman (1984); the Hong Kong-styled martial arts fantasy Big Trouble in Little China (1986); Prince of Darkness (1987), an interesting conceptual blend of quantum physics and religion; the alien takeover film They Live (1988); Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992); the horror anthology Body Bags (tv movie, 1993), which Carpenter also hosted; the H.P. Lovecraft homage In the Mouth of Madness (1995); the remake of Village of the Damned (1995); Escape from L.A. (1996); the vampire hunter film Vampires (1998); the sf film Ghosts of Mars (2001); and the haunted asylum film The Ward (2010). Carpenter has also written the screenplays for the psychic thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Halloween II (1981), the hi-tech thriller Black Moon Rising (1985) and the killer snake tv movie Silent Predators (1999), as well as produced Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), the time-travel film The Philadelphia Experiment (1984), Vampires: Los Muertos (2002) and the remake of The Fog (2005).
Dan OBannon went onto a distinguished career as a director and principally as a screenwriter, most notably as the writer of Alien (1979). Dan OBannons other films as writer are: Dead & Buried (1981), Heavy Metal (1981), Blue Thunder (1983), Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), Total Recall (1990), Screamers (1995), and Hemoglobin/Bleeders (1997). As director, OBannon made Return of the Living Dead (1985) and The Resurrected (1992). OBannon was also responsible for the computer graphic displays in Star Wars (1977). Jodorowskys Dune (2013) details OBannons work as special effects director on Alejandro Jodorowskys failed adaptation of Dune (1965) in the 1970s.