“Greetings, my friend! We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives…”
Directed by: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Starring: Bela Lugosi (sort of), Gregory Walcott, Tor Johnson, Vampira, Criswell
In a Nutshell:
Ed Wood’s endearingly threadbare magnum opus is so uniquely bad that it defies any rational criticism. That’s not to say many haven’t tried – one critic called the film “a triumph of will over talent” – a strangely backhanded compliment that is also one of the most inspiring things about the movie for wannabe filmmakers. If this guy could get a film made, surely there’s hope for everyone.
The film’s problems are so numerous that it’s hard to pinpoint why it is so bad – the dialogue is nonsensical, the logic is garbled, the performances are non-existent, the sets are so cheap that it makes a school nativity play look like a Hollywood blockbuster. All of which makes Plan 9 from Outer Space essential viewing for cult movie fans…
A couple of aliens in silk blouses are worried about mankind developing a “Solaranite” bomb capable of setting light to … *checks notes* … sunlight and destroying the universe (“Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”)
They’ve tried contacting the governments of Earth but the top brass don’t want to hear it. So they implement plan 9, which involves raising a trio of very slow and bumbling corpses from the grave to make them think again. This plan is so lame that you have to wonder how shit the previous eight plans were. With flying saucers (looking suspiciously like hub caps painted silver) menacing Hollywood, square-jawed pilot Jeff Trent comes to the rescue.
“Performances” is a strong word, because Ed Wood’s directorial style was so notoriously slapdash that he barely had time to elicit any actual acting from his hodgepodge cast.
Most famously, Wood managed to cadge horror icon Bela Lugosi on a steep decline in his fortunes and shoehorn him into a couple of his movies (Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Atom) prior to Plan 9 from Outer Space. He was also meant to headline his latest film, originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space (that title fell foul of Wood’s Baptist financial backers).
Sadly Lugosi died pre-production with only a few short scenes in the can. Undeterred, Wood cast chiropractor Tom Mason as a stand-in, despite the fact he was notably taller, balder and looked completely different to Lugosi. The solution? Wood got Mason to shuffle around covering his face with his cloak to complete the illusion.
Against the odds, late-night horror host Vampira and hulking Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson create vivid impressions as two of the reanimated corpses. Say what you want about Wood’s abilities, he had an eye for a striking image – Vampira advancing towards the camera with talons outstretched and Johnson rising from the grave are pure pop art. So much so that artist Drew Friedman was inspired to create a set of super-niche, lovingly illustrated comic strips about Tor going about his day.
Although he’s not actually a character in the film, I also have to mention psychic and TV personality Criswell, who Wood drafted in to recite the movie’s delightfully wonky opening monologue like a man in the middle of a serious whitey:
“Greetings, my friends! We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are giving you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimonies of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places, my friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer space?”
Most of the stock music in the film is pretty forgettable, but Emile Ascher’s original score is just awesome, capturing the strident tone of the 50s B-movies Wood was trying to emulate.
For a long time Plan 9 from Outer Space was known as the worst film ever made, largely thanks to the efforts of film critic Harry Medved and his book, The Golden Turkey Awards. But is it really the worst?
Let’s just say this: badness is in the eye of the beholder. While it is a very badly made movie, it is certainly not as dire as something like The Giant Spider Invasion. Ed Wood clearly loved movies, and while every aspect of the film is so wrong it borders on the trippy, there’s something wonderfully naive and cheerful about it.
Wood’s enthusiasm shines through so clearly and I’d rather watch Plan 9 again than most modern Oscar Best Picture nominees. It’s also much more fun than established classics of the era that have dated badly, like Forbidden Planet or The Day the Earth Stood Still.
We usually associate the word auteur with high quality. Ed Wood was definitely an auteur, just a very poor one. But he definitely had something, which is why Plan 9 has endured so long as a cult classic – as one observer so accurately noted, no matter what time you watch it, it always feels like three o’clock in the morning. It perfectly captures the magic of staying up late to watch an old monster movie on TV.
If you loved this, also check out: Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Atom, Ed Wood, Look Back in Angora
You can watch a reasonably acceptable copy for free on Youtube here