Movies We Like
Plan 9 From Outer Space
In the world of bad movies, most are boring and just unwatchable - lazy filmmakers just trying to slap something together to make a buck or ambitious filmmakers overreaching and missing, big time. Every once in a while a movie comes along that splits the difference and is so bad it becomes a wonderful experience. Director Edward D. Wood Jr.’s now legendary would be sci-fi flick Plan 9 From Outer Space has become the Citizen Kane of bad, so amazingly inept, yet so innocently earnest and good-natured that it’s not hard to kind of love it. Literally every scene in its 79 minutes is filled with amazingly laugh-out loud, quotable dialogue, horrible acting, ridiculous special effects and utterly inane directing. Ben Hur might have won the Best Picture Oscar in 1959, but Plan 9 From Outer Space is way more memorable and special.
Originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space, a plot recap goes something like this, bear with me now...The film opens with a narrator ("The Amazing Criswell") telling us, among much gobbledygook, that what we are about to see is true. Then in a cemetery two gravediggers are killed by the zombie corpse of a woman they just buried. She is played by the thin-wasted, TV personality Vampira; her still living husband, known as the “Old Man,” is played by the half-dead looking, one time Dracula sex-symbol, Bela Lugosi (unfortunately he died after shooting just a few minutes of random footage, strangely he was wearing his Dracula costume for some of it). Then a few moments after being introduced, Legosi’s "Old Man" character is hit by a car and killed (we don’t see this, the narrator tells us). Later in the cemetery Vampira and her husband, also now a zombie (but often played by a different, much younger and taller actor, actually a chiropractor named Tom Mason), attack a police inspector (obese Swedish wrester and Halloween mask superstar Tor Johnson). Meanwhile an ace airline pilot, Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott), spots a couple of UFOs while on a flight. Later with his wife (Mona McKinnon) back home in the cemetery (literally his house seems to be in the cemetery) he tells her about the UFOs and somehow he’s rightfully convinced they had something to do with the commotion in the cemetery. Then a gust of wind knocks them both over.
In a Robert Altman like ensemble touch, more characters and plot are introduced...Up in outer space the UFO commander Eros (played by an actor with a fitting name, Dudley Manlove) tells his Ruler (John Breckinridge, also known in some parts of 1950s Hollywood by his drag queen name Bunny Breckinridge) that they have put into effect “Plan 9” to get the attention of Earth's ignorant saps. The pituitary glands of the dead are being stimulated which is resurrecting them, though it only seems to effect three dead people as Tor Johnson joins the zombie married couple. There is also much hokum about the Pentagon, led by General Roberts (Lyle Talbot), trying to cover up the flying saucers, explaining the science of UFO activity, and listening to messages from Manlove. The Lugosi/Mason zombie chases Jeff’s wife around her house and the cemetery and a bunch of knucklehead cops stumble around the cemetery (literally knocking over cardboard gravestones). And that’s all just in the first act. Where it goes needs to be seen, not described.
Like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, every frame of Plan 9 From Outer Space has been dissected, analyzed and studied, though for different reasons. Also like Hitchcock, Wood’s career and personal life have been highly scrutinized; he’s been the subject of books, essays, documentaries and even a Tim Burton film bio (Ed Wood). In the history of bad movies no other filmmaker has been as honored and revered as Wood has been. Bad movies come and go and some gain a cult following, but Wood has at least three films that could make the all-time great bad movie honor role, including his autobiographical transvestite love story, Glen Or Glenda, and his mad scientist epic, Bride Of The Monster, but hands down his greatest bad opus is Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Everything that could go wrong on Plan 9 From Outer Space seems to have gone wrong. Wood’s attitude is that this is heavy, important material, not a quickie exploitation flick. He seems to be going for the grandeur of The Day The Earth Stood Still, but unfortunately every instinct Wood has seems to be the antithesis of how to make a good movie or even tell a coherent story. What makes it so wonderful is that sense of importance and Wood's love of movies, but everyone involved in the film is just completely untalented and unskilled at what they are trying to accomplish. Enthusiasm can’t cover the complete ineptness that ends up on the screen, and what a beautiful horrible mess it is. Plan 9’s reputation as the greatest bad movie ever made is fully deserved, and that makes it much more entertaining than the majority films that have been made since.