PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE
Gregory Walcott, Tom Keene, Duke Moore, Mona McKinnon, Dudley Manlove,
Joanna Lee, Tor Johnson
Lyle Talbot, Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Criswell
1959, 79 Minutes, Directed by:
Edward D. Wood Jr.
The story of space aliens who try to conquer the Earth through
resurrection of the dead. Psychic Criswell narrates ("Future events such as
these will affect you in the future!") as police rush through the cemetery,
occasionally clipping the cardboard tombstones in their zeal to find the
source of the mysterious goings-on. —
Director-writer-producer-actor Ed Wood is the regular posthumous recipient
of the Golden Turkeys for Worst Film and Worst Director, not just of the
year, but of All-Time.
His badness is the stuff of legend. His heyday was the 1950s and he featured
an over-the-hill Bela Lugosi in multiple, virtually identical B-horror
movies. Wood’s life and friendship with Lugosi is examined in the amusing
film Ed Wood, which is perhaps director Tim
Burton’s finest hour and one of Johnny Depp’s best performances. They
portray Wood as a kind of Othello, “of one that loved not wisely but too
His Plan 9 From Outer Space is sluggish, clunky, repetitive, a
technical nightmare, without proper funds, badly-acted, and preachy almost
to the point of an insult. Yet it is absolutely earnest. Therein lies its
humor and its persistent appeal to cult audiences: it tries so hard, it
tries so honestly, and it fails so horribly.
"Why, if they come in peace and want to save Earth from itself,
do they breed homicidal zombies?"
Plan 9 takes a story similar to The Day the Earth
Stood Still, in which intelligent aliens come to Earth, warning us to
curb our war-like ways and end our experimentation with nuclear weapons. The
movie fails on so many levels and is beloved for all of them, transforming
through no intention of its own into a game of “spot the catastrophe.”
Budget concerns — the movie was funded by a Baptist church Wood duped
— lead to the excessive use of stock footage, to phony headstones knocked
over by passers-by, to cockpit controls that are wooden chairs turned
backwards. And let’s not forget all the bad model spaceships, or Wood’s
inability to convincingly meld his outdoor shots to his soundstages, or to
even light them the same. And let’s definitely not forget that star Bela
Lugosi died during filming, and was replaced by a man with a cloak pulled
over his face!
The story of Plan 9 is an absolute, incomprehensible mess that throws
together as much pop culture paranoia and 1950s sci-fi conventions as
possible without connecting any of them into a sensible mass.
Why do the aliens, who speak perfect English, send encoded messages to
Earth? Why, if they come in peace and want to save Earth from itself, do
they breed homicidal zombies? Why is the movie introduced by a psychic,
when it has nothing at all to do with telekinesis or ESP? Why the hell do
people call flying saucers “cigar-shaped” when they are so clearly not
cigar-shaped at all, but saucer-shaped? The answer to these questions, and
more, are because Wood wanted to pack the movie with as many sensational,
tabloid-style fantasies and buzzwords as possible, regardless of how
contradictory their various lore might be.
While the recent film Underworld uses “vampires and werewolves in the
same movie!” as its gimmick, Wood, like a child wanting to play with all his
toys at once, was first with “aliens, psychics, vampires, and zombies in
the same movie!”
The failing of Wood and his films is entirely of the head, and not of the
heart. You hear the words “worst,” “terrible,” and “awful” attached to them
all the time, but never “hate.” No one is as venomous toward Plan 9
as they can be toward Bad Boys 2,
Battlefield Earth, Gigli, or the average slasher movie. The Worst
Director in history is without cynicism, irony, or contempt for his
audience. Wood is at least filled with wonder when it comes to the
filmmaking process and the ideas he wants to convey, even though he’s not
smart enough to convey more than an iota of that awe.
Plan 9 defies traditional criticism. It has enormous camp value and a
strange appeal to even the most discriminating film lover. It is
hopelessly inept and incompetent, but has a place in the canon, albeit a
lowly one. It lets us know how badly things can go wrong, and how passion is
not always enough.
Every potential filmmaker should see Plan 9 at
least once . . .
The Friday &
Saturday Night Critic