PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE
Pros: While Plan 9 is not a good movie, it is a fun one. And sometimes, that’s all I require from a flick!
Cons: Frankly, Plan 9 From Outer Space is not a very good movie.
I’m going to rock your world. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space is not the worst movie of all time.
Now before you get worked up in a lather, preparing to send me hate mail, let us consider some of the other cinematic offerings from Hollywood. Disasters such as The Lone Ranger, After Earth, Baby Geniuses 2: SuperBabies – movies that are either nothing more than shamless cashgrabs banking on the viewers nostalga, products of scared studios not wanting to risk production costs on an unknown property or simply just lazy film making. In a world where movies like It’s Pat, Man of Steel, Batman and Robin and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo exist, their crimes against humanity without end, Ed Wood’s efforts seem like childs play.
Plan 9 From Outer Space opens with a short introduction from Criswell, a noted psychic from the sixties, with a monologue so utterly ridiculous, that I have no choice but to present the transcript here for you:
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, friends – future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, the inexplicable – that is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing you the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are giving you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls who survived this dreadful ordeal. The incidents, the places . . . . . my friend, we can’t 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?
And thus in the first 30 seconds, Ed Wood instantly sets the tone for the rest of the flick. Every single line of dialogue out of every single actor’s mouth is exactly this. . . . um, colorfully awkward and oddly verbose. The strangely stilted reading from the Amazing Criswell isn’t universal amongst the other actors, but it’s not that far off either.
With Criswell out of the way, we open in the skies far above San Fernando. Our Hero, Jeff Trent (played by Gregory Walcott – who actually had something of a real acting career before this movie) is the captain of American flight 812 and sees of one of the most unconvincing flying saucers ever committed to film in the history of Hollywood. That includes Doctor Who at its lowest budget of its run, and the reel of film I shot with my mom’s camera when I was 10 years old.
Meanwhile, in a remote graveyard near San Fernando, an Old Man (an extremely aged Bela Lugosi in his last film) is at the extremely small funeral of his much younger wife. Ironically, while Ed Wood’s budget held him back from hiring extras for the scene, it really plays up the forlorn and isolated existence of the Old Man. It’s the best scene of the movie, very well done and really moody and emotional.
And it’s completely inconsistent with the rest of the film.
To prove my point, it’s not but mere moments later that we get some “comic” redneck gravediggers, who witness the landing of said unconvincing flying saucer shortly before being killed by the Old Man’s reanimated wife (played the amazingly busty late-night TV horror hostess Vampira).
An undetermined amount of time later, the Old Man walks out of his house and directly into the path of an oncoming automobile. At his funeral, mourners discover the corpses of the gravediggers. The police come to investigate the deaths – including Inspector Daniel Clay (master thespian and Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson, star of The Beast of Yucca Flats), along with several police officers, comes to the cemetery to investigate. Inspector Clay is promptly killed by the Vampira.
Meanwhile, Jeff is complain to his wife Paula (Mona McKinnon, from Jail Bait and Mesa of Lost Women) about not being able to tell about his close encounter of the weird kind when a powerful wind knocks them to the ground as a spaceship lands nearby. The ship lands in the nearby cemetery, where Vampira and The Old Man (now very much NOT played by Bela Lugosi) return to the spaceship
Suddenly flying saucers fill the skies. The military, under the command of Colonel Thomas Edwards (B-western star Tom Keene), launches a counter attack of stock footage and force the aliens to retreat to their space station to regenerate (but not in the Doctor Who sense of the word). There we meet the commander of the Earth operation – Eros (Dudley Manlove, from The Creation of the Humanoids and a couple episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents), and his second in command – Tanna (Joanna Lee, of The Brain Eaters – but you’d probably know her work from Gilligan’s Island better. She wrote the episode where Mrs. Howell decides to engineer a romance between Gilligan and Mary Ann).
There the aliens begin to formulate a new plan for dealing with the Earthlings – Plan Nine! What exactly is ‘Plan Nine’, you ask? Plan Nine involves the resurrection of FLESH EATING GHOULS to assault the capitals of the world. Considering that it took about a week to resurrect these three, the invasion should be ready to proceed sometime around 2029.
Sadly, we never do learn what Plans 1 through 8 have been.
Anyway, from here the military gets involved and send a man to San Fernando, we have a couple more encounters with the alien animated ghouls (where Bela Lugosi dies again for the last time), some wandering around the graveyard, and a final encounter between Eros and Jeff, Colonel Edwards and police lieutenant Harper aboard the flying saucer where we learn of the true purpose for the invasion of Earth.
It seems that the aliens are concerned about human advances in weapons. From the firecracker to the hand grenade to the hydrogen bomb – “in which you actually explode the air itself!” (Well, not really – but we’re looking for scientific accuracy from the film at THIS point?) – humanity has developed newer and bigger explosives. Now we stand on the brink of developing the biggest explosive reaction of them all – solarbonite!
Solarbonite does to light molecules what fission does to the atom, but the reaction is uncontrollable and will spread to everything ever touched by that sunlight, eventually engulfing the entire universe in flame. Since we’re a stupid, war like race, if the aliens cant reason with us – for the good of the universe, they will destroy us.
So Plan Nine From Outer Space basically shamelessly steals the plot of The Day the Earth Stood Still? Astounding!
And so instead of doing the sensible thing of taking this vital knowledge back to Washington DC, informing the president of the aliens intentions and saving the entire human race, our three heroes get into a fist fight with Eros, destroy the Zombie Controller device and blow up the flying saucer.
Criswell then returns to give us one last monolog about how people of the past laughed about commonplace innovations we see today, and wonders if life in outer space really is that farfetched. He ends with “God help us all in the future”.
The End. . . .?
So let me addend my earlier statment: Plan 9 From Outer Space is an absolutely terrible movie. The movie has a long litany of major problems – consistently mind-bending dialogue, spacecraft and airliner cockpit sets that were assembled from plywood (where you can still see the wood grain on the “metal”), backdrops made of shower curtains, boom mikes in the shot, actors calling each other by their real names – not their characters, word war II surplus electronics bravely attempting to standing for state of the art spaceship controls, cardboard tombstones constantly being knocked over by the cast members, a stand-in that spends the entirety of his scenes traipsing about holding a cape over his face because he has no resemblance to the original actor whatsoever, jumps between day and night and back again in the same scene, recycled footage, stilted acting and continuity errors that would make a mortal director weep.
Honestly, the issue of having Bela Lugosi drop dead after only a few moments of footage of him was shot was the least of Plan 9‘s problems. No, the key issue here is that director Edward D Wood had a vision too big for his microscopic budget and well, frankly, no talent at filmmaking. The version of Plan 9 in Ed Wood’s head was glorious and expansive and in full blown technicolor. The version we got on the screen was. . . well, considerably less so.
That said, what he lacks in talent he more than makes up for in passion. His earnestness and love for film making is crystal clear in every frame exposed, even if the ability to pull said vision off is just simply not there. It’s a testament to the love of his art that he managed to release one film under such conditions, let alone as many as he did. For that reason alone, I’d say that Ed Wood is a vastly superior filmmaker to the movie making hacks that put together a crappy Highlander film every two years, or boobs that make Meet The Spartans purely for the paycheck.
Make no mistake about it, I’m not defending Plan Nine as some overlooked and forgotten Citizen Kane or that Ed Wood is some kind of idiot savant. However the reputation of “Worst Movie Ever” is not entirely fair, either.
THE BAD MOVIE SCORECARD –
BULLETS EXPENDED: a small handful, usually used ineffectually against the undead
COOL EXPLOSIONS: Zero
HOW MANY TITS: Zero
SPRING LOADED CATS: 0
TOTAL BODY COUNT: 4 (Vampira doesn’t count since she was dead before the opening credits rolled)
GALLONS OF BLOOD USED: Zero
MOST MEMORABLE DEATH: Bela Lugosi being hit by a car off screen – though we can still clearly see his unmoving shadow against the wall not get hit by anything.
BEST LINE: “But one thing’s sure. Inspector Clay is dead – murdered, and somebody’s responsible.” (but honestly, how can I pick just one line from all these gems!)
THE DVD –
Being a Public Domain movie, there are dozens of versions of this movie floating around in the market. The version you want to go with however is from Image Entertainment. Their disc is the best looking of the lot. There is some print damage, but it’s pretty on par with other films of a similar vintage. The sound is pretty consistent with what you would expect from this film – mono, with a bunch of flaws on the original master.
Also consider the Rifftrax version, with Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett of Mystery Science Theater fame. It’s a colorized version and not the original, but the snarky commentary track the three provide make up for any alterations to the movie.
THE EXTRAS –
On the Image Entertainment disc, we get some pretty good extras. The centerpiece of the disc is the documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood. And really, you have to love a documentary that’s half an hour longer than the actual feature that it’s covering. Produced, directed and hosted by fans Mark Patrick Carducci and Lee Harris, we get a really well done look behind the scenes and the cult that surrounded the movie in the decades since its release.
Honesty, unless you’d just going after Plan 9, I’d pass on this disc and grab the Ed Wood Collection, a DVD boxed set that not only includes Plan 9 (and the accompanying documentary), but also other screen gems like Glen or Glenda?, Jail Bait, the Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls and a extra bonus documentary The Haunted World of Ed Wood. Essentially seven movies for 20 bucks – if you passed this up, you’re stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!
THE BOTTOM LINE –
Plan 9 From Outer Space, when you get right down to it, is an absolute failure. It manages to fall short on nearly every level imaginable – dreadful dialogue, incompetent acting, an appalling screenplay, wretched special effects, shoddy continuity and amazing lapses of even the most basic logic, all presented with an utter lack of directorial skill.
How could you not like it?
I give it 5 Plans From Outer Space out of 5