Plan 9 From Outer Space/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Plan 9 From Outer Space begins with our narrator, the once fairly famous syndicated television psychic Criswell telling us in a ridiculous prologue: "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 friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future."
1959's Plan 9 From Outer Space (also known as Grave Robbers from Outer Space and once almost called Saucers over Hollywood) has a reputation for being the worst film of all time. IT IS NOT OF COURSE. It is an extremely entertaining film to watch which elevates it far above hundreds of films that are much less fun than watching paint dry. The film is one of the most enjoyably rotten films ever made and the stories of how it came to be made are the stuff of legend. Like the greatest films ever made it is a film that absolutely must be experienced. No description or recounting of the film can do it justice.
How wonderfully awful is this film?
The star of the film was supposed to be Bela Lugosi, but he died after only a couple of his scenes were filmed. So to keep his scenes in the film, his role was reduced and a much taller, younger stand-in was hired. A B-movie actor, a large Swedish wrestler, a horror movie host, and a psychic were the best known faces in the cast. The director was an Angora sweater loving, alcoholic transvestite (who had already made a few terrible films like Glen or Glenda and Bride of The Monster) named Ed Wood. The film was so low budget, cardboard cut outs stood in for tombstones and in some scenes they moved when actors walked near them.
A shower curtain was the main part of the set that was supposed to be an airplane's cockpit. Some paper plates hanging on visible strings were supposed to represent Flying Saucers. Several times inter-cut with scenes filmed at night, were scenes filmed during the day--but were supposed to be at night. You still won't be able to appreciate Plan 9 unless you are remembering that the screenplay resembles something you might get if you took a bunch of not very talented 14 year old kids into the backyard and had them improvise on the spot dialogue from a science fiction movie. No, I take that back. There's a sincere purposefulness in the script that 14-year-olds couldn't possibly improvise.
Plan 9 began in 1956 when Ed Wood (the alcoholic, angora sweater-wearing transvestite director--who I'm sure in a former life sold sugar water tonic as a cure for diabetes), desperate to make an epic movie about Vampires and Space Aliens, convinced Bela Lugosi to shoot some scenes with him outside a home in the San Fernando Valley, and to mimic visiting his dead wife at a cemetery. He had been an avid fan of the aging former horror star and previously convinced him to appear in his films, "Glen or Glenda", and "Bride of the Monster". This time, Ed was going to bring back Bela to films as we all wanted to see him... as a vampire!!!!
Ed and Bela shot the footage in two days. It was silent. Shortly thereafter, Lugosi died. Now most people would not continue to raise funds for a film starring Bela Lugosi, when the star had passed away after filming only a couple of scenes and no dialogue--- but then most people aren't Ed Wood. He scraped enough money together over the next couple of years to begin filming his epic masterpiece. Ed let a chiropractor, who invested some money in the film, double, for his departed star. The much younger and much taller chiropractor would simply hide his face in a black cape, and slick back his hair and no one would be the wiser.
Criswell our beloved narrator-- The Novelty of Criswell's 1950's psychic TV show, which resulted from briefly being a trusted psychic to some Hollywood Stars (including Mae West), and a syndicated columnist, was wearing off. Ed Wood convinced the psychic to make an appearance in his film and act as its narrator. Criswell said yes.
Well known b-movie actor, Larry Talbot who had been in two previous Ed Wood films, agreed to play the Army General in this one. I suppose not many people were asking Vampira - a popular TV horror movie host to be in a movie, so she agreed. He asked Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson to be in yet another one of his films. Tor, who spoke very little English, must have said yes.
A name cast!
Now add Bunny Breckinridge as the slightly effeminate pompous alien Eros, and Joana Lee (who became a successful writer for television) as his female alien side-kick, Gregory Walcott and Mona McKinnon would play the couple who live near the cardboard cemetery. Duke Moore, Paul Marco, Dudley Manlove, Conrad Brooks and others were hired to round out the stellar cast. Some wisely knew to ask for cash at the end of each day of work. They got paid.
Plot: Aliens come to Earth to stop us from blowing up the Sun. Their first eight plans to stop us haven't worked so they will raise the dead and force us to bend to their alien will. But just as the plan is getting started, strange things are discovered, and the local police are involved.
As Criswell says: "There comes a time in every man's life when he just can't believe his eyes."
That's probably how you will feel the first 5 or 6 times you see this movie. And to appreciate all that it offers you will need to watch it at least 5 or 6 times. It's okay; the film gets funnier and more enjoyable with ever viewing. You'll also notice a couple of beautifully constructed and very effective shots in the film. A particularly creepy and memorable scene has Vampira and Tor Johnson moving through a fog enshrouded scene passing by a couple of dead trees.
Was it just an accident that Ed Wood got something right in this film?
Despite it being considered the worst film of all time--it really isn't even close. It's far too much fun and even has a plot and narrative that makes sense--sort of. Worse enjoyable movies would include: Mesa of Lost Women (The Ormonds-- A film which contains a flashback within a flashback emanating from a character who could not have flash backed to the scene in the first place because he wasn't there!) or Robot Monster (Phil Tucker's part 3D film which features an alien that is a Man with panty hose on his face wearing a Gorilla Suit with a Deep Sea Diving Helmet over his face who is trying to eliminate the last few remaining earthlings with his calcinator death ray --a bubble machine from his hide out in Griffith Park's Bronson Cave), Rat Pfink A Boo Boo (the title was created by a mistake which no one had the money to fix and is one of bad filmmaker's Ray Dennis Steckler's most existential works--a movie Godard wished his name was on--perhaps) and several more --not to mention all the films which truly are unwatchable and not any fun at all.
Plan 9 From Outer Space however is considered by many to be the "Citizen Kane of Bad Movies". The pinnacle of cheesy, rotten, so bad it's great camp filmmaking. It is remarkable to consider the time and effort that went into the creation of this and the fact that it was not only distributed but survives and is not only a remembered film but also one that is revered in its own way. It the legacy of Plan 9 and Ed's early career that inspired Tim Burton to make the film Ed Wood in 1994. A film that ended with Plan 9 from Outer Space.
In the late 70's and throughout the 1980's, the appreciation for bad films was at an all-time high. The films of Ed Wood and to a lesser extent Ray Dennis Steckler, Ron Ormond, Phil Tucker and others were made available for special film festivals and on videotape.
Ed Wood wrote and directed just two more conventional films after Plan 9. The first one he did was a pseudo sequel to Plan 9, called Night of the Ghouls a.k.a. Revenge of the Dead and used many of the same cast including Tor Johnson. He couldn't pay the lab the bill for processing it, so it was only in the late 1970's that is re-discovered and made available on videotape and shown (Ed Wood Fans shouldn't miss it). He then wrote and directed an exploitation film about a group of sleazy entrepreneurs who take dirty pictures. It is another great howler of a film called The Sinister Urge (released in 1960).
After that Ed Wood became frustrated alcoholic, bitter and disillusioned about his lack of success. He worked as an assistant director or writer of several skin flicks, which featured topless women. The most famous and widely available of these is 'Orgy of the Dead' (which also features Criswell prominently. Most of this film consists of women in various ghoulish costumes stripping. Ed divorced, lost his house in the Valley and moved into a run-down section of Hollywood (Yucca St: between Hollywood and Franklin). For about twenty years he paid his rent and liquor bills (mostly) by writing lots of pornographic books and making soft-core sexploitation films. He appeared in a few of them, usually playing drooling older voyeur/dirty old men characters. In the late 60's and very early 1970's he was making hard-core porno shorts or loops for Swedish Erotica and others. Towards the end of his life, his ex-wife tried to help Ed who was in ill health and still a terrible alcoholic. He was barely aware there was a cult following for his films when he died in the mid-70's. It was shortly after his death that the Medved brothers wrote The Worst Films of All Times and The Golden Turkey Awards which put Ed Wood back on the map as a one-of-a-kind Hollywood film-maker.
Reviewed by Count Graf Orlock