|Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Vampira, Criswell, Lyle Talbot, John Breckinridge, Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Tom Keene
Director: Ed Wood
“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. 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 bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, 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 of grave robbers from outer space?”
Given that you know all, Criswell, answer me this: is “Plan 9 from Outer Space” truly the worst movie of all time?
From this writer’s perspective, it’s a tough call, as the competition’s gotten pretty tough over the years…but, at the very least, the passing of 47 years has in no way diminished the sheer crappiness of this film.
“Plan 9” is the work of the legendary Edward “Ed” Wood, Jr., a well-intentioned auteur whose desire to make movies was in no way hampered by his inability to write realistic dialogue or his seeming lack of desire to ever do a second take, no matter how awful the first take may have been. Tim Burton paid tribute to the man with a biopic starring Johnny Depp as Ed Wood, and if you’ve seen it, you might still find yourself skeptical that the real “Plan 9” looks as cheaply made as it does within Burton’s film. Believe it, baby; the budget can’t have been more than a few thousand dollars. Although Wood has quite an impressive filmography that’s chock full of bad films, like “Orgy of the Dead,” “Glen or Glenda,” and “Bride of the Monster,” it’s “Plan 9” that’s gotten all the glory, and, well, it deserves every bit of it.
Trying to follow the plot of the film is a challenge. There’s this old guy, and his wife dies, and then he dies, and then there are these flying saucers, and the next thing you know, we find out there’s a plot about aliens trying to conquer earth by raising the dead. Bela Lugosi plays the old guy, sort of. What I mean to say is, Lugosi died after filming maybe five minutes worth of footage, so Wood got some guy who didn’t look anything at all like Lugosi (a dentist named Tom Mason) to play his part by holding a cape in front of his face…except that he looks so little like Lugosi that it’s painfully obvious that it isn’t him we’re seeing.
As far as some of the other cast members, thank heavens for the small favor that Tor Johnson’s character is killed off early in the film and becomes a non-speaking zombie; when he’s alive, his delivery – as Inspector Dan Clay – is so mush-mouthed that you can’t understand half of what he’s saying. Vampira, meanwhile, has no dialogue at all, though she still manages to overact, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment, actually. Truth be told, there isn’t a single decent actor anywhere in this production…but particularly bad are leading man Gregory Walcott as pilot Dan Trent and the brilliantly-named Dudley Manlove, who takes the role of alien invader Eros and chews scenery like nobody’s business.
As noted above, Wood was the kind of writer – he wrote, directed, and produced “Plan 9,” by the way – who would never use a few words when several dozen would say the same thing in a far more long-winded fashion. He also never seemed to know when to stop a sentence. At one point, an Army colonel is talking about an earlier alien landing, where he says, “For a time we tried to contact them by radio, but no response. Then they attacked a town. A small town, I'll admit, but nevertheless a town of people. People who died." How about just saying, “They attacked a town, killing everyone”? Nah, too easy. Plus, unlike flicks these days that can get away with rotten dialogue because the special effects keep the viewer occupied, this is a film with cardboard sets and paper-plate flying saucers. No, really, that’s a paper plate on a string…and you can see the string!
“Plan 9 from Outer Space” is so bad it’s good. No, scratch that. It’s brilliant. You won’t believe it until you’ve seen it for yourself.
If you’re going to watch a truly awful movie, it’s best to watch the best possible print of said movie…and, by God, that’s what the folks at Legend Films have provided with this new reissue, which provides both color and black-and-white versions of the film. Going with the theory that since everyone knows how bad the movie is, it’s okay to make fun of it, Legend has hired “Mystery Science Theater 3000”’s token human, Mike Nelson, to provide audio commentary for the film. (Initial editions of the DVD are autographed by Nelson as well.) He gleefully jokes about Bela Lugosi’s well-documented heroin use, taunts Tor Johnson for his girth and his accent, and…well, basically, if you’ve ever seen an episode of “MST3K,” you know what you’re in for. Also included are a few of Ed Wood’s home movies, a couple of commercials directed by the man, and, courtesy of Nelson, “deleted scenes” (regular scenes slightly tweaked) as well as the never-before-revealed Plans 1 through 8. How shocking that Plan 2, involving the resurrection of dead squirrels, didn’t take.