There are a lot of bad movies out there. There are a lot of good movies, too, but use whatever cliché you’d like: you can’t score a touchdown on every play, even the best have their off days, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, you can’t win ’em all…take your pick, the bottom line is that some movies are really good, some movies are average, and some movies are really bad. ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ is a movie that its director, Ed Wood, thought for sure would land in the “really good” category, but he was plagued with problems throughout the movie, including: a disastrous script that he refused to let anyone else re-write or add to; one of his “name” stars, Bela Lugosi, died during production of the movie, but Wood simply re-wrote the script to fit what scenes had already been shot; and he skimped on production costs, especially in the special effects and editing departments. The resulting movie is an amazingly accurate guide on the exact wrong way a movie should look, feel, and sound.
‘Plan 9’ is a film near and dear to my heart, but let’s not mince words here: the movie is an absolute disaster from start to finish. The editing is haphazard, with sections going from night to day at random in mid-scene. The special effects are anything but special, with the prime example being the flying saucers going across the screen with strings clearly attached to them. The dialogue is a joke, with actors saying lines that not only make no sense, the actors clearly don’t even believe the things they are saying. But somehow the movie rides that fine line of being terrible without being boring; it’s so bad, it’s actually fun to watch. It’s amazing to think that Wood seriously thought that he could cut all of these corners and skimp on all these costs and still produce a quality movie that people would want to see.
Let me quickly give you a little more information about the scenes involving Bela Lugosi, as this is a part of this film that really intrigues me. Lugosi had filmed only a few days worth of scenes for the at-that-time untitled movie, and Ed Wood had decided he wanted Lugosi to play a vampire-type character, most likely trying to feed of off Lugosi’s previous success at portraying Dracula on the big screen. The scenes they had filmed were few: Lugosi looking distraught at a funeral, Lugosi skulking around a graveyard while making various Dracula-esue poses, and Lugosi sneakily entering a house (through the front door, granted, but he looked awfully sneaky while doing it). Lugosi passed away and Wood decided to write the rest of the movie around the scenes he’d already shot with him; Wood couldn’t decide on the tone he wanted for the movie, so Lugosi’s vampire became an undead zombie (one of three total in the film, narrowly making this movie a “zombie film”) that had been reanimated by aliens that seemed to fly over Hollywood nightly, yet the general public could not recall seeing them. The character Lugosi played was a bigger piece of the film than the few scenes he had shot, and his character was needed in other scenes. So, Wood had his chiropractor (who was definitely NOT the same height or body type as Lugosi) play Lugosi’s character in these other scenes, using the vampire cape draped over his arm to conceal his face and hide the fact that the actor underneath was in fact not Bela Lugosi. This just added to the haphazard “feel” of the movie; in one shot, Lugosi would be rambling towards the camera in the graveyard in the daytime, and then the camera would change angles and the “Lugosi Stand-In” would be walking through what was very clearly a different graveyard set, in the nighttime no less!
There have been interviews, retrospectives, websites, and even entire novel-length books devoted to how ‘Plan 9’ went so wrong. I could spend tens of thousands of words here giving you little bits of trivia and telling you about the tales surrounding this movie. The bottom line is, ‘Plan 9’ is largely regarded as the worst movie of all time, and it owes a great deal of that title to the fact that it’s director so adamantly thought that it was going to be a success. Let’s face it – most movie-type folks, when they put out a stinker, know that their movie isn’t going to win any awards, but Ed Wood was the opposite – he defended ‘Plan 9’ to the bitter end as a fantastical movie that could be a huge hit with movie-goers and a commercial success for him (the biographical film ‘Ed Wood’ sheds much light onto the director and his interesting life, focusing a sizable chunk of its time on ‘Plan 9’ related time). Obviously he was wrong, but it was spectacularly wrong he was that makes it entertaining to watch what is, in all other aspects, such a terrible, terrible film, one very deserving of a conversation of “Worst Film of All Time.”
While it is certainly entertaining to watch how a movie that thought it would be so good actually be so bad, watching this film for its actual entertainment value, there is absolutely none. The plot is paper-thin, the lines are terrible and nonsensical (“Future events such as these will affect us all in the future” is just one small example, but one of my favorites)… if I was a movie-goer in a theater expecting to see a “Hollywood” movie and I got this instead, I would absolutely walk out, probably well before the halfway mark. And don’t even ask about original content – there’s absolutely none. Wood just took what he thought looked good and could be considered “fantastical” – zombies, aliens, vampire-looking people, police chases, Hollywood – and mashed them all together with no clear purpose in mind.
The movie was largely funded by a church, and as a result, many members of the church (read: non-actors) were given parts to “re-pay” the contributions. The aliens are utterly laughable, the police men look like they couldn’t catch a donut rolling away from them let alone real criminals, and the civilians stand around and wait to deliver their lines before going back to blankly staring at the camera. The best performance of the movie is given by Vampira, and she didn’t have a single line – her sold duty was to walk around with her arms outstretched looking like a hot (-ish) zombie. And as far as editing and special effects go? Well, if you couldn’t tell by the previous rants, this movie is a hot mess. It’s almost like someone cut up the entire film and then spliced it back together blindfolded. Days turn into nights turn back into days all during the same scene, flying saucers have visible strings attached to them, aliens in said saucers sit on chairs and have office furniture that look old even by 1950s standards, and stock footage is used in mass amounts like it’s going out of style.
If I were a reviewer in the 1950s, I would have given “Plan 9 from Outer Space” a 0/10. Oddly enough, though, I highly recommend that everyone in the present time watches this movie at some point, just for the sheer experience of having your brain say “What the–?” for 78 minutes straight. I’ll leave you with the closing monologue of the movie, which I think sums up the feeling of everything quite nicely:
“My friend, you have seen this incident, based on sworn testimony. Can you prove that it didn’t happen? Perhaps, on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it… for they will be from outer space!”
Tony Schaab firmly believes that a viewing of ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ should be a mandatory bi-weekly experience and that a re-read-through of the original 7 manga volumes of the story should occupy every off week. A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Facebook and Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.