Toys of the 1960's
Plan 9 From Outer Space
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?"
With these ominous words from the worlds least reliable psychic in the world, Criswell, we are introduced to Plan 9 from Outer Space, widely regarded as the worst piece of science fiction ever devised.
Plan 9 was barely noticed by reviewers on the occasion of its release in 1959; even its claim to be the last film of Bela Lugosi did little to stimulate interest. Times have changed, however. Ask any film fan about Plan 9 now though and chances are they will not only have heard of it but will tell you that it is the worst film ever made. The very worst film of all time? That's a lofty claim, but with Plan 9 it seems warranted. It's been topping polls of the worst films ever since the 70's and delighting fans of bad cinema for decades.
It took the creative genius of Ed Wood to fashion a film of this quality. Ed Wood was a colorful character, to say the least. A distinguished marine as well as an almost-closet transvestite, a darling of the fringe Hollywood scene and creator of some fairly unremarkable and tatty films, Ed Wood was to leave his mark on cinema forever with such mind-blowing fare as Glen Or Glenda and Bride of the Monster.
The plot of Plan 9 From Outer Space goes like this: eight previous attempts to invade Earth have failed and now the alien invaders have come up with their 9th and most cunning plan. They will send two aliens to resurrect the dead and turn them on us. You have to wonder what the other eight plans were. The aliens travel via flying saucer, artfully represented by plastic models (not paper plates!) and hubcaps. These wonky saucers wobble overhead while out of work actors just happy to be in the warm for a while point in different directions to give the impression that they are viewing various interplanetary invaders. A flashlight is shown to simulate the movement of the saucers but unfortunately the actors and the light seem not to be able to coordinate their actions. The full might of the Army is thrown at the invaders represented by ample stock movie footage but alas the aliens cannot be bested by our feeble technology. What's really needed is a human plan of incredible subtlety and cunning.
To this end Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) bursts into the landed saucer and chins the alien with a good left hook which causes an unexplained fire to break out and the saucer is subsequently destroyed, killing off the two aliens who arrived in three flying saucers. Sounds pretty coherent when you lay it out like that, but believe me when I say that Plan 9 is nothing short of pure comedy, mostly due to the effects but helped along by the speeches. I won't call them 'dialog' because dialog generally has one person reacting to what the other person has said. Ed Wood wisely ignored this and the actors spout some hillarious lines, barely any of which relate to anything the viewer is seeing.
To start to explain the abysmal quality on show here, and therefore its enduring appeal, the scenery is as good a place as any to start. Ed Wood cleverly reuses the same single wall as a UFO interior, a graveyard wall, the inside of a house and even as the sky. The graveyard itself is a good example of the scenery, lights and cushions can be seen from time to time but the amazing paper gravestones are a work of genius. One might suspect that Ed might feel the need to reshoot a scene where one of them is kicked over and bent but not a bit of it, the show goes on. The UFO's have already been mentioned but the visibility of the wires holding them up is quite amazing to behold. Towards the end of the film we are treated to flying saucers bobbing around a ball which we are led to believe is supposed to represent a planet.
Plan 9 was touted as the last film of Bela Lugosi and this is true only in the most legalistic sense. True, Bela Lugosi didn't appear in any films after this one by virtue of being dea,d but he only appears in this for around 90 seconds, which hardly constitutes a performance. This didn't worry Wood though, as he cunningly he used a double to fill in for Lugosi. Unfortunately the double was considerably taller, looked nothing like the star and had absolutely no acting experience at all. Cunningly, he hid his appearance by holding a big black cape in front of his face.
There is so much to like in Plan 9 that it's almost impossible to list its every virtue but let's not forget minor technical shortcomings like the random transitions between day and night, the incoherent dialog, and the presence of Criswell. Criswell was a tv 'psychic' who made such accurate predictions as the presence of entirely homosexual cities by the year 2000, an interplanetary conference hosted in Hollywood by 1970, and numerous other spot-on visions. In Plan 9 he floridly proclaims such great lines as "Future events such as these will affect you in the future" and other such inanity. This kind of gibberish isn't just restricted to him though, when the pilots wife is trying to persuade her husband to go after the aliens and leave her alone to be inevitably kidnapped she twitters "Now off you to your wild blue yonders!"
Plan 9 is rightly revered as a film of astounding shoddyness, from the moral bankrupcy involved in exploiting the death of the troubled Bela Lugosi to the shameless poverty of the script, acting and effects this is a classic piece of bad moviemaking. Bad movie fans will be hard pressed to find a worse example of the genre. And strangely enjoyable it is too, despite all its shortcomings it moves along at a fair pace which is more than can be said for many similar equally cheap efforts and by virtue of that it is just one laugh after another.