Home > Uncategorized > Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

            Of all of the terrible directors that have ever come and gone, Edward D. Wood Jr. is the grand-daddy of them all.  I am by no means an Ed Wood aficionado.  I have seen “Bride of the Monster,” “Glen or Glenda,” and “The Sinister Urge,” but I am not a historian of his personal life.  The bulk of my knowledge about Ed Wood comes from his Wikipedia article, and the fantastic Tim Burton biopic starring Johnny Depp, simply titled “Ed Wood.”  In that movie, Ed is a romantic, hopelessly longing for Gothic horror in the Atomic age.  He idolizes Orson Wells, and tries to advance the genre of horror, as Wells advanced the art of the dramatic picture.  The difference between Wells and Wood is that Wood seems to be totally incapable of discriminating between quality and crap.  To Wood, everything, no matter how bad or idiosyncratic, is the greatest thing he has ever done.  This absence of a discerning eye is exemplified perfectly in “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” a movie so inept and lacking in coherence, that it is considered by many to be the worst movie ever made.

            Hollywood is thrown into a panic when citizens begin spotting flying saucers supported by fishing line in the night sky.  It seems that the pilots of these flying saucers have discovered that human scientists are about to invent a weapon that could accidentally destroy the entire universe.  In order to stop the foolish humans, the aliens raise an army of the dead, comprised of former television movie hostess, Vampira, and Ed Wood’s girlfriend’s chiropractor.  It seems that the human race is ill equipped to deal with the alien menace, because humanity’s hope comes in the form of bumbling police detectives who like to use their revolvers to scratch themselves and point at stuff.  The foolish gumshoes say things like, “one thing’s for sure; Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.”  With deductive reasoning like that on our side, the aliens better get out of Dodge while they still can.  But, of course, the ornery extraterrestrials stick around, and the audience is given a glimpse inside the mother ship.  The aliens dress like extras from a Robin Hood movie and live in an environment laden with 50’s office furniture, Tesla Coils, and ham radio equipment, proof of their intellectual superiority.  The aliens operate on the constant assumption that the human race is so stupid, that it can’t possibly understand the advanced weapons that it is developing.  Huh?  Through radio messages, the aliens remind us of our inferiority without ever using a single contraction.  This command of the English language is dwarfed only by the poor execution of the movie itself.

            It is beyond my understanding why Ed Wood decided to shoot the majority of the grave yard scenes on a sound stage.  The cemetery set takes the movie down many notches.  It is comprised of a large black back drop, a fabric flooring covered in straw, and head stones constructed from flimsy Styrofoam.  A constant haze of bee keeper smoke masks the black back drop, but the haze can’t cover up the head stones that are constantly jostled and knocked over by the actors.  Not only is the set unconvincing, but it is too small.  Wood tried to film chase sequences on this set, and ended up having to repeat shots to make the scenes long enough.  This creates the illusion that the actors are running past the same head stones over and over again (which they are).  Also, as bad guys go, the reanimated dead in Plan 9 are totally preposterous.  Their power lies in their ability to select victims who simply don’t run away.  The poor souls just stand there screaming as the monsters slowly walk up to them, and strike them dead with a firm whack on the shoulder.  Brutal.

            I think that ultimately, the story of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is a tragic one.  Ed Wood shot a short reel of footage with long time friend, and recovering drug addict, Bela Lugosi, of Dracula fame.  This footage was to be part of a vampire film that Wood was developing.  The project was scraped however, after Lugosi passed in 1956.  Before Plan 9 was finished, Wood stubbornly included the footage in his movie, even though the footage was silent and made no sense within the context of the film.  Wood’s girlfriend’s chiropractor served as Lugosi’s stand-in throughout the remainder of the film with the bottom of his face covered by a cape.  I am sure Wood had no intention of dishonoring the memory of his dear, late friend, but the inappropriate inclusion of this mismatched footage exemplifies the carelessness of Wood’s films.  Instead of simply casting an actor that would be there throughout the shooting of the picture, Wood decided to jeopardize the film’s continuity by casting a second actor just so he could include the Lugosi shots.  Wood himself continued to direct schlock for the rest of his career, never attaining the success of his hero, Orson Wells.  Still, Wood occupies his own place in the film canon as ‘One of the Greatest,’ even if the second part of that title reads, ‘Bad Directors of All Time.’       

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