I strongly considered not covering this movie for this month’s theme. Not because it’s not hilarious, but because pretty much everyone in the bad movie culture talks about this one at some point. There’s really not much I can add to this. But considering this is meant to be an introduction to hilariously bad movies, and Plan 9 from Outer Space is the prime example of hilariously bad, I’ve got to talk about it.
Plan 9 from Outer Space is directed by Edward Davis Wood Jr. (generally known as Ed Wood), who directed a number of ultra low-budget science fiction, horror, and crime films between the 1950’s and 1960’s. Most of his films remained obscure even after his death in 1978, but after the Golden Turkey Award book from 1980 named him the Worst Director of All-Time, a number of his films gained a cult status.
Wood’s earliest known film is Glen or Glenda, and it’s a semi-autobiography. Long story short, when Wood was a child, his mother often dressed him up in women’s clothing, disappointed that she never had a daughter. He continued wearing women’s clothing for most of his life, although at first he limited it to underwear, hiding it under his men’s wear. Glen or Glenda was supposed to be about a transsexual, but he turned it into a transvestite film about a man named Glen, who’d often dress as Glenda. It’s a terrible movie, with bizarre dialogue, an out of place horror dream sequence, and the over-the-hill Bela Lugosi acting as a narrator.
On that note, Lugosi was a legendary actor of Hungarian descent most known for playing Count Dracula in the 1931 film, but saw his career decline after Britain banned horror films, while Hollywood studios booked him less often due to his thick accent.
Some of Wood’s other notorious films include Bride of the Monster, where Lugosi plays a mad scientist, Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson plays his mute servant, “Lobo”, and the two of them are trying to create a “race of atomic supermen which will conquer the world.” There’s its sequel, Night of the Ghouls. Jail Bait is a film noir, involving themes of plastic surgery and identity theft, and it’s generally considered Wood’s best film in terms of quality. His last mainstream film is the exploitation film, The Sinister Urge.
After The Sinister Urge, Wood pretty much directed straight porn for the rest of his life, and tended to earn more money from his novels than his movies. That trend started with Orgy of the Dead, which is basically just 90 minutes of topless women dancing, with Wood’s friend and TV psychic The Amazing Criswell narrating.
Criswell is interesting in his own right. He was known for his bizarre predictions, odd speech patterns, and sources saying that he never claimed to be a real psychic, even if some of his fellow Plan 9 co-stars believed he was. Some of his predictions include that in the year 2000, Denver Colorado would be struck by a ray from space that would turn all of its metal into rubber, and that mass cannibalism would end life on planet earth, starting in 1999. That said, he predicted in March of 1963 that John F. Kennedy would not run for re-election because something would happen to him that November, and that’s the month Kennedy was assassinated.
Anyway, Plan 9 From Outer Space is without a doubt Wood’s most ambitious film. It started off as an epic film, similar to the likes of Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. However with his reputation for being a trash director, he struggled to find a producer for the film. He eventually got funding from J. Edward Reynolds, a devout Southern Baptist, who strongly disliked the original title, Grave Robbers from Outer Space. Wood both changed the title and underwent a full-body baptism to gain the favour of his producer, and several cast members did likewise.
Plan 9 also happens to be Bela Lugosi’s final film. He was working with Wood on a handful of half-realized projects, one of which was The Vampire’s Tomb, but another would be a more dramatic film, showing Lugosi weeping at a funeral. However, being a drug addict for years, Lugosi died of a heart attack while taking a nap before either project could be completed. Wood inserted those shots into Plan 9, but someone needed to take over for him for the rest of the movie. Enter Tom Mason, a chiropractor who went uncredited for this movie, but would be credited for several performances in several of Wood’s later films. They met because Mason happened to be Kathy O’Hara’s chiropractor, who was Wood’s girlfriend at the time. Wood and O’Hara did eventually marry, and remained together until Wood’s death.
Gregory Walcott, who actually enjoyed an extensive career, is probably best known for his role here as the main character, Jeff Trent. The wrestler, Johnson, also appeared in this movie as Inspector Daniel Clay. Duke Moore, who spent his entire on-screen career in Ed Wood Films, plays a cop. Tom Keene, who spent most of his career in Western B-movies, also plays a cop. Maila Nurmi, better known as Vampira (TV’s first ever horror host) plays a character only referred to as Vampire Girl. Dudley Manlove plays Eros, one of the main aliens. Bynny Breckingridge, a drag queen and personal friend of Wood’s plays the overall leader of the aliens in his only film role.
The long and short of this movie’s story is, aliens have arrived on Earth to try to stop us humans from developing a weapon known as the solaronite. It’s a weapon that “explodes sunlight molecules”. To quote Eros, “Explode the sunlight here, gentlemen, you explode the universe.” So what is their plan? Resurrect a total of 3 people as zombies. I’m sure with a bigger budget, there would have been a lot more, but that’s all we ever see – three zombies.
Everything about this movie is completely inept. The script is bizarre. The sets are pretty much made of cardboard. The miniatures used for the UFO’s were toys. The film’s only true battle sequence is a mix of stock footage and some dude standing in front of a wall, holding binoculars. The movie is so cheap that when someone accidentally knocks over a wooden tombstone, they keep it in the movie anyway.
There are so many stories about this movie’s creation that are worth exploring further. For that, instead of telling you any more, allow me to recommend 1994’s Ed Wood. It’s a biographical comedy-drama film about Ed Wood’s early career, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as Ed Wood. There’s also Bill Murray as Breckinridge, Patricia Arquette as Kathy O’hara, and Martin Landau, who actually won an Academy Award for portraying Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.
On that note, Ed Wood also won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.
As for Plan 9 from Outer Space, there’s a reason it’s got a legendary status in the so bad it’s good fandom. Every single moment in this movie is a disaster, yet at the same time, you can feel the ambition and passion behind this project. You can tell that Ed Wood was trying to make something special. He was trying to make something profound. At the same time, through the combination of his ineptitude and his constant struggles to get his films made, they’re all some form of terrible or another.
After a brief release in Los Angeles in 1957, and a slightly wider release in 1959, the movie slipped into obscurity for years. Sometimes they featured it in a double feature with Time Lock (an early Sean Connery film), The Trap, and Devil Girl from Mars. For decades, it only appeared on TV. Although it’s become quite famous now, it’s also in the public domain. As such, you can legally watch the movie for free on YouTube. As such, in case you want to see the movie, here’s a YouTube link.
Plan 9 From Outer Space is a great introduction to the world of hilariously bad movies. It’s got everything you could possibly hope for. Disastrous takes making the final cut. Blatant continuity errors. Some of Tor Johnson’s lines are completely unintelligible. While Bride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda are the only two other Wood movies I’ve seen, I’d recommend them both as well. I would also highly recommend the previously mentioned Ed Wood movie, because it’s both funny in its own right, and it’s legitimately good.
As with last week’s blog post, I won’t be telling you what’s coming next. All I’ll say is that next week’s review will be for a hilariously bad movie that I haven’t seen before, even though I’ve wanted to for a long time.