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Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959)

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Vampira, Dudley Manlove, Gregory Walcott, Criswell

Written and Directed By: Edward D. Wood, Jr.

The Short Version

Here it is: the Gold Standard of “so bad it’s awesome.”

The star was dead before filming started.  That should tell you what you need to know.

This flick demands to be made fun of with friends.  And alcohol.

It really is impossible to make a movie this divinely horrible on purpose… which makes it even better.

Everyone needs to see Plan 9 From Outer Space at least once in their lives.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

ARTISAN SWISS.

Loaded with holes, but delicious.


Pairs Well With...

WILD TURKEY.

Strong booze whose name is as good a two-word description for this movie as one could ever hope for.

“You see?  You see?  Your stupid minds!  Stupid!  STUPID!”


Not all that is sublime is flawless.  Case in point: Edward D. Wood, Jr.’s magnum opus, Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The Golden Turkey Award winner for Worst Film Ever Made (an honor that I swear I’m not making up), Plan 9 From Outer Space is the ultimate expression of wretched filmmaking.  Even Roger Corman never came up with anything this beautifully, wonderfully terrible.  I’m pretty sure that the term “so bad it’s good” was invented for this flick.

Let’s take a tour through the dialogue, shall we?


“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.”


The two most important keys to the greatness of Plan 9 From Outer Space become immediately apparent as the crackpot psychic Criswell delivers these, the opening lines of the film.

First, the script is astronomically bad in ways that just cannot be accomplished in a truly self-aware state, and yet… it makes a bizarre kind of sense that’s delightfully amusing.  Especially if you’ve been drinking.

Second, Criswell – like all of the other performers who will follow him – delivers these horrendous lines with a completely straight face.  If the actors themselves were laughing, or if the people behind the camera gave any indication that they were laughing, the magic would disappear like fog under bright sunshine.  But they play it seriously so you don’t have to, and that’s what makes it painfully funny instead of just plain painful.


“Plan 9?  Ah, yes.  Plan 9 deals with the resurrection of the dead.  Long distance electrodes shot into the pineal and pituitary gland of the recently dead.”


Resurrecting the dead isn’t just a plot point in this flick; it’s also reality.  Ed Wood shot some preliminary footage of his good friend Bela Lugosi without actually having a real movie to use it for yet; tragically, Lugosi died soon after that, before the actual production of Plan 9 From Outer Space began.  Not one to waste good footage of his most bankable star, Wood used what he had (all couple minutes’ worth, much of it several times), gave Lugosi star billing, and had his chiropractor stand in with a cape over his face as a “double”… who happened to be significantly taller than the now-deceased horror legend.  Oops.

This kind of attention to detail and devotion to stock footage are very much recurring elements in Plan 9 From Outer Space.  Why film action sequences when much higher quality stock footage combined with a few inserts of a lone dude on a cheap set will do?


“Why is it so important that you want to contact the governments of our Earth?”

“Because of death.  Because all you of Earth are idiots.”


Speaking of cheap sets…

No attempt to describe the film’s graveyard can truly do it justice.  Such artistic use of rugs in place of dirt, mausoleums that look suspiciously like outhouses, and cheap plywood grave markers has rarely been seen in all but the finest of elementary school drama productions, and the innovative technique of making the fifteen by fifteen patch of… whatever… look like a gigantic cemetery by way of looping footage of people “running” very slowly through it must have been divinely inspired.

But this can’t compare to the amazingly lifelike replica of an airplane cockpit that consists of a couple of folding chairs, a shower curtain (you’ll see that curtain again several times, my friends), a guy holding a headset telephone in his hands, and another guy pretending that a piece of plywood with handlebars is a control mechanism.  Those may be tears of joy running down your cheeks as you behold the splendor, my friends.

And that’s before you play the drinking game of taking a shot every time the film switches from night to day to night to day to night to day and so on and so forth during the same sequence.  (Pro tip: don’t actually do this; you’ll pass out in under two minutes.)


“But one thing's sure.  Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and someone's responsible.”


It should go without saying that the deceased Mr. Lugosi is far and away the most talented actor in this flick, but that doesn’t prevent others from trying very hard to steal the show.  Consider the unlikely wife of Lugosi’s character, played by Vampira, who never says a word and never alters her facial expression… not that whatever was cinching up her apparently twelve inch waistline would have allowed her the breath the do either.  Or, there’s pro wrestler Tor Johnson – that’s his real home being standing in for Lugosi’s – as Inspector Clay, whose own undead expression looks like that of a man surprised by Montezuma’s Revenge, and whose dialogue is almost incomprehensible even before one tries to decipher Ed Wood’s scripted prose.

Prefer the living?  The evil mastermind of Plan 9 is the unfortunately named Dudley Manlove playing the unfortunately named alien commander, Eros, and his scene-devouring performance is truly a wonder to behold.  He’s so sincere in his blustering and he tries so hard and he really does have a fantastic voice (which gave him decent success on the radio), but when it comes to acting on camera, the results are so awful that they might qualify for Federal disaster funding.  If less passionate bluster is your thing, on the side of the angels we have a block of testosterone-soaked wood calling himself Gregory Walcott playing the role of Our Hero… even though the extent of the character’s heroism seems to be showing up and doing nothing.

Whatever your favorite flavor of acting cheez may be, you’ll find it in this cinematic party platter.


“Take a can of your gasoline.  Say this can of gasoline is the sun.  Now, you spread a thin line of it to a ball, representing the Earth.  Now, the gasoline represents the sunlight, the sun particles. Here we saturate the ball with the gasoline, the sunlight.  Then we put a flame to the ball.  The flame will speedily travel around the Earth, back along the line of gasoline to the can, or the sun itself.  It will explode this source and spread to every place that gasoline, our sunlight, touches.  Explode the sunlight here, gentlemen, you explode the universe.  Explode the sunlight here and a chain reaction will occur direct to the sun itself and to all the planets that sunlight touches, to every planet in the universe.  This is why you must be stopped.  This is why any means must be used to stop you.”


Did I mention that this plot and this script are really, really stupid?  Do yourself a favor and don’t make a drinking game of taking a shot every time this script gets the science wrong.  And try not the think about how the sun is apparently the only star in the universe.  And stuff.

You probably don’t want to do the math about how long it would take for Plan 9 to actually succeed, either, given the slow speed at which the dead are raised and the fact that the “invasion fleet” is reduced from three ships to one.

Ed Wood called this flick his pride and joy, ladies and gents.


“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!”


The highlight reel above barely scratches the surface of the ridiculous joy that is Plan 9 From Outer Space.  If you have any appreciation of the phrase “so bad it’s good,” this flick is a must-see experience.  (If you’re really lucky, maybe you’ve got a classic movie theatre in town that’ll play this on a big screen at midnight.  That’s how I got to see it last.)  It’s the kind of sublime foolishness that can never be achieved on purpose, but rather, only through the special magic of a filmmaker who truly doesn’t realize (or at least admit) just how terrible his or her work really is.  Others have tried, but none have equaled the Zen mastery of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Bottom line, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the ultimate achievement in awesomely bad filmmaking.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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