Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).
“Plan 9 From Outer Space” is the piece de resistance of the Ed Wood ouevre. And if you think French words are a little too high-falutin’ to be used in talking about his movies, you’re probably right. But Wood’s distinctively idiosyncratic filmmaking voice also deserves another French label — auteur.
For the uninitiated (and you shouldn’t be — find a way to watch this if you can), here’s the movie in a nutshell. A small band of self-righteous aliens try to take over the Earth using reanimated corpses in an effort to stop humans from developing a weapon that could destroy the universe. It stars Gregory Walcott, Lyle Talbot, Tor Johnson, Vampira, Criswell and horror legend Bela Lugosi in his last role. (Lugosi’s part is actually taken from a couple reels of test footage Wood shot of him before Lugosi’s death, which Wood then tried to plot around.)
“Plan 9” is famous for being considered the worst movie ever made. But don’t believe that; it’s just the trendy choice. Sure, all the bad movie elements are there — ludicrous dialogue, wooden acting, pie plates on a string, the chiropractor pretending to be Lugosi — but there are plenty of films even worse. Start with “The Beast of Yucca Flats,” “The Creeping Terror” or “Robot Monster” and keeping digging; you’re bound to uncover many more.
But what separates “Plan 9” from them and keeps it from being a truly bad movie is that it’s just so much fun. It’s actually a joy to watch, which is something you can’t say about those others. Wood, for all his faults, had a flamboyant, out-sized personality that was contagious. All those working with him picked it up and together they brought that to the screen. Wood’s movies, particularly those made before his descent into alcoholism, have a bouncy, energetic spirit that easily compensates for whatever incompetence they might display. You find yourself laughing with them just as much as laughing at them, which is a rare feat.
And it’s that spirit that makes Wood’s body of work so worthy of rediscovery and examination. He’s certainly the king of the B-movie auteurs, more so than Coleman Francis, Ted V. Mikels or Fred Olen Ray. (Ray Dennis Steckler comes close, but that’s a topic for another post.)
There’s something distinctly American about Ed Wood’s inexhaustible self-esteem and can-do attitude. That’s why “Plan 9” deserves its place alongside “Citizen Kane,” “Midnight Cowboy” and other essential American movies. Believe it.
Eros the alien explaining how stupid Earthlings are.
Lugosi supplied his own wardrobe for the test footage, wearing one of the same capes he wore 30 years earlier for his star-making performances in the stage version of “Dracula.”
Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1995) and the documentary “Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora” (1994).
Take a Look:
The classic opening, featuring celebrity psychic hack Criswell: