Director: Ed Wood
Original Title: –
In California, an old man (Bela Lugosi) grieves the loss of his wife (Vampira) and on the next day he also dies. However, the space soldier Eros and his mate Tanna use an electric device to resurrect them both and the strong Inspector Clay who was murdered by the couple. Their intention is not to conquer Earth but to stop mankind from developing the powerful bomb “Solaranite” that would threaten the universe. When the population of Hollywood and Washington DC sees flying saucers in the sky, a colonel, a police lieutenant, a commercial pilot, his wife and a policeman try to stop the aliens.
I really don’t know what to say about this that haven’t been said before. I love this movie, but then I’m a sucker for “bad” movies that wasn’t meant to be bad … or comedic. A movie where the director thought he made something great, but fails miserably. So movies like Sharknado, that was meant to be a kind of bad b-movie, is not for me at all.
So what’s not to like? Tombstones made out of cardboard, A Swedish wrestler who can’t act, Boom mikes showing, Toy UFO’s and much, much more goodies throughout the movie.
The film played for years in relative obscurity on late-night television until 1980, when critic Michael Medved dubbed it the worst film ever made. Almost instantly, a cult classic was created.
The film’s actual copyright is 1957. It previewed as “Grave Robbers from Outer Space” at the Carlton Theater in Los Angeles on March 15, 1957. It went into general release in July 1959, on a double bill with Time Lock (1957), which featured a pre-James Bond Sean Connery.
The “tombstones” in the cemetery were styrofoam and cardboard props. A couple of times during the film they can be seen bouncing or falling over when brushed by the passing actors.
Due to its mixed use of stock footage, there is no technically correct aspect ratio in which this film can be shown. While the material shot for this film is framed for matted widescreen – and presenting the film at around 1.75:1 removes many of its visible errors – this in turn over-crops the stock footage, which was produced years earlier in 1.33:1.
AND EVEN MORE TRIVIA …
1. IT WAS BELA LUGOSI’S LAST MOVIE
A lifelong Bela Lugosi fan, Ed Wood was able to cast his idol in 1953’s Glen or Glenda. Two years later, the director gave him a Dr. Frankenstein-like role in Bride of the Monster. For his next film, Wood once again wanted Lugosi to take center stage. At the California home of Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson—who’d also appeared in Bride of the Monster—Wood shot a handful of very brief scenes, all starring Lugosi. Depending on who’s telling the story, this footage was either intended for Plan 9 or for an unmade movie called The Vampire’s Tomb. Regardless, Lugosi sadly didn’t live to see any of it reach the silver screen. The horror icon died of a heart attack in August 16, 1956. Endlessly resourceful, Wood threw all of his existing Lugosi shots into Plan 9 from Outer Space.
2. A CHIROPRACTOR PLAYED LUGOSI’S DOUBLE.
Production on Plan 9 from Outer Space began in earnest after Lugosi’s death. Since he was no longer around to film certain scenes, Wood recruited chiropractor Tom Mason as a substitute. Physically, he wasn’t a perfect stand-in; Mason was noticeably taller than Lugosi (a fact that Wood tried to disguise by having him hunch over). But the good doctor made sure to mask his face under a cape at all times.
3. ITS ORIGINAL TITLE WAS DEEMED SACRILEGIOUS.
The film, about aliens who try to conquer Earth by reanimating human corpses and turning them against the living, was given the working title Grave Robbers from Outer Space. But most of the movie’s funding came from J. Edward Reynolds, a devout Southern Baptist, whose religious sensibilities were offended by the title. So Wood changed it to Plan 9 from Outer Space. To further improve his relationship with the financier, Wood underwent a full-body baptism at Reynolds’ church. Several cast members did likewise—including Johnson, who pranked the minister by pretending to drown mid-ceremony.
4. IN SOME VERSIONS OF THE FILM, YOU CAN SEE THE SHADOW OF A BOOM MIKE IN THE BACKGROUND.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Plan 9 has numerous bloopers. For example, the grave scenes use plywood tombstones, which wobble throughout the movie. But Wood’s team wasn’t responsible for every error. Early on, we see our hero—pilot Jeff Trent—flying a plane when a huge burst of light almost blinds him. Viewers may also notice that, as he recoils, a boom microphone shadow appears on the back wall of the cockpit. Look carefully, and you’ll also observe that Trent’s co-pilot is holding a copy of the script in his lap. Both of these gaffes were created when Plan 9 was converted to a film and TV-friendly format. Neither the script nor the boom mike shadow appeared in the original theatrical version. Unfortunately, the aspect ratio changes made to Plan 9 for its video and TV releases suddenly rendered both of these things visible.
5. THOSE FLYING SAUCERS WERE STORE-BOUGHT TOYS
It has been suggested that Wood made his economical-looking spaceships out of hubcaps, pie tins, or dinner plates. But actually, they were just UFO model kits someone had picked up at a hobby shop. The “build-it-yourself” saucers were part of a mass-produced, 1956 line from toy manufacturer Paul Lindberg.
6. MAILA NURMI (A.K.A. VAMPIRA) DEMANDED A SILENT ROLE
Plan 9 is filled with classic lines like “Future events such as these will affect you in the future” and “All you of Earth are idiots!” (Eat your heart out, Shakespeare!) From start to finish, though, the movie’s biggest star is dead quiet. TV’s first horror host, Maila Nurmi had gotten her big break on the Los Angeles station KABC as “Vampira.” Alluring and ghoulish, the character’s weekly show earned huge ratings during the 1950s. In Plan 9, Nurmi plays a similar role. Yet whereas Vampira had a silky, seductive voice, Nurmi’s Plan 9 character (a revived cadaver) never makes a peep. The actress later claimed that Wood had given her some dialogue at the onse, but she didn’t like the material he’d written, so insisted on staying mute.
7. TOR JOHNSON’S PHONY SCARS KEPT MIGRATING
After Inspector Clay (Johnson) is killed off, his semi-mangled corpse rises up and attacks some hapless police officers. For these sequences, makeup wizard Harry Thomas gave the actor some hideous-looking fake bruises. “The scars were created on Tor’s face with cotton spirit gum and collodion,” Thomas said in the 1992 documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The ‘Plan 9’ Companion. “You have to be careful because sometimes collodion will burn, especially if it’s used over the same area more than once.” Throughout the shoot, Thomas was constantly moving the false scars slightly to the left or right. In doing so, he prevented Johnson from getting any real ones.
8. IT TOOK FANS ALMOST 40 YEARS TO FIGURE OUT WHO COMPOSED THE SCORE
Like most low-budget 1950s flicks, Plan 9 from Outer Space doesn’t have an original soundtrack. Instead, it uses a composite score pieced together from assorted bits of stock music. Music supervisor Gordon Zahler assembled Plan 9’s instrumental tracks on the cheap. Yet, after the fact, he failed to give credit where some was due. Zahler never wrote a complete list of which composers were behind the movie’s various cues, so for decades their identities remained a mystery. But in the early 1990s, historian Paul Mandell combed the archives and tracked down most of Plan 9’s original recordings and was able to recognize almost every piece that Zahler had grabbed. One of these was “Grip of the Law” by Trevor Duncan, which acts as the film’s lively opening credits theme.
9. GREGORY WALCOTT’S SCRIPT NOW DECORATES A BATHROOM
At first, Gregory Walcott (who played Jeff Trent) wanted nothing to do with Plan 9. “I read the script and it was gibberish. It made no sense,” the leading man recalled. Eventually, Walcott swallowed his pride and joined the cast anyway. Little did he know that Plan 9 would overshadow the rest of his career. “I will go to my grave not remembered for … meaty roles that I did for the likes of John Ford or Steven Spielberg, but as the leading man in a film most historians consider the worst movie ever made,” Walcott lamented in 1998. Still, he did come to appreciate this film. When Tim Burton’s biopic Ed Wood (1994) came along, Walcott delivered a brief cameo. Then, in 2013, an Escondido, California brewery called the Plan 9 Alehouse opened for business. Walcott helped out by letting the owners use pages from his original Plan 9 script as wallpaper in their men’s room.
10. ONE SNAIL MAIL CONTEST RESCUED THE MOVIE FROM RELATIVE OBSCURITY
In 1978, movie critics Harry and Michael Medved helped co-write The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time. The book was a hit, but many readers took issue with their list. Some 393 genre fans contacted the Medveds demanding to know why Plan 9 from Outer Space hadn’t so much as been mentioned. “People really took us to task for it,” Harry said. “We were shocked by the flood of fan mail—or, in this case, hate mail—saying, ‘We agree Robot Monster is one of the worst of all time, but how could you write [this book] and not include Plan 9 from Outer Space? What were you thinking?!”
The Medveds would soon redeem themselves. The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time invited readers to nominate their pick for the most inept motion picture in the history of cinema. More than 3000 ballots were cast and Plan 9 won the vote by a landslide. When the Medveds published 1980’s The Golden Turkey Awards (another sort-of tribute to B-grade cinema), they pronounced Ed Wood’s masterpiece “the worst movie ever made.” Ironically, this was the best thing that ever happened to the film.
Before The Golden Turkey Awards arrived, mainstream audiences had more or less ignored Plan 9 from Outer Space. Then, seemingly overnight, its cult following grew. Even TV sitcoms jumped on the bandwagon. A 1991 episode of Seinfeld revolved around Jerry’s eagerness to catch the flick at a screening. “This isn’t ‘Plans One Through Eight from Outer Space,’” he tells Elaine. “This is Plan 9. The one that worked. The worst movie ever made!”
The “Even more trivia – Top 10 Facts” part
was originally from the Mental Floss website.
I have watched this one several times over the years, but this was the first time I watched the colorized version on YouTube (see down below) and I liked it as well.
BLACK & WHITE ORIGINAL VERSION
The Awful, Wonderful Integrity
Of Plan 9 From Outer Space
Edward Davis Wood Jr. died on December 10, 1978. Three days earlier, Wood and his wife Kathy had been evicted from their apartment on the corner of Cahuenga Boulevard and Yucca Street in Los Angeles. Carrying the few possessions they saved from the Dumpster (including an angora sweater and a copy of one of Wood’s final unproduced scripts, I Woke Up Early The Day I Died), the couple found a temporary home with a friend, actor Peter Coe. On the morning of December 10, Wood went into Coe’s bedroom to watch a football game. He never came out.
Kathy Wood later told biographer Rudolph Grey that shortly before Wood was found dead, she heard him calling out to her, complaining that he couldn’t breathe. She ignored his pleas, she said, because “He was always… telling me what to do,” and she figured he was just trying to get a reaction. But Ed Wood was never that good of an actor. By the time someone went to check on him, Wood was dead of a massive heart attack. He was just 54.
Wood’s death certificate is reprinted in Grey’s book, Nightmare Of Ecstasy: The Life And Art Of Edward D. Wood, Jr. It lists his birthdate, his Social Security number, and his cause of death (“arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease”). It also includes information about his career; Wood was self-employed in the “Movie Industry,” a job he’d held for more than 30 years. Curiously, though, in the space for “Primary Occupation” it only names “Writer And Producer”—no mention of his career as a director of more than a dozen Z-grade exploitation and pornographic pictures. Even in death, Wood couldn’t get any respect.
Two years later, Wood finally received some recognition as a director, when The Golden Turkey Awards by Michael and Harry Medved declared him the worst filmmaker in history over the likes of William Beaudine, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Phil Tucker. The “award” was bad, but the fact that Wood didn’t live long enough to see it—and perhaps profit off his work—was far worse.
In the wake of The Golden Turkey Awards, Wood became the consensus choice for the worst filmmaker ever, but the title doesn’t entirely fit. If there really is a “worst filmmaker ever,” that would be someone who proved too inept to complete a single feature; Wood eked out a living, albeit a meager one, on the outskirts of the film industry for decades. A truly awful filmmaker is a hired gun who only cares about money; Wood was a true cinephile and movie lover, and if he had any interest in financial security, he would have quit the movie business long before his untimely death. The real worst filmmaker ever would produce something no one wanted to watch; many of Wood’s films have been beloved by cultists for decades.
So Ed Wood wasn’t the worst filmmaker of all time. But he might have been the unluckiest. His life story is a series of missed opportunities and broken promises. He would prepare a film, and the financing would fall through. He’d plan a project for an actor, and the actor would die. He finally became famous two years after he died of a heart attack. He made what would become one of the most famous movies in history, then thoughtlessly sold the rights to it for a single dollar to pay his rent.
That film was Plan 9 From Outer Space, which was shot in 1956, but didn’t find its way into release until 1959. It was funded by the Baptist Church Of Beverly Hills in an ill-advised attempt to get into the motion-picture business. One of the church’s leaders, J. Edward Reynolds—Wood’s landlord, who later forgave a debt in exchange for the rights to Plan 9—couldn’t afford to make his dream project, a biopic about Billy Sunday, the famous evangelical Christian minister. Wood, who never let being unable to afford a project stop him from making it, convinced Reynolds to put his meager bankroll behind a science-fiction picture. The plan was to make Wood’s movie, then use the guaranteed profits from its inevitable success to fund the Billy Sunday film. But their plan went awry almost as quickly as the one in the dreadful film they produced.
The first red flag was Wood’s original title: Grave Robbers From Outer Space. Reynolds and his church found the concept of grave robbery sacrilegious, and forced Wood to change the name to Plan 9 From Outer Space. They also demanded that Wood and his crew get baptized, which they did—at a Jewish swimming pool in Beverly Hills. Why Reynolds didn’t also object to the film’s content, which still involved grave-robbing even after the title switch, remains a mystery.
The corpses from the robbed graves become zombies, a particularly fitting choice for a film whose leading man technically gave his performance from beyond the grave. Iconic horror star Bela Lugosi died in August 1956, just after shooting a few test scenes with Wood for a would-be comeback project called The Vampire’s Tomb. When Wood found the funding for Plan 9, he decided to build the entire movie around the Lugosi footage—even though it amounted to less than five usable minutes, none of it involving zombies.
Lugosi plays a grief-stricken man mourning for his late wife (Vampira, because of course Bela Lugosi would be married to a woman who dresses like a vampire). He quickly dies in a traffic accident and gets brought back to life as a zombie. Wood cobbled that much together from the stuff he shot with the real Lugosi. For the rest, Wood employed a body double—his wife’s chiropractor—to play Lugosi’s part. To complete the “illusion,” the man held a cape in front of his face. Why a zombie would wear a cape at all, much less use it to perpetually disguise his identity, also remains a mystery.
These zombies are controlled by the film’s antagonists, meddlesome aliens who arrive from a distant galaxy with a scheme as hilariously misguided as that of South Park’s Underpants Gnomes. Here’s how it works:
Phase 1: Reanimate the corpses of the recently dead, and use them to terrify California residents.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Convince the people of Earth to destroy their nuclear weapons and live in peace.
Can you believe their plan doesn’t work? There are almost no holes in it at all!
Elements like these have made Plan 9 into an enduring favorite among bad-movie lovers for more than half a century. The film’s reputation as the “Worst Movie Of All Time” may be an exaggeration, but not a wild one. Much of the film is indeed awful. The sets are laughably cheap, interiors and exteriors don’t match, and Wood often cuts between day and night shots indiscriminately. With Lugosi dead and an uncooperative Vampira unwilling to do much more than stare menacingly at the camera, he was forced to give much of the early expository dialogue to Tor Johnson, a Swedish professional wrestler, whose English was so garbled, his lines are completely incomprehensible.
Still, Wood might have been better off when the viewers couldn’t make out what the characters were saying. The film is narrated by Criswell, a famous psychic prone to outlandish predictions, and his monologues and voiceovers are laced with amusing contradictions; as he tells it, the film is both about “future events” (“that will affect [us] all in the future”) and based on the “secret testimony of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal.” (He may, at that point, be speaking about the actors.) Airline pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) describes the aliens’ spaceships as “cigar-shaped,” but when they appear onscreen, the ships look like standard-issue UFOs, which means this pilot either has very poor vision, or has never actually seen a cigar before. As the snooty aliens try to convince mankind’s representatives to repent their violent ways, they repeatedly insult their intelligence and “stupid minds.” They might have a point; any species that could create something as dumb as Plan 9 is probably not worthy of atomic power.
It’s hard to argue that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a misunderstood classic; it’d be easier to make that case around Glen Or Glenda, Wood’s deeply personal, intensely surreal essay film about transvestitism and angora fetishes. But there are some ways in which Plan 9 was clearly ahead of its time. It was a zombie movie a decade before George Romero popularized the creatures in Night Of The Living Dead, and it was a conspiracy-theory movie (“These things have been seen for years! They’re here, it’s a fact! And the public ought to know about it!”) more than five years before the Kennedy assassination. Its strange mix of genres (horror and science fiction and detective story and war film) with monsters mixed in (aliens and zombies and vampires) gives Plan 9 the feel of a fan film years before such works became an intrinsic part of popular culture.
Wood himself was ahead of his time as well. While modern fandom was still in its infancy, Wood was already a dyed-in-the-wool fanboy who loved pulp and trash and cast the stars of his favorites (like Lugosi) whenever he could. He was camp before camp was cool, and he made midnight movies before midnight movies existed. Like so many people today, who take to YouTube to document their lives with little to no discernible talent, Wood also felt an insatiable need to express himself—and even expose himself—onscreen. Even though Plan 9 isn’t Wood’s most personal film, it’s still loaded with his fears, frustrations, and obsessions.
Had Wood been born a few years later, he might have become a John Waters-like cult careerist. Like Waters, he loved pushing audiences’ buttons, and he maintained his own stock company of eccentric personalities. If he’d been born a few decades later, he could have been a viral-video superstar, making and promoting his movies outside the mainstream media. Even if Wood lived another 10 years, he would have been able to at least witness and enjoy his ascension to the ranks of the most infamous directors in history. Instead, he died homeless, penniless, and anonymous. It was a sad, stupid (Stupid! Stupid!) end, but a fitting one for one of cinema’s least fortunate trailblazers.
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