Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Ah, yes, the Marianas Trench of b-movies, it's about time MMT plumbed its depths for comedy gold. And yet, I'm hesitant to pull the trigger on this particular movie, and let me tell you why.
On a recent rerun of the popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Ted and one of his potential-wives discussed at surprising length the 1959 film Plan 9 From Outer Space and how it was the "worst movie of all time", harhar chucklechuckle. Coincidently, about the same time, Plan 9 came up in The Big Bang Theory as a snappy punch line for that smarmy bastard Sheldon. Between these two sitcom episodes, literally tens of millions of people were in on the joke about Plan 9's epic suckiness, whether they knew it or not. These are both extremely rare examples of cult b-movies crossing over into the mainstream, as even "regular people" in the general public, as well as the small club of uber-geeks we belong to, clearly are supposed to know of Plan 9 and its legendary badness.
It's on everyone's (everyone's, by god!) list of worst movies of all time, it's the butt of jokes, the object of ridicule and scorn, mocked endlessly in print and name-checked with reckless abandon by b-movie websites the world over. But does it really suck balls as hard as our shared cultural knowledge seems to tell us? Why the vitriol, why has Plan 9 forever and ever become the poster child for all that's wrong in cinema?
Is it Leonard Maltin's fault? His Movie Guides were influential to an entire generation of movie goers, and he made no bones about holding Plan 9 up as the nadir of trashy cinema. His books, and those of similar "movie experts" were often taken as the authority in the matter. In an age before the internet (gasp!) and before netflix (whaaa...?) and video-on-demand (jesus christ!), actually having an opportunity to see Plan 9 for yourself involved some considerable effort and expense, especially if you didn't live in a big city with a genre VHS rental store. So people "read" and "heard" it was bad from those with supposed comparative knowledge, not so much as experienced it firsthand ourselves. Like sports fanatics arguing over teams from the past that they've never seen play, are people just repeating common wisdom without really even trying to judge the merits and flaws of Plan 9 for themselves?
It's a bad movie, but is it really any worse than other so-called b-movies of that era or since? What about it, specifically, is so bad? Are the spaceship sets any worse than kiddy space operas like Rocky Jones or Space Patrol? Are the actors any more wooden and unresponsive than in Track of the Moon Beast or any of the host of direct-to-video action movies of the '80s? Is the plot any more pedestrian and muddled than your typical sleaze film or pointless low-budget Alien rip-off? When put up against the unspeakable horror that is Death Run to Istanbul, do Plan 9' s aggregate qualities really still keep it at the top of the list? Really?
Is it the production's near total lack of money? Because many, many movies are made for less than the cost of a Honda Civic and never make the list. Is it the notorious use of old footage of recently-deceased Bela Lugosi? Are we panning this movie because its use of what is essentially stock footage? Because most b-movies overused stock footage, as did many of the big studio war and western genre movies of the same era. Godzilla movies were 75% stock footage but no one ever talks about Terror of MechaGodzilla when discussing the world's worst movies, do they?
Is it director Ed Wood, Jr.? Has he become so infamous himself, transcended to a higher/lower rank thanks to his crazy eyes and repeated stabs by Maltin and Depp that his very name causes Plan 9 to suffer for his alleged sins? Wood did make some fairly good movies, after all, and he surely didn't plan on making a lousy movie with Plan 9, despite his budgetary limitations. But I will admit Wood is an easy target, what with being a transvestite with nutjob hair and all, but can't we separate the artist from his art?
Was it the perfect storm of Vampira, Tor Johnson, Bela Lugosi and Ed Wood, "big names" in the b-movie universe, all in one picture? Perhaps later, but not in the late 1950s when Plan 9 was released. This was a time, remember, when all of them (Lugosi perhaps excepted) were virtual unknowns to anyone outside of a fifty mile radius of Los Angeles. Only later, well into the 1990s I'd say, were those actors and actress labeled as b-movie screen kings and queens and anything they appeared in was stuck in the trash/cult cinema section of your local video store. If Plan 9 starred only unknown one-shot actors and was directed by Bob Smith from Ottumwa, would it still be thought of as the bottom of the barrel?
Did FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder help propagate the myth? Don't overlook his effect, The X-Files was the geek nirvana of the '90s and Mulder's repeated insulting of Plan 9 surely had some effect on the audience, even if just subconsciously reinforcing what they already believed about a little science fiction film from the past. I might be guilty of this one myself.
Now, I'm not at all saying that Plan 9 is a good movie, or even a watchable movie without innumerable hits of LSD and the patience of Job, but is it really the "worst movie ever made"? Maybe we shouldn't just repeat the same old damning chorus from the "experts" and really try to take an unbiased and fresh look at Plan 9 From Outer Space? Maybe it's not as bad as we've all been led to believe, especially when compared to the last fifty years of Hollywood output. Who knows?
This will be a joint review, shared between myself and the lovely and talented Pam. Before we start on the actual review, however, Pam, do you have any thoughts about why this movie has been so reviled through the years?
I agree with you, Nate. Maybe I've spent too long watching bad movies, but you're right, this one isn't all that awful, although I'm never going to say it was a good movie. It is, for instance, much better than The Beast of Yucca Flats. For one thing, the actors really aren't too bad, and they do their own talking here, unlike The Beast of Yucca Flats. Even Tor Johnson is revealed as an actor who can handle simple dialogue, unlike some of the actors in Track of the Moon Beast. The sets and props are pathetic, of course, and Ed Wood really should have made more of an effort to hide their cheesiness, but they're not much worse than the Rocky Jones sets. No, I think you nailed it, it somehow got a bad reputation it didn't quite deserve.
That being said, the beginning of the movie is not very promising. It opens with the title "Criswell Predicts," and we see a man sitting at a table in a dark room. In tones reminiscent of Oz the Great and Powerful, this man tells us that what we are about to see is a glimpse into the future, and we are going to learn about -- Grave-robbers from Outer Space!
Criswell in his element, duping the public.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I was just talking about how this movie isn't so bad, and here we've got someone that sounds even worse than the narrator in The Beast of Yucca Flats, but bear with the movie. This guy only talks for about a minute, then we get only brief voice-overs. As an aside, a quick Google of Criswell told me that this man is "The Amazing Criswell", a self-described psychic who lived in Los Angeles at the time this movie was made. He was well-known for his bizarre predictions, so I suppose it seemed natural to Ed Wood to use him here to make this movie seem a little scarier by making the viewers think it was all going to come true in the near future. Whether anybody was gullible enough to believe this, I wouldn't know. Mr. Criswell might or might not be able to see into the future, but judging from the way his eyes move, he couldn't remember his lines very well and had to use cue cards.
Carson's Carnac the Magnificent was a parody of Criswell.
The movie proper opens in a very frowsy-looking graveyard, with a few mourners standing around what is probably meant to be an open grave. The Amazing Criswell stands in for the minister, who holds his Bible open but doesn't say anything, shades of The Beast of Yucca Flats. We are informed with unnecessary verbosity that the deceased is the wife of the old man standing next to the minister. This old man is played by the star actor of the cast, none other than Bela Lugosi himself.
She didn't have a lot of friends, obviously.
Other sources say that the footage with Bela Lugosi had been shot for another movie altogether, and he died shortly after the footage was shot. He does indeed look ghastly here. He was 73 years old and suffering from the effects of longtime morphine addiction and heavy drinking, and he couldn't have needed any makeup to look old and decrepit. Presumably once Lugosi was dead and couldn't object, Ed Wood shoehorned the footage into this movie, knowing that Bela Lugosi still had many fans and hoping they would come to see it. The "cemetery" appears to be a vacant patch of ground with crosses and tombstones planted at random. In fact, the dead woman's tombstone appears to be in place already, even though her grave is still open, although as the mourners leave, two gravediggers show up and start filling it in.
The gravediggers on a break.
We now cut to an airplane cockpit, and this is another instance of the cheapness of the sets. The cockpit is separated from the cabin by what looks like a shower curtain, and the control yokes look suspiciously like cardboard cutouts. In fact, I'm almost certain that's what they are, because the cabin shakes as a flash of light illuminates it, and it looks like not only are they some kind of light-weight cutout but they're on stands and not attached to a control panel at all. (Watch as a hand appears at the shower curtain but doesn't open it.) Besides this, the copilot has his radio secured to his body with a strange-looking harness, and neither he nor the pilot wears headphones. Is this the way it was done on commercial airliners in 1958, or is Ed Wood improvising with what he could find? The pilots look out and see a disk-shaped object hovering in the sky. The curtain now parts to reveal a stewardess, and she and the pilots express their bafflement as the mysterious disk flies off.
That's quality work.
The disk flies over the cemetery where the two gravediggers are at work, and they glance into what appears to be a much nicer cemetery than the one they were in a few minutes ago. They aren't sure they actually heard anything, but they decide that it's better to be safe than sorry and leave. It's not clear whether they've filled in the grave yet or are walking off and leaving the coffin exposed, but if they've been negligent in their duties they're about to be punished, because they' ve walked straight into a dark-haired white-faced woman who says nothing but merely raises her arms at their approach. Now it must be admitted she's a little odd- looking, but really not bad enough to frighten two grown men in broad daylight to the point where they scream, as these two do. However, a closer look shows that although the two men are walking in broad daylight, it's night around the woman, and to be fair, seeing something like this is likely to make the bravest person scream.
I'd be more scared of this!
We don't immediately find out exactly what has happened to the two men, since the movie cuts to a very ordinary-looking house in the suburbs (Tor Johnson's real-life house, as it happens). Bela Lugosi comes out of the front door, and he appears to be quite distraught over his wife's death. He's leaning on a cane and really seems to be having a hard time walking. Mr. Criswell informs us that he will never come home again, and immediately after that we hear a scream and a siren, so presumably the old man has gone to a better place.
Bela smells the flowers one last time.
We are now back at the cemetery again at the funeral of the old man, which for some reason is being held at night, and we see more mourners than seems possible emerge from a very small mausoleum which appears to be made out of particleboard. You might be wondering why the man was buried in a mausoleum when his wife was buried in a regular grave, but Ed Wood anticipated this question, and one of the mourners explains that it was "family tradition." As two of the mourners leave, what should they come across but the bodies of the gravediggers! The police show up in short order, and from the time they leave the police station to the time they get to the cemetery, the light varies from night to twilight to night. Also their car has changed color. Yes, it's a black-and-white movie, but the police car was a solid dark color when it left the police station and had light-colored doors by the time it got to the cemetery, which must really come in handy when the police are shadowing somebody.
A couple smokes by the mausoleum.
Mannequin bodies, very nice.
Inspector Daniel Clay now emerges from the color-changing police car. He is played by Tor Johnson, who happens to be one of the more prolific actors in this movie. He appeared in 43 movies altogether, although most of his parts are uncredited. Not surprising, as his main career was wrestling, and there's no indication that he ever had formal acting lessons. He is a very large man, 6 feet 3 and 387 pounds according to IMDb. Although all sources agree that he was a nice guy in real life, his looks almost guaranteed that he'd be cast as a monster, the sort that grunts and lurches around, mouth agape and arms flailing. Inspector Clay seems to be a hands-on kind of lawman and promptly gets himself a flashlight and heads out into the cemetery, unaccompanied by any of the other police officers there. Just a thought, but maybe it would be a better idea to secure the crime scene and wait until daylight, when it would be much easier to spot any clues without destroying evidence? Or bring in enough lights to illuminate the area? Be that as it may, Inspector Clay sets forth. As he wanders through a mist which has suddenly appeared, the policemen back at the bodies mention a "funny odor," which seems reasonable enough considering that there are two corpses right there, but they look around to find the source.
Tor on the prowl.
We'll have to wait a little longer to find out what smells funny, because now we're at the house of Jeff Trent, one of the pilots who first saw the flying disk. Jeff and his wife Paula are sitting on their patio, discussing the sirens they've been hearing. Finally Jeff breaks down and tells Paula about the flying saucer he saw earlier, although he describes it as a cigar when it so obviously wasn't. He complains about the Army warning him not to say anything about the object, and at this moment there's a flash of light, a roaring noise, and a wind that blows around the patio furniture and knocks down Jeff and Paula. They both watch as the object flies past.
Back to the cemetery as one of the bodies is carried out on a stretcher, and the object apparently flies past, as there is the same flash of light, loud noise, and strong wind that knocks them all down. However, the Inspector manages to stay on his feet and heads to where he saw the object land, walking past the same tombstones he walked past earlier, although to be fair, he might have made a circle around the cemetery. He walks past the tiny mausoleum where we recently saw the old man being buried, and the door swings open to reveal... someone who is not Bela Lugosi at all, although he's holding his black cloak in front of his face in an effort to conceal this fact. The all-knowing Internet says that this was Tom Mason, Ed Wood's wife's chiropractor, who he hired to replace the dearly-departed Mr. Lugosi.
You can't see me, you can't see me, you can't see me.
The Inspector now finds himself between the man holding the cloak over his face and the dark-haired white-faced woman. He immediately starts shooting without making any effort to find out who they are, although they aren't actually threatening him and for all he knows they could be dressed for a costume party. For you guys out there, the woman's dress is cut lower than I would have thought a dress could be without falling off the wearer's shoulders, and it reveals quite a bit of cleavage. As a woman, the sight of the woman's teeny-tiny, surely corseted to a point where she can hardly breathe, waist makes me want to cry in sympathy. The woman is, of course, the famous Vampira, real-life name Maila Nurmi, a showgirl/model/actress who eked out a living playing the character in various low-budget movies. She hosted a horror-movie show for a while, but apparently was never extremely successful at marketing her character, since her Wikipedia biography mentions that she worked at a variety of odd jobs, including selling linoleum.
The undead cannot be destroyed by conventional weaponry.
The other policemen hear the shots and rush off to find the Inspector lying dead on the ground, with no apparent sign of what did him in. They speculate on whether the saucer could have had anything to do with the Inspector's death, and the lieutenant is so flummoxed by it all that he scratches himself with his pistol and gestures at two policemen with it as he orders them to call the coroner! Seriously. This might be the lieutenant's standard practice, since the two policemen don't even seem to notice the way he handles his pistol.
He should secure that firearm.
We now see yet another funeral, this time that of the Inspector, which rather oddly also seems to be at night. There's a brief shot of Vampira lurking in the background, then a shot of the disk flying overhead. Then there are two disks -- then three! By the way, every time I saw the disk, it reminded me of something, although at first I wasn't sure what. Now I'm almost certain that the "flying saucer" is actually half of a snap, odd as it sounds. Anyway, if anybody has a better idea of what it might be, let me know. The saucers continue to fly around Hollywood for some time, judging by the way day turns to night. We are told they are also seen over Washington, DC, although why they weren't seen any place in between is not explained. The Army sends troops to try to stop the saucers, and since I know nothing about Army equipment, I'll turn it over to you, Nate.
UFOs menace LA.
Best composition shot in entire film.
Thanks, Pam. So, we're now somewhere in America (presumably) as the US military makes its required show of force against the UFOs. As with 90% of these types of alien invasion b-movies, the attack is just a collection of random stock footage shots of Marine Corps artillery units in the Korean War and Air Force training films, stitched together with little concern for scene continuity or film stock quality. The rockets roar, the firecrackers pop, the UFOs dance around on their strings, but nothing really of importance happens. The UFOs escape, off to do nefarious things off-screen, while the soldiers go back to their day jobs.
Hurry, the Chi-Coms are coming!
F-100 Super Sabre, if you were curious about such things.
You know, it's easy to bag on these UFOs, what with the patently obvious fishing line and the lousy back-projection work, but are they really any worse than any similar UFOs in other b-movies? Did you see the ones in The Flying Saucer or Invaders From Mars? Hell, Billy Meyer made a fortune off "contactee photographs" of far lesser quality than what Ed Wood gives us here.
Sure, Billy, that's real.
In this scene we do meet another ancillary character, Army Colonel Edwards, who's whole point in being in this scene is to stand still enough that he doesn't knock over the bed sheet hung up behind him and to give the audience some much (un)needed exposition on the alien threat to the planet. It seems the UFOs have been in contact for years, but only recently have we started to shoot at them, probably because they kept anal-probing Mexican farmers and stealing our dairy cows.
"Hey, you left these!"
Off to outer space now, where we see some of these UFOs returning to the Mothership, which looks like a basketball with a nipple on the top of it. Here we see a couple of alien UFO pilots briefing their Alien Commander in his office, which looks to be a folding table behind a drapery. The Commander, who seems to have come directly from working the fried mutton table at the Renaissance Fair in Oxnard, wants to know how the invasion plans are going.
His subordinates complain that the earth creatures' "souls are too controlled" so they have to fall back on "Plan 9", which makes you wonder what Plans 1-8 were (I assume they involved sodomizing homeless guys in New Mexico and confusing radar operators). The Commander, literally reading his lines off a piece of paper in his hand, reminds us that Plan 9 involves "long range electrodes shot into the pituitary glands of the recently deceased", causing them to rise up and become mind-controlled zombies. Wow. By the way, this is some good quality film stock here, especially for the piddly budget, certainly better than most of the shot-on- camcorder crap the Off-Hollywood studios were putting out in the Clinton years.
Sir Alien Commander.
Dismissed to inflict zombie rage upon our fair planet, the two alien warriors chat in the hallway about how stupid the puny humans are and how "those that can think are so frightened by those who cannot--the dead." Sadly, that's maybe the best line in the movie, I'd say. They then get in their UFOs and zoom off (those craft have some serious stability issues, perhaps their gyroscopes are faulty).
Satin is so spacey!
Back now to our airline pilot Jeff and his doting wife Paula, as Jeff gets ready to leave for work. He's worried about all the spooky things going on, especially in that cemetery next door, but Paula assures him that she'll stay locked up in the house for the next three days until he returns, probably drinking cooking sherry and lustily fingering through the Sears & Roebuck catalogue. The "actress" playing Paula, by the way, is completely incapable of giving her line-reads any emotion or inflection at all, just a miserable job.
Too much Aquavelva.
Later, we see a distracted and worried Jeff up in his airliner "cockpit" again, staring blandly off to the horizon when he really should be flying the plane. But it's his chipper, randy co-pilot and a milfy stewardess who really steal this scene with their sexually charged banter, as the co-pilot actually propositions her with, "how 'bout you and me go ballin' it up in Albuquerque?" Of course, that phrase means a lot more in 2011 than it did in 1959...(I hope).
"I'm a married woman! But, yes."
There is some mention of Jeff buying a house next door to a cemetery on purpose because he likes peace and quiet, which might be Plan 9's most interesting concept. Some time on google tells me that, generally speaking, real estate near cemeteries is cheaper than comparables in more desirable areas, and the green spaces are welcome for walks and bird watching. You just have to be aware of the unusually high concentrations of Emo kids wallowing about, writing death poetry about how the world doesn't understand them and the like, but the openness of most cemeteries provides ideal free-fire zones for anti-Emo kid snipers...
And you thought Goth kids were retarded.
Anyway, back at Jeff's house, we see Paula in a frilly nightgown in bed (seriously, when, other than in movies, did women actually wear such unflattering and uncomfortable sleepwear to bed?). Despite her saying that she locked the doors, Bela Lugosi has no problem getting into her house late at night and standing by her bedside, pensively holding his cape over his face. Paula, oddly, also has no trouble escaping said undead zombie/vampire, even having the time to stop and put on some sensible shoes before running out into the night.
Who lays on top of the covers?
And where does she run? To the police? To a neighbor's house? No, she beelines right for the spooky cemetery with its suspiciously open graves and billowing dry ice fog clouds. It's also the dead of night inside the cemetery, though it's clearly the middle of the afternoon outside the cemetery, which just goes to show you that graveyards are not the place for startled housewives in chiffon.
Run, white girl, run!
As Paula runs around in circles (it's a small set), the recently dead Tor Johnson rises from his grave and shambles to his feet. Well, he sorta stumbles weakly trying to get out of the hole in the ground, and the scene blessedly cuts away before we see Tor fall on his ass and five grips have to come power-lift him out of the hole. And don't you think it's a bit creepy to be buried in the exact same cemetery that you were killed in?
Paula, still running a circular track through the cemetery like a greyhound at the Arcadia, is now being chased by Tor, StockBela, Bela'sStand-in, and Vampira, all sluggishly moping around the graveyard with zombie eyes and mouths agape (Tor, of course, would later duplicate his "acting" here in The Beast of Yucca Flats). Vampira fascinates me in these scenes, as she's clearly trying to be as sexy as her wardrobe and make-up will let her be, slinking around and tossing come-hither glances over her shoulder directly at the camera. Remember, though, that the buxom Vampira is actually the octogenarian Bela's recently dead (movie)wife, meaning that Bela deserves the J. Howard Marshall Award for most improbably hot wife. Bonus points to him for burying his dead wife in what can only be described as an skeevy airport bar stripper outfit.
She can remodel my kitchen anytime.
Paula finally exits the cemetery, back now into full daylight, and is found collapsed alongside a road by a passing motorist. This portly gentleman saves Paula, lifting her unconscious body into his convertible and driving away as Bela lumbers up. The motorist, despite his Honduran tomato farmer hat and his size 52 jeans, is actually the best actor in the entire movie, and I'm totally not kidding. His performance, albeit just a few minutes long, is so head and shoulders above any of the other flank steak meatheads in the cast that it's embarrassing. And with that, back now to Pam for part three of Plan 9 From Outer Space (insert dramatic drum roll here)...
Oscar for him!
I'm on it, Nate. The hefty motorist must have notified the police, because up roars a police car, siren wailing. (It's the solid-colored car, if anybody cares.) Out hop the pistol-juggling lieutenant and three policemen. RealBela is lurking somewhere in the cemetery, dressed resplendently in white tie and tails, with some sort of medal or order around his neck. What a sad come-down it must have been for such an elegant aristocrat to live in that modest tract house we saw earlier. Wonder what the backstory was?
The sun precedes him...
The police move into the tiny area, walking among the same few tombstones we've seen many times before. The lieutenant is still clutching his gun in his right hand like it's a security blanket, his finger fortunately nowhere near the trigger. Tor and Vampira are lurching around somewhere in the area, which they do a lot of, but then, what else do zombies have to do, after all? Either one of the saucers has finally landed or the aliens have decided to move into somebody's garage, for we see them looking out a window. The male alien, whose name is improbably Eros if IMDb is correct, tells the female alien, whose name seems to be Tanna, that "they'll" be at the hatch soon. The name "Eros" might have been chosen as a joke, because he is played by an actor named Dudley Manlove, if you can believe it. I have a hard time believing it myself, but if this isn't his real name, IMDb doesn't mention it. What he must have gone through as a child...And for some reason, Mr. Manlove is the most un-alien-looking alien I've ever seen.
Eros (this movie's Harry Solomon...).
Since I've already wandered from the action of the movie, I might as well wander a little farther and say that the alien's control room, if that's what it's supposed to be since it really does look like the inside of a garage, contains several tables. On them are stacked, with no apparent rhyme or reason, assorted electronic equipment. One of them is a sparky thingy, the kind you see in Frankenstein movies, so maybe this is what they plan to use to make zombies. The room also contains a desk complete with a pen in its holder next to a stack of papers. Since the aliens probably do have to write things down from time to time, I'm not sure why the pen looks so out-of-place, but it does. If this is in fact the control room of the spaceship, the aliens are in for trouble as soon as they take off, because nothing appears to be secured in any way.
Army surplus radios aren't cheap.
Getting back to the movie, Tor and Vampira appear at the hatch and enter the control room. Eros quickly instructs Tanna to "turn off the electrode," saying that with it on they can't tell "us" from anyone else. So it acts as some kind of signal to instruct them to attack everybody they see? She switches off some instrument, although it doesn't appear to have any electrodes, and this causes Tor and Vampira to stop and Vampira to drop her arms, which she has been holding stiffly in front of her to denote zombiehood, I guess. (Since Tor doesn't hold his arms out this way, could it be something only female zombies do?) We see FakeBela enter the hatch from the exterior, then back to the police who watch in mild amazement as the flying saucer takes off. I get the impression that flying saucers have become such a common sight lately that people have begun to take them in their stride. The lieutenant is still holding his gun, and now his finger is on the trigger.
To think, real money exchanged hands after this movie wrapped.
One of the policemen mentions casually that he found a grave that looked as though it has been disturbed "like somebody busted into it." After a little discussion, it is agreed that perhaps this should be investigated, so the lieutenant and three uniformed police officers head that way to take a look. Somewhere along the way, the lieutenant holsters his pistol, maybe because his hand started to cramp from holding it so long. Unfortunately the gravestone has fallen into the grave, so they can't tell whose grave it is, but the lieutenant orders one of the policemen into the grave to find out. He doesn't say how, and when the policeman reports that the casket is there but nobody's in it, I'm wondering if maybe the man was supposed to open the casket and see who was inside? Anyway, the policeman requests a flashlight, which they don't have (Why? And how did they see where they were going in the cemetery without one?), gets a match instead, and by its light reports that the grave is Inspector Clay's. We cut away before we see if this news evokes any particular response other than the mild interest they've been showing so far.
Now we go to the Pentagon office of a two-star general. The general is chatting with Colonel Edwards, and we learn that 1) the Government has issued a directive stating that there are no flying saucers; 2) both the General and the Colonel believe that there are; and 3) somebody has developed a "language computer" so humans can now understand the aliens' language. There are a couple of peculiar things here: the General mentions that the Colonel has been in charge of "saucer field activity" for a long while. Who put him in charge, and why would the Government appoint an Army officer to such a position if it didn't believe in flying saucers? And who developed the language computer? Are we being told that the Government knows flying saucers exist but is trying to cover up the fact, or have certain elements of the Army taken it upon themselves to investigate flying saucers without Government approval?
Shouldn't he be out chasing Commies?
The General plays a tape of an alien broadcast from Eros, which clearly was addressed to humans. Somehow Eros knows (how?) we've developed a way of translating their language into English, so he speaks directly to us. He makes no effort to be polite, and in fact he says we're "stupid" for not believing there is other intelligent life in the universe and also that they are far more advanced than we are. Eros goes on to say that he and his friends are here not to conquer the Earth but to save it. It seems that our explosives have become so powerful we don't know how to handle them. So powerful that they can destroy the entire universe, which is what has brought the aliens down on us.
The "language computer" appears to have been purchased at a local pawn shop.
I suppose Eros is talking about the atomic bomb, but really -- it can destroy the entire universe? I suspect an ulterior motive here, but also I really, really want to know how zombies come into this. Anyway, both the General and Colonel Edwards believe that Eros means what he says, so the Colonel is dispatched to the San Fernando Valley, which seems to be the center of flying saucer activity.
"And right here is where they grow the best okra in the Valley".
Now back to the alien space station, where Eros, Tanna, the Commander, and another man are desperately trying to look alien and failing. Eros reports proudly that he has successfully "risen" three humans, but the Commander rewards him by telling him that his other two ships are being taken away from him. He seems to feel that three zombies is not enough, and proceeds to chew out Eros, blowing his lines a couple of times as he does. Tanna brings in the Inspector, using an "electrode gun" to keep him under control. Alas, the gun jams, and the Inspector nearly strangles Eros before the Commander orders Tanna to drop the gun to the floor, which will somehow break contact. So these electrodes must send out some kind of signal which instructs the zombies to attack whoever they see. Eros is naturally badly shaken up, and the Commander seems pretty distressed himself, for he is rolling his eyes and emoting like a fifth-rate ham actor. The Commander is impressed by the size of the Inspector but is more pleased by the news that one of the other zombies is an old man. This gives him an idea, and Tanna is told to take the Inspector away. She picks up her gun and mumbles something about the jam having been cleared by the fall as she marches the Inspector out. It appears as though there was zero rehearsal time for this scene, and the Commander is still very obviously reading his lines from something held off-camera.
Stupid wussy girl.
The Commander proceeds to explain his idea, or tries to, since he doesn't make any sense to this particular puny human. He plans to sacrifice the old man by making him enter a house, whereupon Eros is to "cut the electrokinetic and turn on the ship's decomposure ray," which will astound the humans who see this, rendering them helpless until many more zombies can be created. (Was this actually in the script, or was the Commander unable to see the cue cards and forced to make something up on the spot?) This vast army of zombies will be unleashed on Earth's capitals, thus convincing Earth of the aliens' existence. Is everybody clear on the plan? I suppose landing on the Ellipse and announcing "Klaatu barada nikto" was out of the question. Eros seems to think this is a good idea and heads to his ship. And this seems as good a time as any to hand this back to Nate. Have at it, Nate!
Tor didn't actually know the camera was rolling here, this is just his normal look.
Thanks, Pam, I'll take it home from here. Another set-piece scene now, as Colonel Edwards and the police detective come to Jeff and Paula's house to interview them about the recent events. For having been just chased about by zombies, Paula seems pretty ok with everything. Jeff, however, continues to be moody and sullen as usual. If you look back over his scenes, Jeff is almost always a bitchy grump, the few times he seems happy you can tell he's faking it, must have been a bear to live with, no wonder Paula drinks so much.
Lamest party ever.
Paula gets a lot of face time here as she explains their UFO encounter from long ago in such minute detail that I have to wonder if Ed Wood himself saw a UFO and worked his own description into the script. As kooky as Wood was, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he claimed to have been abducted and probed by aliens while walking along Hollywood Boulevard.
Paula protects her boobs from spooky sounds.
Bela now shows up to cause trouble. Despite being menaced by a zombie, none of them seem too concerned, making little effort to run or defend themselves, just standing there in a tight little knot. The dreaded "decomposer ray" is turned on, saving our heroes as Bela is turned into a dime-store prop skeleton borrowed from the set of Teenagers From Outer Space. Even this fails to elicit more than a "meh" from our cast, as once you've seen one zombie, you've seen them all.
Piling into the detective's car, they all drive down to the haunted cemetery to check things out (it's only 100 feet away, after all). Paula, being a girl, is forbidden to play with the boys and has to stay in the car with a uniformed cop. Wood deliberately takes a few shots at women here (and later with Tanna the alien), and while not exceptional for the misogynistic 1950s, you do have to wonder if the director had some personal problems with the fairer sex. And, yes, I know about Wood's cross-dressing and mommy issues, so it's not really a surprise.
At the same time, the aliens in their landed ship are observing all this through a window (huh, luckily for them, their view wasn't blocked by a tree or something). Eros plans on killing all these pesky human interlopers to keep their presence a secret, something he is quite worried about. But why does he care, again? He's going to take over world and murderlize us all anyway, right, why fret discovery now?
Eros needs a cheeseburger (Look! It's the pen!).
But worry he does, so Eros sends Tor out to get Paula and bring her to him in the ship, both because she's a potential dangerous eye-witness and because she's 15% hotter than Tanna and he needs some variety. Tor lurches up and knocks the retarded cop out cold (seriously, the guy just falls over without a fight). Why not take/kill the cop if he's so worried about witnesses? Paula, being a woman in a movie from 1959, instantly faints at the sight of Tor, though, it's odd that earlier, when confronted by Bela (in her bedroom, no less), she was able to stay conscious long enough to run away to safety. Tor carries the limp girl in his arms like he later did in The Beast of Yucca Flats (though he's stronger and more sure-footed here, or the actress is lighter).
Like a sack of potatoes.
Meanwhile, the menfolk find the parked UFO (which looks to be a right-angle corner made of spray-painted plywood) and talk about what to do. Eros is aware of them, but has a master plan to let three armed enemy men inside, brag about his superiority like a Bond villain, and then kill them in some convoluted way. So he opens the door and lets them in. When did it become "spacey" to have whoosing automatic sliding doors, anyway? Why is it that all alien spaceships have to have these built in? The early '50s wave of UFO films? Back further, to the '30s even with the early Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials? Undersea Kingdom, maybe? Somebody research the history of the automatic sliding door as a placemarker for the future for me!
That flush-to-the-wall ladder seems pretty useless, doesn't it?
So there's a confrontation in the control room, two oddly-unarmed aliens versus three pistol-packing humans. Harsh accusations are made, uncivil words are bandied about, and it's clear the gulf of understanding between them is as wide as the cosmos. The main point of contention is Eros' dogged insistence that the human race must be ground into bloody dust beneath the boots of his zombie army, and no amount of compromise on lesser articles will make these men sign off on that. Though, while Eros does indeed have the strategic high ground here, what with his being part of a super-advanced race of space-farers with laser guns and unstoppable flying saucers, he has unwisely given these three guys the short-term tactical upper hand. As in, they are currently pointing guns at him and all he has is a pair of Robin Hood tights and an ill-fitting lady's satin blouse.
Dance fight, anyone?
Despite this, however, Eros still feels comfortable lecturing the men on the worrisome pace of armaments research and development, warning them that the path to galactic destruction runs directly from the hand grenade to the atomic bomb. Worse yet, his alien race (is it ever mentioned what they call themselves? Ballchinians?) have determined that the next logical step is a bomb that can explode the very rays of the sun! Right, ok.
Lots of testosterone in here.
Throughout this scene, by the way, you should keep your eyes on the people who aren't speaking, as they clearly haven't been given any stage direction other than "stand there". Seems like a small thing, but it might be perfectly indicative of why Plan 9 is so difficult to watch at times, that swirling concoction of untrained hack actors, laughable sets, juvenile dialogue, and a hands-off director, and you have a movie that's the consistency of pancake syrup.
Eros' description of the Sun Ray Bomb should probably be picked apart, but the very concept is so ridiculous that it would be like kicking a handicapped puppy. The idea of something made in a lab at MIT being able to destroy the entire universe like a gasoline fire at an Exxon station is just so mind-bogglingly stupid that I'm not even going to think about it. As Pam mentioned before, it does seem at times like the actors were ad-libbing dialogue and this whole Sun Ray Bomb bit might be the actor's answer to Ed Wood saying three seconds before the cameras rolled, "Hey, forget the script, just make some shit up about some sorta explodey bomby thing, ok? Just don't make it sound like anything from The Day the Earth Stood Still, because I don't want to get sued, got it? Action!".
And to paraphrase Ripley, they should just nuke us from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.
The men have had enough, but they can't do anything because Paula is being held by Tor with threats of violence. Once again, as in so many movies, the fate of all humankind is in mortal peril, but the heroes can't do anything for fear that one chick might be killed (she's going to die anyway if the aliens are not stopped). But Paula is saved by the weak-jawed cop who regains his senses, calls in another cop, and the two of them sneak up and bonk Tor on the head with a stick. These two bumbling, incompetent cops get an inordinate amount of dialogue and screen time here, making me think they chipped in some money to buy their own costumes and prop guns and Wood is rewarding them with valuable film stock.
His stick is strong.
Thus, with the woman safe, the fightin' can commence. Jeff settles a score with Eros in a man-on-alien duel with punches, kicks, and thrown furniture, while the Army Colonel tries to get the door open. The detective just stands there ineffectually, he apparently didn't sign his liability waiver. For her part Tanna pulls out her laser gun and kills th...wait, no, she just runs over to a radio and tries to call the Mothership. Somewhere in all this furball, a fire starts and the smoke starts billowing, and Jeff manages to subdue Eros.
The men all run out as the fires rage and the sparks fly. Tanna gets the burning ship in the air, but it explodes over LA in a fabulous poof of smoke and flame. Our entire named cast stand around watching this, and act like this is the end, even though there's an alien battleship in orbit filled with saucers and aliens who have every intention to kill off our planet. Enjoy the taste of victory today, earthlings, because tomorrow it's going to be Plan 10, which might go back to anal -probing livestock. The ever-present Criswell takes us out with an admonishment against poo-pooing UFOs. And he's right (sorta), but we can only hope that if we are invaded by aliens bent on genocide, they are dumbasses like the ones we saw here, because that would be pretty cake.
So in conclusion, Plan 9 From Outer Space does indeed suck, but maybe, just maybe, its suck has become so legendary more due to bad timing and the lemming-like nature of pop culture than anything you actually see on screen. Pam, what do you think?
I agree, because I've seen lots of movies that are as bad or worse than this one. Battlefield Earth comes to mind, although of course the special effects in it are 10,000,000,000 times better than the kindergarten-art-class level of the ones in Plan 9. The plot of Battlefield Earth is even lamer than Plan 9's. And at least the actors in this movie can more or less act, with the exception of the actress who plays Paula, who shows just what bad acting really is. As a matter of fact, Ed Wood himself would make movies worse than this, sinking to outright porn at the end of his career.
The thing that lifts this movie out of the standard rotten-movie class and makes it into one you want to see out of morbid curiosity if nothing else is Ed Wood's weirdness, which shines through everywhere. His biographical material suggests that during this period he hoped to be taken seriously as a filmmaker and tried to make popular movies that would attract big audiences, so I assume he wasn't deliberately trying to insert material that the average American in the 1950s would find disturbing. The scene where Eros is arguing with the humans and Tanna chimes in to agree with him, only for him to wallop her, is especially unpleasant. The man must have had major issues with women. His Wikipedia entry says that his mother is generally thought to have dressed him like a girl until he was 12 and his first wife (Norma McCarty, who plays the stewardess in this movie) kicked him out of the house on their wedding night, so I guess it's not surprising. (In Ms. McCarty's defense, he was wearing women's underwear.) Ed Wood himself seems to have believed that it was only inadequate funding that kept his movies from being blockbusters.
So, this is not a good movie, but there are worse. The fact that so many people have heard of it says a little something for it. The fact that Ed Wood called it his "pride and joy" says an awful lot about Ed Wood. Watch it and see a mind far out of the ordinary.
Written in January 2011 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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