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Plan 9 from Outer Space

11 Ratings: 2.3
Ed Wood's cult classic which was a critical bomb and is considered the worst film of all time on six continents!

   With nothing but a rough idea for a horror film, director Edward D. Wood Jr. raised money, borrowed Bela Lugosi for a few days and shot footage in and around a cemetery and the front of Tor Johnson's house. Lugosi died unexpectedly after … see full wiki

Genre: Classics, Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi
Release Date: 1959
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Plan 9 from Outer Space

Give it this: It's a Plan

  • Jan 6, 2009
Pros: It's bad!

Cons: It will never be seen by holier-than-thou film students

The Bottom Line: The original so good it's bad movie!

Let me tell you why I hate the common film student perception of movies being art. I hate it because it lends way too much technical weight to a medium which is used by the vast majority of the public strictly as a means of escape. A stereotypical film student will rave about how brilliant some independent director is for presenting us with some pseudo-thoughtful drama with a half-witted, tragic "twist" at the end and present it as a brilliant portrayal of angst, suffering, and the human condition. Listen, egghead: I'm human. I'm dirt poor, and I don't feel particularly anguished. And I don't get into prolonged shouting matches with my friends over dinner plates which you would suppose symbolize something.

As a former film student, I'm ashamed to admit that this was once the view I took. Back when I first started on Epinions, I reviewed Steven Soderbergh's "brilliant masterpiece" Traffic. Trying to look at it as art to be appreciated and being a fledgling writer who didn't quite know what he was doing, I gave it five stars, called it a great movie, and yet told people to see it only once. It was a nice way of telling people "I'm a pompous film student who forgot what movies are supposed to be about and actually effing hates this movie." If I wrote that review today, I would have slapped that cold, preachy, overly long, and boring vanity picture with the one-star rating it deserved. I'd would rewrite it, but a couple of conditions make that impossible; part of the reason is because that review is part of my Epinions history, but it's mainly because I haven't seen it since its theatrical run and would break the bank for anyone who tried to pay me to watch it again, ever. If you ask me, its Oscar loss to Gladiator for best picture was justified. It was a cold and unfulfilling attention grabber losing to a movie which actually remembered what movies are supposed to do.

Traffic wasn't the only time I've felt this way. I saw Michelangelo Antonioni's movie Blow Up and hated it with a vengeance; I saw Bergman's Seventh Seal and found it far too wandering and confusing; I saw Hitchcock's Vertigo and was annoyed that the master of suspense spent so much time developing a romance between James Stewart and Kim Novak. A really great movie should remember that it's entertainment to be enjoyed most of all. It helps to be moving and inspiring, but it MUST be enjoyed. If I don't enjoy it, I don't give a crap how much I should appreciate it as art. This is why my idol while studying film was Steven Spielberg: He consistently makes great movies which I can enjoy and not pretend to enjoy because they're artistic.

Now, finally, this is how I got to the amazing film visionary Edward Davis Wood Junior. Your film instructors at USC will never talk about Ed Wood, and rightfully not. He's widely considered the worst director of all time. You name a level of filmmaking, and Wood discovered new ways to make it look bad. Give him a shot he couldn't possibly screw up, and he would irreparably screw it up. He used low budgets, bad actors, and single-take shots. But Ed Wood was a better director than many people for one simple reason: He loved to direct. He didn't have the money or the talent, but somehow he managed to will his silly movies onto the silver screen. And he is now the one enjoying the last laugh. People are spending a lot of money on his movies to see how bad they really are. And a cult developed around him. Tim Burton, a talented director any way you look at him, cites Wood as an influence.

Burton directed a biopic about Wood some years ago, with Johnny Depp playing Wood. In it, Wood says while shooting Plan 9 from Outer Space that Plan 9 would be the ultimate Ed Wood film. In a paradoxical fashion, he was more right than he would ever come to know. The stories surrounding Plan 9's filming are legendary. It's status is mythical. It has myriad problems with bad acting, fading lighting (which may just be the print I watched), poor special effects (I swear I could see the strings), atrocious dialogue, choppy editing, and Bela Lugosi not actually saying anything before he kicked the bucket just after filming began. And even if all those things were fixed, I still can't say it would be particularly good. But it's pretty darn entertaining.

Most reviewers tend to write about all of the things I mentioned in the paragraph above. But one of the funniest things about Plan 9 to me was the way the police officers and detectives carelessly waved their guns around, as if they were extensions of their hands. The kind of carelessness these officers display with their guns wouldn't be acceptable in ANY movie these days, no matter how bad. 

Plan 9 from Outer Space tries to cobble together some weird plot about a race of aliens raising Earth's dead in order to annihilate the living. Apparently the live in perpetual fear of humans developing some sort of super bomb which uses the sun as its destructive method and would destroy the entire universe - humans, aliens, and all - if we used it. Don't look now, but an Ed Wood picture is attempting to be a meaningful social commentary! Like it or not, you have to appreciate the point Wood is not-so-subtly driving home when the humans meet the aliens for the first time. In the end, the humans beat the aliens and all is saved. At least until said bomb is built, I guess.

I think it goes without saying that this plot is perfect for the movie strictly because it's so stupid. In Plan 9, the less plausible something is, the better for the movie. That's exactly why it works as entertainment.

Oh dear god, where do I begin? First of all, Plan 9 barely even looks right. Wood didn't have a very big budget, I understand that much. But a lot of it was shot in a studio with cardboard props, and it doesn't mix at all with the stock footage of the airplanes and tanks. I was amused with the way the flying saucers kind of bounce around in the air as if held up by strings (which they were). The editing - which I only pointed out in one other review I wrote - looks terrible because it makes some scenes look like they've skipped. There's also an editing problem with a scene where a pilot says goodbye to his wife: It's way too long. Every time you think it's over, one of them says something to prolong the moment. It annoys you after the first few volleys of lines. And saying something like this about a movie which only runs 78 minutes long is really saying something. 

The true stars of Plan 9 from Outer Space are the performers. Bela Lugosi's untimely death probably benefited the film because Lugosi might have hammed up his role too much. As it happens, he was replaced by Wood's chiropractor, who was much taller and only resembled Lugosi from the nose up. Wood's solution was to have him walk around with a cape over his face FOR THE WHOLE MOVIE and not give him any dialogue. (Lucky guy.) Lugosi was to play a dead guy, along with Tor Johnson and Vampira. Only Johnson has anything to say, and that's only before his character, Clay, is killed. All the dead characters moved stiffly, even for dead people.

The speaking actors aren't much better. There aren't many lines in Plan 9 which are spoken with conviction or even rudimentary knowledge of their characters. I would compare them to Marlon Brando's overdramatizing from The Island of Dr. Moreau, but that would be saying a very wonderful thing about them. The best you can say about the actors is that being so bad probably helped out. Any actor worth the nickel Wood could have afforded him would have died laughing if he tried to say this stuff.

The special effects are really something to behold. Yes, they're terrible. But it might be fun just to watch them and see exactly which ones you could produce in your own home (probably all of them). I couldn't tell what the flying saucers were made of, but the non-stock scenes are clearly cardboard. And they all fly out of a planet on a black backdrop. The planet may have been glued there. I don't know. 

You have to admire Ed Wood. He loved movies so much that he simply sat down and directed them. He had no talent for anything, no vision, and no budget. But Wood's story is, in a way, inspiring to people who would like to someday direct. After all, if this guy could get a movie made and distributed, anyone can. It was Wood's love of movies that gave them so much heart, and I can honestly say that Plan 9 from Outer Space is just oozing with heart. That's what makes Plan 9 preferable to most of the other movies I mentioned in this review. It's a failure in every other possible way. You name any other aspect of filmmaking, and Plan 9 from Outer Space is an affront to it. How could you not love it?


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"Wood's Masterpiece."
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