Search This Blog

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Good Ideas Poorly Executed, Vol. 2: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

First things first.  I need to just state something for the record, up front, in full disclosure so there are no misunderstandings between you, the reader, and me, the writer.

I genuinely love Plan 9 From Outer Space.  Not in an ironic way.  I love it the way Linus loves his blanket. I’m not about to say it’s on the level of The Godfather or Gone With The Wind.  I’m just saying that I truly don’t believe it deserves the title of Worst Movie Ever Made, nor do I think that it’s an inherently bad film. However, I freely concede that it’s not for everyone and it’s a far, far cry from being something the masses would enjoy.

That said, I'd like to prove to you that at the root of Plan 9 is not just a good idea, but a great idea.  Here we go.

The Pitch:  Aliens bring the dead back to life in order to conquer the Earth.  It can’t miss!

The Budget:  $60,000.  Seriously.  I’m not making a snide joke here.  The actual budget was $60,000 for this movie.  To put things in perspective, the movie I Married A Monster From Outer Space came out a year earlier and the budget was $175,000.  Before we go further, let that roll around in your head a bit.  Say what you will about this movie or its infamous director Ed Wood, but he did two things that the majority of you reading this will never, ever do. 

1.   He got a movie made and in theaters for one third of what it cost a major studio to bring a film to the big screen. 

2.  He made a movie that we are still talking about almost sixty years later.

Suck on that, haters!

The Result:  Okay, the result is not the greatest, but let’s talk about the idea first because at its root, it’s a friggin’ doozy.  The idea behind this is that aliens want to invade the Earth.  They monitor us long enough to figure out that we’re a war-like people and instead of dirtying their own hands, they employ Plan 9.  That plan is to raise the recently deceased to overrun the living, thus clearing the planet for the aliens to inhabit. 

That’s a pretty ingenious idea if you think about it.  The dead outnumber the living by a wide margin and if all of the preserved bodies buried six feet down were raised up and given the order to kill the living, we’d be screwed.  Imagine the horror and drama of focusing your attention on a small band of people trying to fend off the undead hordes, only to find that the worst (alien invaders) is yet to come.

This is a TITANIC idea!  Unfortunately, like the ship itself, it hit an iceberg.

That iceberg was named Ed Wood.  While he came up with the idea, his ambition and enthusiasm were light years stronger than his talent and ability when it came to movie making.  Wood loved film.  That’s apparent in all of his movies.  However he just didn’t have the talent to make good ones.  Thus Plan 9 From Outer Space suffers from a number of problems.

First, there’s the acting.  It’s pretty atrocious all around with the exception of Maila Nurmi (playing Vampira).  Her role was silent (at her request… she famously hated the small bit of dialogue Wood wrote for her and insisted on playing the role silently).  Her creepy walk, blank stare and otherworldly physique (could her waist be cinched up any more and not actually cut her in half?) make her a highlight.  Pull her out though and the acting is rote at best and mostly just horrible.  

Now, some of that could be due to the writing.  The script is overwritten to the point of hilarity.  Much has been said about how awful the dialogue is but for those who haven’t seen it, I’d like to give you my favorite three quotes from this film.  I can’t tell you how much hearing these puts a smile on my face.

Quote 1:  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.

Quote 2:  But one thing’s sure.  Inspector Clay is dead.  Murdered.  And somebody’s responsible.

Quote 3:  Then they attacked a town, a small town I’ll admit, but nevertheless a town of people, people who died.

I’m not lying when I say that right now I'm smiling ear to ear just writing those quotes.  There is a simple brilliance to them that fills me with genuine joy.   

Let’s put aside the writing and the acting for a moment though.  Let’s look at the actual moviemaking itself.  

What’s wrong with that?  Well, let’s see.  There are the gravestones that wobble like the cardboard props they are when someone bumps them.  

There’s the fact that Bela Lugosi died a few days into filming and Wood cast a dentist to replace him.  That wouldn’t have been an issue if the dentist had looked like Lugosi but he didn’t.  Wood just had him cover his face with a cape when he was on camera.  

Then there’s the UFO’s themselves.  They were plastic models that kids could buy at a dimestore at the time.  He dangled them from strings and set them on fire during the finale.  

There are the scars that move around on Tor Johnson's face if you watch closely.  Wood shot multiple days with Johnson and since the scars were made from spirit gum and collodian, the scars had to be moved around in order to avoid irritating Johnson's skin.  Continuity errors, be damned!

And that's really just the tip of the iceberg.  I could write an entire column on the production issues alone.

So yeah, we had a perfect storm going here:  Bad acting, bad script and bad production.

To Watch or Not To Watch:  This is easy.  You HAVE to watch Plan 9 From Outer Space.  I will defend this movie until the very end because at its core, it was a good idea AND… that trifecta of defectiveness actually works in the movie’s favor.  I’ve had more fun watching this movie with friends and family than most comedies.  Sure, the laughter was inadvertent, but laughter is laughter and Ed Wood touched on a very specific nerve here.  If you haven’t seen Plan 9, then stop reading this, get a few friends together and kick back for an awesome time.  You won’t be disappointed.


Anonymous said...

I don't like hearing noises, especially when there ain't supposed to be any!

The contrast is amazing when comparing this to similar products of the era, such as Outer Limits or Twilight Zone. As young impressionable kids in the late 60's we fully enjoyed watching the Outer Limits & the Twilight Zone - but never alone!

Cary said...

I'm pretty sure you've seen the movie Ed Wood. I think that does a fair job of capturing his enthusiasm and Plan 9, or any of his early films, are really a testament to how determined he was to make movies. This guy was writing, directing, acting (in some cases) and he was begging, stealing and borrowing to make it happen. It would be one thing if all he ever produced was a single film. Instead, there were Bride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda before Plan 9 ever started shooting.

I say that just to point out that through all of it, his writing never got better and neither did his directing. He's obviously influenced by all of the sci-fi movies and television of the time. The thing that makes this film so much fun for me is I can imagine him directing it with that huge grin on his face, thinking, "It's fantastic!"

And it is, just not in the way he was imagining.

Anonymous said...

I paid good money to see Ed Wood in the cinema when it came out, and I enjoyed it. Jeez, we may have seen it together? I know I saw it with Darren & Andrea for sure. Ed was a very passionate promoter, it is too bad that he did not partner up with someone who had an aptitude for excellence. He died at 54, which I will be this year, and he was born on your birthday if I am not mistaken. A coincidence?

Cary said...

He was born Oct 10, four days before me but close enough. I know I didn't see it with you three. I was back in Georgia and saw it with some guys I worked with.

Have you ever seen Glen or Glenda? Holy shit, dude! The monologues he wrote for Bela Lugosi are insane asylum art at its finest. Check out the two links below.