This flick has quite the reputation. Search the internet for lists of the worst movies of all time, and this film will most likely be on it, and could very well be at the top. Its writer, director, and producer, Ed Wood, is a legend among shitty film fans. Not many people get a biopic made where the focus is on their ineptitude, but it happened to Ed Wood. And he earned it. But, I have disappointing news for any Ed Wood fan that happens upon this site. Plan 9 from Outer Space is not the worst movie I have ever seen. It doesn’t even crack the bottom 10.
From 1959, Plan 9 tells the story of an alien invasion of Earth. That’s the broad view, and the only part of the plot that makes sense. The details of the story are a nonsensical jumble of graveyard scenes and whatever footage Ed Wood managed to shoot of Bela Lugosi before the latter’s death in 1956.
Seriously, Bela Lugosi is a big part of this flick. Wood shot Lugosi emoting outside of his home, and later acting like a vampire in an improvised graveyard set, and that’s about it. Lugosi had no lines and appears with no other person in most of the shots he is in, the exception being a funeral scene. Then, he died.
Wood used a body double (Tom Mason) of Lugosi’s character when he got to filming this dog properly, and it’s very obvious that it is not Lugosi. That supreme act of shitty filmmaking would be enough to make this one of the all-time worst films, but it gets worse…or better.
The aliens, played by Dudley Manlove (what a name), Joanna Lee, and Bunny Breckinridge, are a treat all their own. Manlove was a career radio announcer, and he couldn’t shake that inflection and tempo when he was tasked with acting. Breckinridge, meanwhile, was wearing a space uniform that had an icon of a battle axe emblazoned on the front. It must have come from a local costume store.
The aliens fly all around the planet in saucers on strings, shot in front of a simple backdrop. The UFOs are funny, sad, and absurd, all at the same time.
Down on the earth, the police are investigating reports of robberies at a cemetery. The detective in charge of the case is Inspector Clay, played by Tor Johnson. He was another treat. Speaking was something of an effort for Johnson, so one can imagine how well he delivers his lines. Wood, despite being a truly awful filmmaker, recognized that Johnson couldn’t act, so he has Inspector Clay murdered by zombies early on.
Wait a minute. What? Aliens, zombies, Tor Johnson. What is going on, here?
It’s all part of the aliens’ plan. They are resurrecting the dead (three of them, anyway) as part of their plan to destroy humanity. How this plan is supposed to work was never explained to satisfaction, even though Wood uses voiceovers liberally throughout the film.
Besides Tor Johnson and Bela Lugosi’s body double wandering around the cemetery, there is another zombie played by Vampira. She has a pained look on her face throughout the film, and I think it’s because of the very restrictive corset she was wearing, and not because her character is dead. She was squeezed so tight that even Donald Trump could have wrapped his hands around her waist.
The cemetery set is the shittiest aspect of this shitty movie. The set is childish. I don’t feel that is an exaggeration. Growing up, I saw and participated in many a schoolhouse stage production, and the graveyard set in this film is kin to those.
Shot on a soundstage, everything from gravestones to entire tombs looks to be made of cardboard or the thinnest plywood known to man. I’ve seen lots of movies that require a substantial suspension of disbelief to work, but this movie looks like a joke. It lacks such professionalism that I have to wonder if Wood lacked a sense of self-awareness. I applaud him for being so unapologetic, but at a certain point, doubt would have led most of us to give up were we making this movie.
It’s not just the sets, or the bad acting, or the confusing plot, or the UFO special effects. The very words that Ed Wood put in the script is overly-dramatic gobbledegook. He fills the air with sentences that are intended to be profound, but really just make the whole package more confusing.
Wood was barely able to string two scenes together, and he was not able to provide a coherent narrative at all. There are scenes that move well, but most scenes drag this film to a dead stop. The highlights, among them Tor Johnson wandering around with his mouth hanging open, are few and far between, but are quite hilarious. The problem is, all the other scenes wrapped around these moments are deadly.
Plan 9 is not among the worst on the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability index because I never got a sense that this film was hostile to its audience. There are many shitty movies that treat viewership with disdain — as if we’re just lumps of flesh with wallets and low expectations. Wood, for all his failings, wanted to be a good storyteller. He was just really bad at it. Compare that to someone like Uwe Boll, whose films often feel like he wants to kick his viewers in the balls and make them ask for more. I don’t have time for films like that. This movie sucks, yet it’s friendly and inviting. As such, it’s watchability is raised above its objective quality. But, it still lands near the bottom of the Index at #233, in between Theodore Rex and Killers from Space. I’d normally recommend potential viewers stay away from a film this poor, but it is required viewing for the serious shitty movie fan.