Plan 9 from Outer Space, (1956)
Watching Plan 9 is like a rite of passage for film fans and wannabe film makers. You may have heard of this gem touted as “the worst movie ever made,” but the moniker interestingly is only a relatively recent development from the 1980’s when it was “rediscovered” by film critics and pointed to as an example of how not to make a movie. While all of that is very much true about this film (and to the nth degree), Plan 9 from Outer Space was considered by “worst director ever,” Ed Wood, to be his magnum opus, a love letter to his idols, and a movie that sought to beat the control of the Hollywood system of its day. The story behind Plan 9 is shaky at best as most of what people currently think of the plagued production stems from the 1994 “biopic,” Ed Wood, directed by Tim Burton (and an excellent movie on its own merits). What actual truth can be shared about Plan 9 is that it was indeed Bela Lugosi’s last completed film prior to his death in 1956, and it was this death that threw the production of Plan 9 into a three-year long run of turmoil before the movie was finally finished and released to theaters in 1959. The movie fell into obscurity quickly after its release; being a black and white horror film made on a shoestring budget meant that it never stood a chance, though it remained a staple at B-movie “midnight horror” drive-ins for several years. The star actors of his attraction were relative nobodies by the time of Plan 9’s release as well: Lugosi’s drug addiction was public by this time and he was a seen in the tabloids as a regular at methadone clinics; Maila “Vampira” Nurmi was a very 1950’s-centric TV star who struggled to adapt outside of that decade, and “large ghoul” Tor Johnson was a Swedish wrestler taught to phonetically pronounce his lines as he could barely speak English (though he had the most success of the three afterward, strangely). Plan 9 from Outer Space was doomed to fail from its offset. Yet, as years go on, this movie has garnered a lot of charm for all its flaws, much of which comes from the lauded dedication of Ed Wood to seeing his visions through. Wood’s ability to fund a movie and produce it the way he wanted outside of Hollywood meddling was unheard of during this period and is something that gets taken for granted all-too-often in our now modern world of big-budget and thinly-veiled Hollywood “indie film” making. Likewise, it also helps that Plan 9 had entered the public domain nearly immediately after its release, allowing nascent cable and local TV networks of the ’70s and ’80s to air it unabashed as part of their horror-themed late-night programming, ultimately influencing an entire generation of Boomers and Gen Xers who stayed up late watching movies as kids to refer to it as prime inspiration for their own film careers that set them on the path to make many of the movies we see in theaters today (*coughTimBurtononceagaincough*). For my own tentacled verdict, I will only say this much about this film: you can laugh at Plan 9 all you want for its cardboard sets and transparently horrible film making, and yes, it deserves all the criticism it gets for being an abomination on celluloid, BUT, if you call yourself any sort of movie fan, you are doing yourself a great disservice by not seeing this flick at least once in your lifetime. It may not answer any great questions about the universe, but Plan 9 just might make you appreciate all the things you love about movies just a little bit more than you already do, just as it has for so many others before – I most certainly guarantee it.
All in all, 2 out of 8 tentacles.
P.S. If you STILL think you can’t stomach watching this film from whatever other stuff you’ve seen or read, I suggest you check out the RiffTrax version. At the very least you can enjoy the movie with the MST3K crew to dull the pain a little.