“I’m muzzled by army brass”
So here it is—what some say is the worst movie ever made— Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. With its horrid acting, juvenile storytelling, and cheesy special effects, I can see how people come to that conclusion. Perhaps it is that I have watched it for the first time knowing its place in history and its context in the film canon, but I must say I was highly entertained. Were I to have seen it upon original release, I most likely would have been angered about the shoddiness, but today, the unintentional comedy makes it classic and priceless despite the infinite technical shortcomings.
You know what is in store straight away with Criswell’s introduction. The faux-psychic babble is funny, his delivery funnier, and the way his eyes move to read the script while never looking directly into the camera is hilarious. Once we are ushered into the actual film, inside the cockpit of an American passenger plane, we are finally privy to the wonderful set design. The plane’s radio system is an old house phone that is passed between the pilots to speak with the ground and the steering yolks are merely cardboard half circles, which must be grabbed at the elbows during the turbulence caused by our friendly little flying saucer that has come to visit. Surprisingly, besides the first time onscreen, the flying saucers are handled quite well without the notice of strings. Even when they exit the home base (a cardboard drawing that the saucers go behind) the depth of field as they fly away is impressive. Anything good about them is later circumvented, however, by the crashing saucer literally being lit on fire and floating around.
As for what I called a juvenile story, I say this more for the structure than the ideas at hand. The ideas are actually somewhat heady if one cares to look at them from that angle. The aliens have come to warn Earth that their path of destruction internally could threaten the rest of the universe and they have come to put an end to it. Why they would need to kidnap live humans to take back to their spacestation is never really discussed, only the overall plans of annihilation and Earth’s refusal to acknowledge their existence as spoken during a lengthy rant from Dudley Manlove’s Eros, probably the best performance of the film, which isn’t really saying much. The fact that all this exposition is delivered at the end and in one long scene is only one example of the structure being like a child’s story in elementary school. Our narration is very abrupt and used to carry the story through as though it were a puzzle being assembled. Scenes are cut together clumsily and transitions are never smooth.
As for the acting, I will say that Bela Lugosi does a fantastic job, never uttering a word. This could be because all his footage was archival and shot before the film was even thought of, but either way some of the stuff is good. Ed Wood shot all his scenes previously and supposedly wrote the story of Plan 9 around that footage so it would all make sense. Kudos to the stand-in for never showing his face, as he needed to be onscreen with the new actors for the actual film. Watching cuts from the face-covered man to the actual Bela are priceless moments. All the rest that bear a mention are more for humor’s sake. Vampira is plain scary as she lumbers around as a zombie for the entire duration with a lovely makeup job extending her lips almost to her ears; Duke Moore is hilarious as Lt. Harper, not only for his delivery of lines, but because of waving his gun around like it is his finger, pointing at people and scratching his head with it; and last but not least is Tor Johnson, a formidable man once in zombie form, but before that, his accent is so thick and his mind so slow trying to remember his lines, it is the funniest scene of the entire film.
So, all in all, if I were judging Plan 9 based solely on achievement and presentation, it could very well be a one or two out of ten score. However, the context in which I have seen it in needs to be a factor and my enjoyment on a comedic level also must be considered. As a result, the film is definitely not the worst I have seen, if only because there are many that tried to be masterpieces yet are horrible. This film was never meant to win an Oscar, but instead was created by a man who never gave up on himself or his craft. Just to have something like this to show for his effort and commitment says something, and when watched as a farce really does end up being an entertaining time at the movies.
Plan 9 From Outer Space 5/10 | ★ ★