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Plan 9, Tor rises from the grave

From the DVD case: Cult Director Ed Wood’s “cinematic masterpiece” and also regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. Alien invaders use their dreaded “Plan Nine” to re-animate dead earthlings. They wreak havoc and unleash a host of things bizarre, macabre, horrific, and just plain horrible. (1959, b&w)

Mark says: Plan 9 from Outer Space has to be one of the most famous “cult” films of all time. It is often regarded as the worst movie ever (it’s not), and its director, the infamous Ed Wood, Jr, is routinely crowned the worst director in the history of cinema (he’s not).

Even if you’ve never seen Plan 9 from Outer Space, you’ve probably heard about its legendary goofs. Tombstones fall down, scenes inexplicably change from night to day, the boom mike is visible, you can see the wires on the flying saucers (which look like hubcaps), and the list goes on and on (to read a partial list of goofs, click here.)

You’ve also undoubtedly heard how the “star” of the picture, Bela Lugosi, was already dead when the film was produced (Wood was able to work in footage of the actor before he died). You may have even heard how Lugosi’s double, Tom Mason, bore no resemblance to the famous horror actor and had to keep his face covered throughout the filming of the picture (of course, covering his face could not conceal the enormous height difference between the two men.)

Plan 9, Flying Saucers over Hollywood Even without having the benefit of actually seeing Plan 9 from Outer Space, you may know of its bizarre plotline, its absurd dialog, and its cast of atrocious actors. I wouldn’t doubt that some of you, never seeing the film in its entirety, could even quote some of its more famous lines.

So how does such a notoriously bad film get so much attention, when other bad films live entirely in obscurity? I think it is because Plan 9, though inept in almost every aspect, remains entertaining. What makes other bad films so intolerable is that they are boring. Plan 9 from Outer Space never lets us get bored.

I’m not saying that Plan 9 is action-packed, it certainly is not. Like most Ed Wood films, it can be incredibly talky. However, because the plot is so bizarre, because the dialog is so absurd, because the acting is so atrocious, and because the whole thing looks so damn cheap, we never lose interest. It never stops being amusing, and somehow, it fascinates us.

Like most people, I was introduced to Ed Wood through Plan 9 from Outer Space. I was a young adult when I first saw it, sometime in the mid-1980s. I was visiting my friend Todd Young (an aspiring filmmaker) when he slipped the movie casually into the VCR. At first, I thought it was a joke. As the movie progressed, I remember turning to Todd and asking, “Is this real?’ He only smiled and let me soak in the movie at my own pace. When I realized it was a genuine production, I was in shock. It was so…odd.

I’ve always been grateful that I saw Plan 9 without the foreknowledge of its famous “bad movie” reputation. It’s one of the few times in my life a film took me completely by surprise. It would be hard to duplicate the experience today, as Ed Wood and Plan 9 from Outer Space have become so famous that you could argue that neither one should be considered “cult” entertainment.

Plan 9 features many Ed Wood regulars. Tor Johnson (The Beast of Yucca Flats, Bride of the Monster) plays the unintelligible Inspector Dan Clay. Tor is completely out of his element whenever given a speaking role. However, when he is transformed into one of the living dead, he is more at home. In fact, one scene featuring Tor is almost impressive. As he is resurrected from the dead, and rises slowly from the grave (see image at the top of this post) he almost inspires a type of dread. Unfortunately, Tor has such trouble (because of his enormous size) crawling out of the grave, that the scene becomes comical as he ends up thrashing about in his attempt to escape the plot.

Also look for Paul Marco (Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls) as Patrolman Kelton, Lyle Talbot (Glen or Glenda) as General Roberts, Duke Moore (The Sinister Urge) as Lt. John Harper and the late Bela Lugosi (Dracula, The Devil Bat) as the Old Man.

Plan 9, VampiraOf course, you can’t talk about Plan 9 without mentioning Vampira (real name: Maila Nurmi) in the role of the Vampire Girl. Vampira’s freakish proportions add to the bizarre look and feel of the film. To see Vampira and Tor Johnson walking side by side as undead companions is truly a sight to behold.

The effeminate John Breckinridge plays the unlikely alien ruler, with Dudley Manlove (what a name) as alien invader, Eros, and Joanna Lee (The Brain Eaters) as his assistant, Tanna. Gregory Walcott was fortunate enough to land the lead role of Jeff Trent, and Mona McKinnon (Mesa of Lost Women) plays his wife, Paula Trent. L.A. psychic, Criswell, plays himself in the prologue and epilogue of the film. All of the actors seem to take their roles seriously, which only adds to the bizarre flavor of the film.

As for the plot, I recommend you read one of the countless other internet sites on the film. I’m assuming most of you have already watched it, and if not, I have provided a link below where you can view it for free.

A lot of people rightly poke fun at Ed Wood and his films, but there is something to be said for the man. Bill Warren nails it for me when he states in his book, Keep Watching the Skies:

Despite the scorn and contempt his films have received, despite the laughter they engender – there’s one thing that no one can ever take away from him. He made those movies, and he made them his way. Like his films or not, Ed Wood was a true auteur.

As for my final commentary on Plan 9 from Outer Space, I turn to the words of Criswell himself: “There comes a time in each man’s life when he can’t even believe his own eyes!”

Amen.

Scene to watch for: All of them.

Lines to listen for: “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.”

“Plan 9, ah yes, Plan 9 deals with the resurrection of the dead. Long distance electrode shot at the pineal and pituitary glands of the recent dead.”

“You didn’t actually think you were the only inhabited planet in the universe. How could any race be so stupid?”

“Now, don’t you worry. The saucers are up there. The graveyard is out there. But I’ll be locked up safely in there.”

“But one thing’s sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.”

“You see! You see! Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”

“I’ll bet my badge that we haven’t seen the last of those weirdies.”

“My friend, you have seen this incident, based on sworn testimony. Can you prove that it didn’t happen? Perhaps, on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it. For they will be from outer space.”

Wikipedia entry: Read about the life and career of Ed Wood, Jr.

Trivia: Gregory Walcott, who plays the hero in Plan 9, also had a part in Tim Burton’s pseudo-biography, Ed Wood, as a potential backer for an Ed Wood film.

Bonus: View Plan 9 from Outer Space free at the Internet Archive.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

6 Comments

  1. Mark,
    The fact that I often put this film on and watch it again, over many other better and bigger films, is a testament to it’s power to entertain. I love it, for any number of reasons… but the main one is that it brings a smile to my face for the whole time.

    Watching it back to back with Ed Wood by Burton is a lot of fun to do also. The recent colorised version with Mike Nelson is a treasure, too. Who would have thought?

  2. Fred: I have often watched this movie back to back with the Tim Burton production. I agree, sometimes when I’m choosing a movie to watch before bed, I’ll pick Plan 9 over some other great like The Day the Earth Stood Still just for its entertainment value.

  3. While I had seen the haunting images of Tor Johnson and Vampira in the pages of Famous Monsters magazine as a kid, it wasn’t until I saw a compilation film titled “It Came From Hollywood” that I was introduced to Edward D. Wood, Jr. and his infamous films.

    In a way, I can identify with Ed, not that I wear women’s clothes, but as a youngster, I often fantasized about making horror films, a dream I never pursued. This was decades away from compact camcorders and I couldn’t afford a super 8-movie camera and all the film needed to make a movie. If I had, there is no doubt I would have used cheap props and anything else I could get my hands on, as well as recruit all my friends to play the parts, just like Ed Wood did. He had an abundance of imagination and enthusiasm. Just think of what he could have done with the multi-million dollar budgets of today.

  4. Paul: As I quote Bill Warren above in regards to Ed Wood: “He made those movies, and he made them his way.” That’s something a lot of us would like to have said about us. Many of us had the dream of going out and making monster movies, but Mr. Wood actually did it. That in itself does not make him great, but you at least have to admire his drive. And there’s no denying these movies are incredibly fun to watch, even if the joke is often at Mr. Wood’s expense.

  5. You’re so right, Mark: “Plan 9″ is FAR from being “the worst movie ever made.” Ever see “The Beast of Yucca Flats”? “The Worm Eaters”? “Horror of the Blood Monsters”? “Dracula vs. Frankenstein”? “The Astro-Zombies”? “Blood Freak”? The list goes on and on. At least “Plan 9″ is FUN, and never boring, and a hoot to see with a good audience on the big screen!

    • It really is a fun movie. Mr. Woods was certainly a bit of a wacky-doodle, but he did it his way, and I have to say, he provided the world with some great entertainment.


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