Edward G. Wood, Jr. was a very, very thrifty filmmaker.
He would shoot scenes in one take, allowing him to barrel through numerous scenes per day. Did the acting and sets lack finesse? Who cares! He could appropriate enough stock footage and pre-recorded music to detract from these, uh, quirks.
Also, he didn’t worry about nuances in his screenplays. For example:
Man 1: “Quite a sight. Isn’t that right, sir?”
Man 2: “A sight I’d rather not be seeing.”
It’s mind-boggling to think films of this calibre could find funding and distribution, no? Well, Ed Wood was someone who could Make It Happen.
His magnum opus, as you know, is Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), shot in less than a week for $60,000 USD ($512,000 in today’s dollars).
The film, originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space, features aliens seeking to conquer planet Earth. They find a cemetery in Hollywood and start bringing the dead back to life. The aliens implement this Plan (9) because they want to save Earth, along with their own planet, from destruction.
Yes, we know. You just have to go with it.
It is a truly awful film, and we can’t get enough of it.
The fascinating thing about Plan 9 is this: The story does not matter. It has ridiculous characters, wooden acting and laughable special effects.
But it is never boring. The first time we saw it, we could not wait to see what happens next. Indeed, some scenes are jaw-dropping – and you can’t say that about every movie.
“The epitome of so-bad-it’s-good cinema,” says Rotten Tomatoes, “Plan 9 From Outer Space is an unintentionally hilarious sci-fi ‘thriller’ from anti-genius Ed Wood that is justly celebrated for its staggering ineptitude.”
The 1994 documentary, Look Back in Angora, offers a kinder appraisal by saying Wood was putting his “wacky poetry” on film. (Exhibit A from Plan 9: “The sky, to which he had once looked, was now only a covering for her dead body.”)
How can you not embrace such clueless enthusiasm?
The main reason we like Plan 9 is its moxie. A man with little credibility writes a bizarre script, then persuades a Baptist church to fund production. He releases the film by going around the studio system.
We see that as a remarkable achievement in a company town like old Hollywood.
Wood also managed to assemble a surprising cast.
Plan 9 is narrated by The Amazing Criswell, a television and syndicated newspaper psychic who would later appear on The Johnny Carson Show. His predictions were considered unconventional; however, Wikipedia says Criswell made an eerily accurate prediction regarding American President John F. Kennedy.
The original Vampira (Maila Nurmi) reluctantly joined the cast after she was fired as a late-night TV host, due to several controversies. Her character in Plan 9 does not speak; she reportedly disliked her lines so much she requested they be cut from the script.
The film also stars Bela Lugosi, the man who made Dracula a 1930s film icon. By the 1950s, Lugosi was unemployed and addicted to morphine. According to Look Back in Angora, Wood paid Lugosi $800 to shoot some random footage shortly before the older actor’s death. Characteristically, Wood saved this footage for his next movie project.
Plan 9 quickly became a forgotten film soon after it was released. It didn’t achieve notoriety until the early 1980s, when it was crowned the “worst film ever made” by Harry and Michael Medved in their book, The Golden Turkey: The Worst Achievements in Hollywood History.
Then, in 1994, Hollywood paid its own tribute with the Tim Burton biopic, Ed Wood. According to Look Back in Angora, the budget for Burton’s film was 100,000 times greater than the budget for every Ed Wood movie combined.
Would Plan 9 from Outer Space be a better film if it had more funding? It’s hard to say; a movie about Imperialistic Aliens vs. the Hollywood Undead is unorthodox.
Still, you must see it. We think you’ll develop a fondess for what is, arguably, the worst film ever made.
Plan 9 from Outer Space: starring Gregory Walcott, Tom Keene, Mona McKinnon. Written & directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Reynolds Pictures, B&W, 1959, 79 mins.