Plan 9 From Outer Space! Review.
1959’s "Plan 9 From Outer Space" directed by Ed Wood, is the Casablanca of bad movies.
There are worse movies, but those were made by amateur, student or "art-film" makers and mercifully seen by very few.
Plan 9 is the worst "real" film around. Meaning it had a theatrical release, a recognizable cast, good sound, scored music, and decent film quality. It's just really poorly done.
Why? Because it's a science fiction horror movie with terrible special effects! But that's only the beginning of what's wrong with this bonkers film.
It's still campy fun, and I'd give it three out of five thumbs up in its original black and white. However, I saw the RiffTrax version of the film. Available on Amazon Prime Movies.
This is a colorized version of the movie with Mystery Science Theater 3000 alums Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy, "riffing" the movie audio commentary style over the film.
I think the combination of color and jokes adds more fun to the experience and helps you stay engaged in this wild ride.
I'd recommend seeing it this way for first-timers or the weary. Seeing it this way earns it four out of five thumbs up.
Plan 9 from Outer Space stars "Vampira" Maila Nurmi. She was a campy vampiress character who hosted segments on an ABC TV show that aired old monster movies, similar to Elvira.
Maila plays this vampiress role in Plan 9, except now she's a ghoul... and mute. Her supposed to be scary but hilarious facial expressions as she menaces the heroes makes up for her lack of speech though.
Tor Johnson was a mountain of a man and a well-known wrestler at the time. He plays an enormous Swedish LAPD detective as well as a mute ghoul. Tor's frozen, open mouth expression that anyone who has ever pretended to be zombie does was so awesome, it was made into Halloween mask that was popular for years.
Bela Lugosi plays an old man/ghoul and is one of the main characters, yet he is credited as "guest staring."
Why? Well, he was dead.
He died of a heart attack before production. The footage of him in the movie is composed of footage shot just before his death, intended to be used in other films. A vague look-alike who covers his face with his cape for most of the film was actually the chiropractor to one of the other actresses and was used to fill in the gaps and make it seem like Bela was actually in this movie.
The movie starts oddly enough with this guy called "Criswald Predicts." I guess this was a future predicting kind of guy that had a TV show in the 1950s. I couldn't help but feel like "who the hell is this guy?" though.
He sets up the plot in a weird and preachy way, but I guess that's what his TV show schtick was like. His delivery of the "Grave Robbers From Outer Space!" line, followed by lightning and rad scary music might tantalize you into thinking this is going to be a high-quality movie, but don't get your hopes up.
So what is Plan 9 From Outer Space?
Aliens that look just like humans decide to reanimate the recently dead using an "electron-beam" shot directly into the pituitary gland of a corpse. This reanimates the dead and turns them into zombie-like ghouls in a trance that can be commanded to do the bidding of the aliens of course.
That sounds cool and scary, right? Couldn't screw up an idea like that, right? Wrong!
This cool concept is just a means to tie a mish-mash of ideas and footage together. We meet some recently deceased folks, aliens, a pilot, some military guys, and the ghouls during the movie.
The plot centers around the pilot and military guys discovering the alien's fiendish plan while avoiding getting attacked by the ghouls.
It's not so much the crazy plot, it's a delicate tapestry of several elements that botch things up along the way.
Things like set design that a middle school play would be embarrassed by. For example, you would think the Alien ruler's command post on the mothership would be a room full of controls, scopes, flashing lights, and old-timey computers.
Wrong! The Alien commander's control room was actually a room with velvet curtains, a wooden desk, and a single radio. The alien commander himself isn't some stoic British guy in a slick silver jumpsuit. He is played by a fabulously... "vivacious" snarky old guy wearing a medieval knights costume for some reason. The jetliner pilot's cockpit had cardboard flight controls and looks like it's gonna come apart during the "UFO attack."
Much ado had been made over the years about what looks like homemade "hubcap" or "pie-pan" flying saucers on strings. They were actually an off the shelf UFO model kit one could find at a toy store in the 1950s.
A sci-fi movie with lousy special effects is like that school cafeteria pizza they used to have. They call it pizza, but is it really?
The worse-than-a-puppet-show set design and special effects are countered by a generous use of stock footage. Old propaganda footage of the US military practice firing tanks, flying planes, and exterior shots of government buildings was spliced in as if it was of the movie.
The only problem is, it didn't look like it was part of the movie; it looked someone changed the channel to a war documentary.
Which brings me to the next point, the editing. It's often unclear if it's day or night in the scene because of the way it's edited together. How do you lose track of that? You're never sure if characters are supposed to be in the same scene together or not either, because of all the jump cuts.
Finally, the janky-ist aspect of this doozy of a film are the scenes I mentioned earlier where someone who is so obviously NOT Bela Lugosi, he has to cover half of his face with his cloak as he lurks around.
I could go on, but the foibles of this film are what make it so much fun. Each scene is an opportunity to take delight in the questionable choices that Ed Wood made in making this film. You can't help but "riff" (make jokes about) this movie to whomever you're with.
This is why I'd recommend watching the RiffTrax version of this film. The film is in color with better audio, and the comedians are riffing the movie right along with you. Plan 9 From Outerspace is a wonderfully lousy movie that I highly recommend for cheesy Halloween fun!
Thanks for reading and enjoy watching and riffing!
October 6, 2019