I told Granny Artemis I didn't want to write a review of Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), but wanted to write about the film & director Ed Wood in such a way as to convey why so many fans so adore a man of such little talent. Granny Artemis replied, "Well yes, it's got to be really hard to sew a door."
Plan 9 from Outer Space is often cited as the ultimate in vintage schlock, for it is fantastic in its ineptitudes. It is badly written, but an intentional comedy writer couldn't've come up with better one-liners than "We are all interested in the future, for that is where you & I are going to spend the rest of our lives."
It has the poorest of set-design, but when a ridiculous little cardboard gravestone wobbles or falls over, the shot is preserved because Ed Wood didn't have enough film stock for retakes.
It is stupidly acted by everyone involved, yet when someone like thick-necked Tor Johnson climbs out of a grave, he's trying so hard not to disappoint the director, you can't help but love him.
It's moronically photographed, with mindbogglingly bad FX,k crazily edited, & afflicted with the fact that Ed wanted to use all the footaqge he had from a completely different film starring Bela Lugosi, aborted when Bela unexpectedly died. The humor & pathos of the whole situation is as heartbreaking as it is laughable & funny.
The charm is that Ed Wood wanted to make good movies but this really was what he was capable of. And he seemingly couldn't even see that where he failed, so had no capacity for improvement.
His enthusiasm attracted eccentrics who wished they were actors, or occasionally actual actors whose misbehavior destroyed their careers.
He loved them all, embraced them as family, made them feel involved & on the cusp of new successes.
That Ed was handsome as well as enthusiastic helped in the looks-oriented world of Hollywood.
That he was additionally rather "innocently perverse" with his transvestism & fetish for women's sweaters meant every freak on the fringe of the film industry wanted to be his friend, & he seems to have judged none of them harshly.
His "business" presentation of himself & his ideas explains how he got films made at all, since there was never a finished product that would've justified anyone believing in him ever again.
People certainly didn't join in because they needed the money; he wasn't paying much, if anything, for their participation. It was indeed the joy to being part of his dream & his family.
And he was personally so enthused to bring Bela into his family, at a time when everything in the beloved horror actor's life had gone to hell due to his dependence on heroin.
Often actors got jettisoned no matter their habits or their greater yesterdays, but being desparately in need of his next fix pretty much meant his career was over.
Yet unjudgemental Ed was no less in awe of Bela, & with great happiness built Bride of the Monster (1955) around him. Then failing to realize the result was a fiasco, he began preparations for Tomb of the Vampire & had scant minutes filmed when Bela died in 1956.
Ed couldn't let go of the idea that Bela would star in another film. The couple minutes of footage for the never-made vampire film, plus some random footage of Bela puttering in front of his home, was to be spliced into Plan 9 From Outer Space whether or not it fit.
Then in pretense that it was Bela's last role & he really was in it, Ed got his wife's chiropractor Tom Mason to serve as Bela's body-double, though resembling him in no manner.
He had insanely bad performers like "Vampira" (Maila Elizabeth Syrjaniemi Nurmi, whose act was copied wholesale by Elvira Mistress of Darkness); eye-rolling drag queen "Bunny Breckinridge" in his only film appearance as the leader of the aliens; Ed's semi-legendary regular Tor Johnson...
And for the opening narration he had "The Amazing Criswell" who for years had done his ultra-faggy psychic-powers routine on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show & was himself spoofed by Johnny with his ongoing character of Carnaki.
Such as these were hardly Hollywood shakers & movers. But they were a charming lot who hung many a dream on Ed Wood's implausible intentions to make stars of them all.
As for Bela, there's no reason to suppose he was anything but pleased to have Ed's help in those latter days of crisis. My late friend Forrey Ackerman, when he was a young man, was an occasional companion to the declining Bela.
"EEEE" (which was one of Forrey's alternative spellings of his own name) told the tale of Bela breaking down in tears while admitting, "If not for you horror fans, I wouldn't have anybody left." And Ed, like Forrey, was foremost a horror fan.
Defining or synopsizing what happens in Plan 9 is a fool's name, & I'll be fool enough to try but briefly.
Broadly, beings from outer space fear Earthlings development of the A bomb (or the next thing after) will destroy the entire universe. The aliens will do anything to stop us, including raising the dead as an army of zombies so that our species will be freaked out.
This was evidently their ninth plan, the first eight having been too stupid to succeed, but this one they think very clever.
Making sense of it is too frustrating, so the real joy is in noticing the cardboard grave stones knocked in to; Bela's body-double seemingly a lot taller than Bela looking so funny trying to hide his face behind the cape; a character playing an airplane pilot reading directly from the script he's holding in his hand; the set's backdrop with an actor's shadow clearly cast on the supposed "horizon"; & something just as absurd in nearly every shot.
Ed was infamous for never reshooting anything no matter what went wrong. He literally didn't have any more film to use. It's not that he didn't care; he just thought everything worked.
Still, Plan 9's fame as "the worst film ever made" is an exaggeration. It is certainly one of worst films that is this much fun to watch -- Tor & Vampira pretending to be zombies is a hoot -- but worse films such as are no fun at all are legion.
I first saw Plan 9 as a little kid, when I was already addicted to the Universal horror films that ran every Friday night on a local television station, padded out with the least of Roger Corman & other cheap old product.
I was capable of being fooled by some pretty foolish FX, but a model of a flying saucer swinging back & forth on a string was just too ridiculous to convince me of anything.
Once one got used to the amazing quality of the Universal product, it was hard to adjust to films as bad as Ed Wood's, & I didn't yet have a deeper understanding of the absurd, the pitiful, & the funny.
So when I stayed up past my bedtime to see Plan Nine expecting to enjoy my fave Bela Lugosi, I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was about.
I was thoroughly disappointed as I tried to fathom the meaning of the apparent time-travel loop of Bela strolling through the same scene time & time again, & why he usually held his cape in front of his face. I was young enough to be duped into believing that was Bela, but too old to believe any of this qualified as a story.
I would be quite a bit older before I would realize Corman's Little Shop of Horrors () really is hysterical (I'd thought it was just a monster movie with a really dumb monster), or to comprehend that Ed Wood's Plan 9 was a riot of accidental anarchic comedy.
And though fans today tend to watch this film because Ed Wood is the God of Ineptitude & good for a laugh, I can't watch it without simultaneously experiencing it as heartbreaking tragedy, feeling a deep sorrow that Ed Wood's intent of "saving" Bela from the horror his own life had come down to this; his intent of making films in which all his crew & cast & himself could take pride, no more likely or tangible than a vaporous dream.
Goodness underlies Ed Wood's delusion, goodness such as infuses failure with beauty & sorrow. These are things missing from today's plethora of microbudget fiascos.
So here's to Bela. Here's to Ed. May there always be horror fans who love them as they deserved to be loved.
More zombies in:
King of the Zombies (1941)
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl