Monday, October 24, 2011

“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.”

Two years ago I reviewed Ed Wood, a well-made, heartwarming movie about a bad filmmaker and his dreams of movie glory. Well, its time to let Edward D. Wood Jr.’s magnum opus speak for itself. In 1959 he gifted Plan 9 From Outer Space to the world, and the world hasn’t stopped laughing.

We open with CRISWELL PREDICTS, where Criswell, the Nostradamus of the 20th Century, babbles some vague and redundant sentences before mentioning grave robbers from outer space. Then we get into the credits and the real plot. After burying his wife, a grieving old man is killed off-screen by a car. An pilot landing at Burbank Airport sees a flying saucer out of his window. The aliens land and proceed to raise the old man and his wife from their graves with SPACE SCIENCE and the undead start killing people in a cemetery, including a cop investigating it (and then reanimating him). The military fires ineffectually on some flying saucers. Things begin to escalate between the humans and aliens and the aliens decide to destroy humanity before its destructive potential can start blowing up a sun and causing universal catastrophe. If you think that plot sounds somewhat reasonable, then congratulations, you haven’t seen Plan 9 before.

Jeff Trent: Gregory Walcott as our square-jawed pilot. He’s the closest thing to a protagonist everyman, I suppose. He lives right next to the cemetery where the aliens have set up base, which must’ve been some cheap real estate.

Paula Trent: Mona McKinnon is Jeff’s wife and loyal and supporting of him. She gets chased around by some of the monsters. She’s also got one hell of a sentence featuring the word “there.”

Ghoul Man: Bela Lugosi, and yes, that’s his credit in this, his last film. Infamously, Wood shot some footage of Lugosi early in the production (as a grieving old man and then in his Dracula costume) and then Lugosi (an old man who developed a heroin addiction later in life) passed away. More infamously, Wood used his chiropractor as a replacement body double who covered his face with a cape but couldn’t cover the fact that his hair was different and he was several inches taller.

The sad demise of Bela Lugosi notwithstanding, the “Ghoul Man” breaks into Paula’s house in the dead of day-for-night and chases her out of her house but then is used as the “expendable” undead. The aliens have him confront the humans and then cut off the ray powering him, reducing him to a skeleton. I’m assuming because even Ed Wood knew he couldn’t keep that up for a whole movie. On the plus side, you can’t really knock Bela’s performance because what little there is of him isn’t bad. Its just badly cut into the movie.

Inspector Daniel Clay: Wrestler Tor Johnson, a staple of several terrible movies from the time period (including several of Wood’s). This movie displays why he normally played silent brutes, because Inspector Clay has a near-impenetrable accent while alive. He does, however, come across as an affable guy, just not one cut out for acting.

Vampire Girl: TV hostess Vampira (Maila Nurmi) plays the deceased wife of the Ghoul Man. She also looks a good thirty years younger than her “husband” so go, Bela, go! Anyway, she just wanders around with her wasp waist and her arms outstretched. Her claim to fame was being a California TV personality that played a vampire-type and showed old movies. A Proto-Elvira, if you will. (So much so that she eventually sued Elvira for cribbing her act).

Lieutenant Harper: Duke Moore plays the cop in charge of the investigation after Clay’s death. He’s got famously bad trigger discipline, using his gun to point at everything, which he apparently did to see if Wood noticed or cared. Wood did not and those shots stayed in the film.

Colonel Edwards: Tom Keene plays a military man who gets sent by the Pentagon to investigate things at the cemetery because he’s had experience in shooting at the aliens earlier in the movie.

Eros: Dudley Manlove is the leader of the alien expedition to Earth. Plan 9, which deals with the resurrection of the dead, is his idea of conquering Earth. He manages to raise three corpses from the grave. Corpses that can’t really tell friend from foe without direct control via electro guns. Plan 9 is not a good plan. Worse, when the humans finally confront him about what’s been going on, he explains that since humanity, even as backward and stupid as it is, is close to discovering Solarnite, a means through which they can explode sunlight itself and destroy the galaxy. Or something. He explains this in the most condescending way possible, so its hard to actually feel bad for him when he gets socked in the jaw.

Tanna: Joanna Lee plays Eros’ much more level-headed (and cuter) sidekick. She’s also less into the plan to wipe out humanity with an army of zombies.

Ruler: John “Bunny” Breckinridge plays the ruler of the aliens. Eros shows off Tor to him as a proof-of-concept for Plan 9 and then Tor almost strangles Eros when the control mechanism malfunctions. Despite this, the Ruler approves of Plan 9. These are really dumb aliens.

Criswell: Criswell himself provides narration for the film, and, well, has the best delivery actually. He spouts nothing but nonsense, but he says it with such conviction that even when he reads “Future events such as these will affect you in the future” from a cue card, you kind of accept the purple prose and his weird haircut.

Edward D. Wood Jr. directed it, and it shows. Wood famously didn’t like re-shooting scenes, so the movie is rife with continuity gaffs and things that would be considered bloopers in other movies (like Tor struggling to get out of his grave). Day-for-night is not just used, but abused, as is stock footage. The flying saucers not only wobble but the strings are clearly visible. Wood also edited the movie, so that’s bad too, the worst examples being soudstage shots set at night intercut with “night” shots shot on location. It would be an unsafe idea to take a drink every time there’s an editing error, which means I’m sure there are already several out there on the internet.

Edward D. Wood Jr. on script duty as well, and it shows. The bare plot (aliens come to Earth and raise zombies to preemptively conquer Earth before it becomes a cosmic problem) is not horrible in itself. But then the plot gets mangled anyway. The sequence of events that actually takes place is more than a bit incomprehensible. For example, the aliens enact Plan 9 in retaliation for being shot at by the army, but before THAT happens, they’ve already reanimated two corpses. Eros is possibly the worst diplomat ever. The dialog itself is also worth noting, because it is sublimely awful. From Criswell’s ramblings to Paula’s repetitious use of “there” in one sentence to Eros’ speeches, the dialog is both tremendously awful and bloody hilarious to the point of quotability.

There is no actual credit I was able to find for a single composer, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that Wood used a library of stock music, which sounds like something he’d do. The music is actually kind of nice and full of energy and verve and completely fails to match whatever scene it is accompanying on the screen.

There’s a reason why Ed Wood’s name has lived on as the king of the worst movie makers. There are actual movies that are quite a bit worse, but Plan 9 from Outer Space is different in that everything is awful. Bad shooting, bad editing, bad dialog, bad writing, bad props, bad sets, bad soundstages, bad (use of) music, bad effects. There’s just a uniform layer of enthusiastic awfulness that permeates the entire movie. And that right there is the Ed Wood Mark of Quality.

This is a very, very, very, very bad movie, but required viewing for fans of bad movies because it has everything you could want in a failure of a movie.

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