Near the end of his life, Bela Lugosi, famous for playing Dracula, was shooting two films. These films were never realized, but the director decided to use that footage for another movie. This while done for strategic purposes with Lugosi’s star power, the director meant the appearance as a tribute to the actor, who had become a close friend. The scenes with Lugosi are short, but could be seen in a melancholia for the deceased actor and a great bit of final footage of the actor. Or at least that would be true if 1.) It was attached to a decent film, and 2.) If the film’s narrator would just stop talking.
The director, Ed Wood, would become famously called by many as the worst director of all time, making several critically and financially panned films. While at least one of Wood’s films, Glen or Glenda (1953), has gotten a critical reevaluation over time, the film I am looking at hasn’t. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) is considered to be one of the worst films of all time and has only been reevaluated in terms of how unintentionally funny it is.
The plot of the film is a bizarre combination of Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and low-budget horror. Basically, some aliens come to Earth and intend to destroy humanity and conquer Earth. In order to achieve this goal, they attempt the most rational of takeover methods….resurrect the dead one by one while generously acting as target practice for the U.S. Army stock footage corps! Eventually, (presumindly after another 20 journeys back to their boss who looks like he came on set after going to a renaissance festival) they will have an army of dead people which they will send ‘to all of Earth’s capitals’ and win. Sure they have advanced weapons they claim could have destroyed the planet, but why would they have weapons that can just wipe out humanity while leaving the Earth intact? No, they need their plan 9: the roundabout conquest by reviving the dead, naturally starting with a wife to an old man (played by Vampira, one of the first ‘horror hosts’) and then the old man himself, who is Bela Lugosi…. or at least is supposed to be. Since Lugosi was already dead, Wood got his wife’s chiropractor, Tom Mason to stand in for the actor despite clearly not looking like Lugosi and being noticeably taller. In order to keep up the ruse to the audience, they had Mason cover his face so that only his eyes could be seen. This only results in him looking like a Dracula cosplayer who really dislikes his face.
The characters are mostly non-existent especially on the human end—I genuinely cannot remember any of their names! They’re mostly just stock 1950s heroes, personality-wise. The aliens are clearly not as smart or mature as they or the script think they are. Sure, the humans will listen to the guy wearing an outfit that looks like a parody of itself, who constantly makes bad choices, and whose memorable line being him literally calling someone stupid with the emotion of a child throwing a temper tantrum!
The undead of the film mostly just wander aimlessly through the set not doing much, especially Vampira, who may as well have been cut from the film entirely. The last undead, played by Swedish pro wrestler Tor Johnson, starts as an unintelligible cop for two minutes, is the main undead faced in the climax, and does well, if you ignore him breathing as an undead, and that poor mishap with that coffin when he is brought back.
There are many dumb things throughout the film. The aliens are the most blatant in this. Aside from plan 9 itself, the aliens are said to have attempted peaceful communication with humanity only for them to be ignored. Said attempt is to send out a radio signal that requires a universal translator equivalent to actually understand it, which they just assume the humans have. Why not just fly down to the U.N. and just talk to them directly and publicly so they can’t be denied to exist?
And then we have this film’s 1950s sci-fi aesop about war. So the aliens start this whole plan because of the belief that we are on the cusp of making a Solarnite, where they blow up sunlight, which would then snowball into destroying the entire universe. Aside from the weapon being so unrealistic along with a joke of an attempt at technobabble, 1950s humanity is nowhere near that point of destructive technology, especially compared to the aliens. Also, if the blast would destroy the universe, how would they know it does that, or would know it exists? Did they blow themselves up? Honestly, considering that plan 9 is a serious plan this race has, that would not be shocking.
The film is very poorly written, though at this point that should be obvious. The production doesn’t help much. The sets seem less like actual places and more like a stage being used for a high school production. The graveyard is the worst example of this: the tomestones look like cardboard! Additionally, the film has the most blatant continuity errors in film history, as it shifts from day to night in so many transition shots. At some point this has to stop being an error when it happens so often, therefore the errors must be in the film’s universe. In that case with the sky switching from day to night at an alarming rate should probably be the concern of the characters more than the actual plot.
Overall, Plan 9 from Outer Space is basically a joke. It’s comparable to films like Troll 2(1990) and The Room(2003) for ‘so bad, it’s good’ films, able to give people a good laugh. Other than that, it’s not much else. Go check it out if you want to truly experience the bad movie phenomenon.