Grave Robbers from Outer Space

Famous as the worst movie ever made, Plan 9 from Outer Space was a shoe-in for Yakmala. The sad thing is that after all the crap we’ve watched Ed Wood’s masterpiece is not really that bad.

Tagline: Unspeakable Horrors From Outer Space Paralyze The Living And Resurrect The Dead!

More Accurate Tagline: Who Did What to the Who Now?

Guilty Party: Writer/director Edward D. Wood, Jr. Although he has long been hailed as the worst director ever, after being exposed to the work of guys like Brad Grinter and Hal Warren, I have to conclude that Wood is a little underrated. Don’t get me wrong, the man is completely inept. He couldn’t coax a convincing performance out of Olivier, let alone the collection of wrestlers, oddballs and junkies with which he saddles himself. Not that the fault is entirely on his directing; he couldn’t write either. Nearly every line could be followed by someone slapping the speaker upside the head with a hollered “Well, DUH!” Can there be any other response to such gems as: “Visits? That would indicate visitors” or “Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.” It’s like Wood decided to define “visit” and “murder” no doubt educating while he entertains and accomplishing neither. Still, you have to admire a man with the ego and drive of a genius with the talent of something you’d dig out of your ear after Burning Man.

Synopsis: Aliens, concerned that we might annihilate the universe by creating a bigger form of atomic bomb, have already attempted eight plans to stop us. Plan Nine involves bringing the dead back as ghouls to karate chop some sense into people, which begs two questions: a) What were Plans One through Eight? and b) Are there Plans Ten and beyond? I like to think that the plans started out fairly normal. Plan One was like “Ask nicely,” Plan Two was something along the lines of “Offer bribes.” By Plan Eight, things started getting surreal. Plan Thirteen must be “Train badgers in the ancient art of mime, then release them in a dentist convention in Tucson, where they will mime the Battle of Hastings while dressed as Stu Sutcliffe and Glen Matlock.” Anyway, once the zombies start bothering people, the cops show up to investigate, led by Inspector Clay (Tor Johnson, best remembered these days as a Halloween mask) who is quickly killed. Clay, now a zombie himself, kidnaps Paula, the young wife of Jeff Trent, an airline pilot who lives right next door to the cemetery. Jeff goes off to rescue her, only to find a UFO. He gets in a philosophical talk with Eros, the peevish alien in charge which degenerates into a fistfight. Earth wins.

Life-Changing Subtext: As an atomic horror film, Plan 9 was all about fear of nuclear armageddon. This movie states that we must completely disarm all nuclear arsenals on the planet and do whatever is necessary to prevent any other nation from developing nukes of their own, up to and including turning people into karate zombies. Ed Wood’s take on American foreign policy plays like a cross between Henry Kissinger and Tristan Tzara.

Defining Quote: The narrator: “We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.” I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anything quite that stupid. It strikes me as the sort of thing you’d say to a killer robot that would fry his logic circuits and cause him to self-destruct. At least I finally have a plan if the Terminator comes after me.

Standout Performance: While John “Bunny” Breckinridge’s cameo as the fey Ruler of the galaxy is priceless (especially in light of Bill Murray’s portrayal of him in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood), the best performance is the awesomely-named Dudley Manlove as Eros the alien. As written, Eros is smug, superior and more than a little dim, but Manlove injects the character with a childlike petulance that undermines what little gravity there is. About halfway through every scene, you desperately want someone to pistol whip him and when someone finally does, you have to cheer.

What’s Wrong: Wood was notoriously bad with the “little things.” Night and day have no meaning in the film, jumping back and forth without warning or reason. The special effects are terrible: the only thing more wooden than the UFO is the acting. The most famous aspect of the production, however, is Lugosi’s death. The former Dracula died before the bulk of the movie was shot, and Wood used Dr. Tom Mason, Wood’s wife’s chiropractor (a non-actor who looked nothing like Lugosi) to finish Lugosi’s scenes, while covering his face with a cape. It’s wonderfully ridiculous, and seriously, Mason looks nothing like Lugosi.

Flash of Competence: Wood was a surprisingly good editor. If he had only confined himself to this task, his name might not be synonymous with “hack.”

Best Jokes: Plan 9 is a difficult film to mock. It was rejected by Mystery Science Theatre 3000 for having too much dialogue to work in that format, and really, Wood does the best job of making fun of the movie himself, albeit unintentionally. That’s why this movie was so prized for so long: it’s funny all on its own.

Best Scenes: One of the cops repeatedly uses his gun to scratch his head – not the best idea. I’m waiting for this to happen in a Tarantino movie. Tor Johnson’s dramatic two-handed karate chop is pretty great, too. It ends up looking like the Gorn trying to execute one of Kirk’s signature moves.

Transcendent Moment: The finest moment comes when Eros explains why the aliens have to stop the earthlings from developing the Solanite bomb. At first the humans are confused. After all, what the hell is Solanite? So Eros goes all Mr. Wizard on them and explains exactly what Solanite is and how it works, in essence telling them exactly what he was sent to make sure they never find out. He ends this with the classically bratty insult: “Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!” Klaatu would be so ashamed.

No doubt about it, Plan 9 from Outer Space is a terrible movie. As bad as it is, I’d watch it a million times before I’d sit through Xanadu or Masters of the Universe again.

One Response to “Grave Robbers from Outer Space”

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  1. Mar30

    Mrs. Supermarket

    Said this at 9:58pm:

    But you LOVE Olivia Newton John…


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