OK, so there’s these future events, right, that will affect you in the future, because that’s where we are all going to spend the rest of our lives, or something or other. And there’s these super intelligent aliens who are intent on stopping us humans from creating Solaranite, a kind of sun-driven doomsday device that would have the capacity to destroy life, the universe and everything. In order to achieve this the aliens have implemented Plan 9, which will bring the recently dead back to life to create havoc. The aliens hope by doing this the leaders of our planet will abandon their plans to create Solaranite. But if they don’t, they (the aliens) will unleash armies of the undead to destroy mankind.
Plan 9 is a pretty rubbish plan by anyone’s standard. If that was all the aliens could come up with in Plan 9, what idiotic and unfeasible schemes did Plans 1-8 contain? If you ask me, Plan 9 was never really thought out properly. I could have come up with a better plan than that, and I have absolutely no designs on world domination. But, you may be asking yourself at this very moment, what about Plans 1-8? Whatever happened to them? From what I can gather, Plans 1-8 were apparently abandoned by the aliens, possibly because they were idiotic and unfeasible. The details of Plans 1-8 were never fully explained – which just goes to show that the aliens were possibly not that intelligent after all. Personally, I’d have given up after Plan 2.
But, I didn’t write this story. This story is from the fevered mind of the cross-dressing master of terrible dialogue and nonsensical plotting; the anti-genius with a penchant for angora sweaters; the man who is regarded by some critics as the worst film director of all time – Edward D. Wood Jr – and his greatest work, Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), is regarded by these same critics as the worst film ever made.
I disagree on both counts. Ed may have laboured under the misguided notion that he was somehow on a par with the great Orson Welles and that Plan 9 From Outer Space was his Citizen Kane, but he was ambitious; an eternal optimist who managed to single-handedly raise the money to make his films and retain artistic control over all of his projects. He was one of a handful of truly independent American film makers, something of a rarity in the 1950s, who worked really fast. The only other director that comes to mind who worked like him was the marvellous Roger Corman, who worked so fast that it’s said that, with two days of studio time left after completing A Bucket of Blood (1959), he was able to film The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) in its entirety. Granted, Roger Corman was a much better director than Ed Wood and films were given a touch of class after he had secured the services of an actor who was able to draw in the crowds and who would become a staple in horror films on both sides of the Atlantic – Vincent Price.
Ed was no slouch here, either. Roger Corman may have had Vincent Price on his books but Ed had Count Dracula himself – Bela Lugosi. When Ed met Bela, the old bloodsucker was a methadone addict living in obscurity and near-poverty in Los Angeles. As a lifelong fan of Lugosi’s films Ed offered him star billing in his future projects. He was the anonymous narrator in the uniquely bad transvestite drama Glen or Glenda (1953) and the mad scientist, Dr Vornoff, in the much better Bride of the Monster (1955). After these Ed shot some preliminary footage of Lugosi in his Dracula cape for a series of intended star vehicles where he would reprise his role of the famous undead Count, but he (Lugosi) unfortunately died of a heart attack at the age of 73 while he was lying on a couch in his home.
Ever the opportunist, Ed used this footage as the starting point for his next feature, Plan 9 From Outer Space. Lugosi got top-billing even though he was on screen for barely five minutes and it may have been Ed’s way of commemorating his old friend, but it was more likely done to sell the picture. He used Tom Mason, his wife’s chiropractor, to double for Lugosi for the rest of the film, although he did encounter some problems with his casting – he was noticeably thinner than Lugosi, was at least a foot taller and he also looked nothing like him. But no problem was insurmountable for the resourceful Edward D. Wood Jr. He just got Mason to cover half his face with his cape and his problem was solved. I mean, who would notice?
Add to this scenes where the cockpit of an aircraft that looks more like a shower cubicle, a car that drives from night to day to night again, cardboard gravestones that wobble when the actors brush past them, flying saucers that are obviously hubcaps suspended on wires and a cop that scratches his head with the barrel of a loaded revolver and what you have is a camp classic that’s a hoot from start to finish. But it’s the unintentionally hilarious dialogue that’s the most fun.
The introduction at the start of the film was by the flamboyant American psychic Criswell, who was well known for his wildly inaccurate predictions. What follows is the full text of that introduction. See if you can spot the mistake.
Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are giving you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimonies of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places, my friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer space?
Notice how he begins by talking about the events in the film being in the future and then within less than thirty seconds he’s talking about them being in the past. Grave Robbers From Outer Space, incidentally, was the original title of the film. But the story goes that the two financiers were Baptist ministers and they objected to use of the words Grave Robbers, regarding it as sacrilegious.
After Inspector Clay (played by the Swedish professional wrestler Super Swedish Angel aka Tor Johnson) is killed, Lt Harper announces: “One thing’s sure: Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.”
This is what Colonel Edwards (Tom Keene) has to say about the aliens: “For a time we tried to contact them by radio, but no response. Then they attacked a town, a small town I’ll admit, but nevertheless a town of people, people who died.”
To say that Plan 9 From Outer Space is the worst film of all time is doing it a terrible disservice. There are plenty of other films out there that are worse than this one. Roland Emmerich’s dismal 2012 is surely much much worse. Considering that Emmerich’s budget must have been about a billion times more that Ed Wood’s he succeeded in producing a movie that was simultaneously dumb, pointless and totally devoid of any humour (intentional or otherwise). Also its prediction (which, let’s not forget, was what the film was all about) was even less accurate than one of Criswell’s.
The list of films that are worse than Plan 9 From Outer Space is endless. Here are a just five of them:
Michael Bay’s flag-wavingly bad Pearl Harbor (2001), where Josh Hartnett, plays an American pilot who has just returned from Britain after helping us poor useless Brits win the Battle of Britain. On the Extras disc of the DVD of the Battle of Britain (1969), Michael Caine interviews some American tourists in London and asks them if they knew what the Battle of Britain was. One woman says, “I don’t know, but I’m sure America was involved.” She was probably from Texas.
David Twohy’s flabby and nonsensical sequel to his exciting and tightly plotted Pitch Black (2000), The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) which was a clear example of giving a director far too much money and in which Vin Diesel’s character managed to bear no resemblance to the character he played in previous film.
Jonathan Mostow’s execrable U-571 (2000), described by one IMDB reviewer as ‘Mel Brooks does Das Boot”, this film managed to offend everyone who had served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War (or indeed every British serviceman who ever served anywhere at any time) by suggesting that it was the Americans who first captured an Enigma machine. This was an amazing feat by any stretch of the imagination as the British captured the first Enigma machine before the Americans had even entered the war.
Neil LaBute’s unbelievably arrogant, time-wasting, pointless and utterly dreadful 2006 remake of The Wicker Man, one of the best British films of all time, with Nicolas Cage giving an all-time low performance, not helped by a stupid script.
The spectacularly bad Battlefield Earth (2000), a film that should by all accounts have destroyed John Travolta’s career. This was a great example of GIGA (Garbage-In, Garbage-Out). The Garbage-In was the book by L. Ron Hubbard (science-fiction’s equivalent of Dan Brown or E.L. James), the Garbage-Out was just about everything the film had to offer, from the just-a-wrinkle away from plagiarising Klingons to the gibberish that was adapted from the original badly written book.
And I’ve not even got around to Days of Thunder (1990), Titanic (1997), Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), the utterly pointless remake of The Ladykillers (2004), the Coen Brothers’ only misfire, Catwoman (2004), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), Disaster Movie (2008), Taken 2 (2012), Freddy Got Fingered (2001), the woefully disappointing Star Wars Episodes 1, 2 & 3 (1999, 2002 & 2005), and, of course, the moronic Batman & Robin (1997) and the unintentionally homo-eroticism of Top Gun (1986).
And in no way is Ed Wood the worst director of all time. M Night Shyamalan deserves that particular honour. His breakthrough film The Sixth Sense (1999) and its follow-up Unbreakable (2000) now make him look like his talent was just a flash-in-the-pan. Since then he has demonstrated to the paying public who flock to see his over-hyped films just how bad a writer/director he is. Described by some IMDB users as the most inept film-maker working today, he has given us Signs (2002), a thriller with no thrills; The Village (2004), a shock ending film with the least shocking shock ending ever; the cloying, pompous and condescending Lady in the Water (2006); The Happening (2008), in which absolutely nothing happens; the dull, boring, poorly acted, badly written and unappealing $150 million fantasy disaster The Last Airbender (2010); and the stupefying and lifeless After Earth (2013). And, if I’m being honest, I guessed the ending of The Sixth Sense five minutes into the film. Everybody had been telling me what a brilliant twist it had and so I just thought to myself, “What’s the only way this film can twist? Oh, yeah – Bruce Willis is a ghost.” It was simple really. Sorry if I’ve spoilt that for anyone who has not seen the film and was planning to watch it in the near future.
You can say what you want about Ed Wood’s films, but they are, at the very least entertaining, which is what going to the cinema is all about, and Plan 9 From Outer Space gets better and better with subsequent viewings. It’s especially good if you watch it as part of a double bill alongside Tim Burton’s brilliant and lovingly crafted Ed Wood (1994). If Plan 9 From Outer Space was Ed Wood’s masterpiece then Ed Wood, featuring an astonishing Oscar-winning performance from Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, is surely Burton’s. In his book Incredibly Strange Films, Jim Morton writes, “Eccentric and individualistic, Edward D. Wood Jr was a man born to film. Lesser men, if forced to make movies under the conditions Wood faced, would have thrown up their hands in defeat.”
Ed Wood made movies to make movies, not to make money, and in my book that’s not a bad thing at all.