The Farce Awakens: PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (DCA 1959)

 

Plan_9_Alternative_posterI have a confession to make: I’m not a big STAR WARS buff. I enjoyed the original for what it was, an homage to campy serials like FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS. I never expected it to take off as it did and become a pop culture phenomenon, though. I also like the two sequels, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. If the entire saga ended right there, I would have been happy. I did not run out to go see the three “prequel” movies, which according to what I’ve read aren’t all that good (I’ve still never watched them, myself). And I definitely won’t be running out to fight the crowds for THE FORCE AWAKENS. No interest whatsoever. If you’re like me, and couldn’t care less about the whole STAR WARS mythos thing, but are still in the mood for some cornball sci-fi this weekend, may I suggest you make some popcorn and watch PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE?

“What?”, you’re thinking, “Is he daffy?? Has the Cracked Rear Viewer completely cracked? PLAN 9? The-worst-movie-of-all-time??” Well, first of all, it’s not nearly as bad as THE CREEPING TERROR or BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (Or Eraserhead,  for that matter). Second, though it is pretty nonsensical, and cheaply made to boot, PLAN 9 is fun to watch, especially if you’ve seen it over and over again (like me). I know what’s coming, and wait for it, then laugh my ass off! I’m sure that’s not what low-budget auteur Ed Wood had in mind when he made it, but the film’s got it’s following and is still loved by many for the sheer lunacy of it all.

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We begin with that prestigious prognosticator and old Hollywood fraud Criswell, seated at a table reading Wood’s incoherent prologue. “We are all interested in the future”, he intones, “for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives”.  No shit, Sherlock! “We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls that survived this terrible ordeal… My friends, can your heart stand the shocking truth about… Grave Robbers from Outer Space!?!?”

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From there, we enter into the mad, mad world of Edward D. Wood, Jr. There are some gravediggers who run in fear of the zombie-like Vampira (though I think she looks pretty hot!), followed by silent footage of Bela Lugosi as an old man who gets hit by a car (offscreen). The great Lugosi had died three years earlier, but Wood had some unused footage and incorporated it into PLAN 9. The dead Hungarian still manages to walk away with the film’s best acting honors!

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The police are called in to investigate the eerie goings-on, and Inspector Clay arrives…wait, IT’S TOR JOHNSON! The hulking ex-wrestler has a speaking role here, and he should’ve stayed mute, tripping over lines like “mellical examiner”. Clay wanders in the cemetery to look things over when he’s attacked by Lugosi. Wait, that’s not Lugosi. It’s Wood’s wife’s chiropractor Dr. Tom Mason, standing in for dearly departed Bela. He hides his face behind his cape, but from the eyes up…he looks NOTHING like Lugosi, not to mention he’s a lot taller. Anyways, the cops find their boss’s body, and in a brilliant deduction state, “Inspector Clay’s dead…murdered…and SOMEBODY’S responsible!”

Let’s switch over to the wild blue yonder, where we meet pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) and his crew of two. While co-pilot Danny and stewardess Edith banter about “balling it up in Albuquerque”, the plane is swooshed by a mysterious object, bathing the cockpit in white light. It can only be one thing: a flying saucer! “You mean the kind from up there?”, asks Edith. “Yeah”, replies Jeff, “or it’s counterpart!” Jeff returns home to his lovely wife Paula (Mona McKinnon) complaining about being “muzzled by big Army brass”. Something about the way Walcott says “big Army brass” causes me to go into fits of hysterical laughter every time!

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Meanwhile in Washington, the big Army brass is having a debriefing. Well, two of them anyway, General Roberts (down on his luck character actor Lyle Talbot) and Colonel Edwards (former cowboy star Tom Keene). Stock footage of military might is juxtaposed with cheesy model flying saucers on strings, and the cheesy models are winning! Edwards is sent out to search for the truth, while in space, aliens Eros and Tana (Dudley Manlove, Joanna Lee) are meeting with their superior, The Ruler (John ‘Bunny’ Breckinridge). Manlove’s pompous, over the top performance is one of PLAN 9’s highlights, while the flamboyantly gay Breckinridge is a hoot! (Miss Lee is apparently just there for window dressing.) The aliens, in what looks like costumes left over from a “Knights of the Round Table” flick, discuss putting Plan 9 into action- the rising of the dead!

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Lugosi comes out of his tomb dressed in full Dracula regalia, and he and Vampira chase Paula though the cemetery. Poor Tor visibly struggles to rise from his  grave, looking like he’s had one too many Swedish meatballs. The zombie trio are brought up to the Ruler, and Tor almost runs amok (or walks amok). Intrepid heroes Jeff, Edwards, and Lt. Moore (Duke Moore) find the saucer (how could anyone miss it?) and encounter Eros and Tanna. Eros gives a clumbsily written but cool speech about how mankind will destroy themselves and take the rest of the galaxy with them, because they’re bound to discover “the solarminite bomb”, which apparently no one but Eros can pronounce correctly. Eros taunts the good guys with “You see! You see! Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”, which gets him a sock on the jaw from Jeff. An epic battle then occurs (well, not so epic), with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes foiling the alien scheme, setting their spaceship afire, which is shown as the flying saucer model on a string set on fire, finally blowing up to high heavens. Then it’s back to Criswell for the final words: “Can you prove it didn’t happen?…God help us in the future!”

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It may seem like I’m ripping this movie apart, but I really love PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Despite the flowery dialogue and miniscule budget, Ed Wood put together an entertaining film. Maybe if he had a co-writer to reign in his propensity for long winded speeches that don’t always make sense, and had more money to work with, his films would be looked at in a different light today. Wood had some good ideas, but didn’t have the means to execute them properly. But you have to admit, he did his best with what he had to work with, and isn’t that all you can ask from anyone? I’d rewatch this, or Ed’s other masterpieces like BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and GLEN OR GLENDA? before paying big bucks to see a bloated, overhyped film like THE FORCE AWAKENS any day.  That may sound like heresy to you true blue STAR WARS fanatics, but that’s just one of the reasons I love movies so much. Everyone’s got their own personal favorites and different tastes. For those of you who’re crazy about STAR WARS, by all means have a good time this weekend. Me, I’ll be in the recliner, bowl of popcorn in my lap, grinning from ear to ear at PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Happy viewing, all!

 

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23 Replies to “The Farce Awakens: PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (DCA 1959)”

  1. I am also not much of a Star Wars fan, and while I appreciate the original trilogy, I feel like the franchise was ruined for me when the Special Editions and the prequel trilogy were released. Actually, I would care less for those if George Lucas hadn’t been so psychotic about getting rid of the original theatrical versions of the first three films. Luckily I have them on DVD (even though they aren’t top quality), but if the theatrical versions were still widely available, I wouldn’t feel so much like the franchise was ruined.

    Anyway, enough of that…This is a great review of Ed Wood’s most celebrated film. Given a choice between watching this movie or Star Wars, I would probably choose this one almost every time. You’re absolutely correct that this isn’t really the worst film ever made, either. I agree with Joe Bob Briggs when he said, “A movie can be absolutely anything, but it can’t be boring.” And Plan 9 is certainly anything but boring. The worst film ever made would have to be, by definition, the most boring film ever made, and as deep as I’ve traveled into the Video Fringe, just when I think I’ve found the worst movie ever, something else comes along that’s even worse. So far, the worst film I’ve ever seen is a fairly recent one called “Wake The Witch”; but I’m sure there’s something even worse out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We all know that viewer headcounting is a primary method for gauging a film’s importance, if not its quality. Its very similar to McDonald’s touting the zillions of Big Macs that are sold every millisecond, a fact that, while probably accurate, has no bearing on the quality of that product.

    All of which is a long-winded attempt to strongly suggest that, based solely on the number of times Plan Nine has been viewed over the years, it deserves at least one musical number honoring it, with Adele or Sting – or both? – reprising Plan Nine’s catchy and unforgettable title song, followed by the awarding of at least one honorary Special Oscar, possibly for Best Use of an Almost Nonexistent Budget.

    Liked by 1 person

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