Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
There are bad movies, and then there are bad movies.
Some movies are made with the sole intent to cause physical and mental pain to its audience. Some movies are made by directors and film crews with dim outlooks on life and low opinions of humanity. Some movies are torturous to sit through in ways that violate the Geneva Conventions. Some movies exist only to insult your intelligence, diminish your sanity, and suck your very will to live.
Then there is that special kind of bad movie, the "so bad it's good" type of turkey. It's the unnatural phenomenon where a film is just so inept, so terrible, so incompetent on every imaginable level that it somehow transcends all logic and criticism and actually becomes quite entertaining. They're been called guilty pleasures, unintentional comedies, and have sometimes been considered art films. People not only love them, but make them cult classics and recommend them to friends.
You know which ones I'm talking about. Snakes on a Plane. The Room. Reefer Madness. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Every movie Troma Films has ever made.
And this week, we're looking at the granddaddy of them all.
Who better to school us all in how not to make a movie than the grand cheese master himself, Edward D. Wood, Jr., writer, producer, director, known transvestite, lover of angora sweaters, and the self-proclaimed master of "suspension of disbelief"? A man who loved movies and loved making movies, even though he wasn't very good at it. An icon of overzealous half-assery who combined the acting talents (or lack thereof) of horror legends Vampira, Tor Johnson, even the great Bela Lugosi (sort of), put together shoddy reusable sets complete with identical shower curtains, banged out a script in no less than five minutes tops, dressed half the cast in shiny bathrobes, and then blindly chucked the footage in the editor's face with the words "go nuts", and STILL came up with a film that is less than the sum of its parts.
Crackpot psychic The Amazing Criswell opens the film by talking (or reading off cue cards) about the future, where you and I will spend the rest of our lives, and where future events such as these will affect us. He then goes on to talk about "what happened on that fateful day" and then confuses us further about punishing the guilty and rewarding the innocent before finally settling on "GRAVE ROBBERS FROM OUTER SPACE!"
Up in the skies, two men pretending to be airline pilots while sitting in a mostly empty room on boxes are freaked out by a shot of a hubcap hanging from a string.
Meanwhile, following a funeral service for the wife of an elderly gentleman, two gravediggers are burying the coffin when they are suddenly attacked by the very woman they were just burying.
Grief-stricken and despondent, the widower sadly leaves the house they had shared for so many years and walks a lonely, lonely path...into oncoming traffic.
And at HIS funeral, little do his mourners know that as they walk out of the world's smallest mausoleum wondering why his wife isn't entombed in there with him, HER CORPSE IS WATCHING THEM.
And it just gets better from here.
That evening, one of the pilots, a man named Jeff Trent, tells his wife Paula about the flying saucer he saw, saying it looked like a giant cigar (a giant hubcap-shaped cigar, I'm sure) and after he radioed it in, the topmost army personnel were upon him as soon as they landed and made him and the co-pilot swear to secrecy. He can't even admit he saw the thing (even though he just did). Suddenly a bright flash and a huge gust of wind knocks them both backward as a spacecraft has just landed in a cemetery conveniently next to the house, and just as conveniently where those two gravediggers were killed.
As the wind knocks the police around flimsy grave markers, one Inspector Clay (Johnson), who had gone off on his own with a flashlight, encounters Lugosi (or was it the director's wife's chiropractor? I can't be sure) and Vampira and is promptly murdered. ("And somebody's responsible!")
Soon after, Hollywood and Washington, DC are visited by similar sightings of hubcaps wobbling about on strings ("Visits? That would indicate visitors!") and the army's only solution is to shoot off pop caps at them. (How hard is it to hit them? They're just dangling up there.) As the army men ponder just what it is they're shooting at and what it is they're covering up, the aliens return to their space station and set about implementing "Plan 9", which is the regeneration of the newly deceased through stimulation of the pineal and pituitary glands in hopes of gaining the people of Earth's attention.
Well, as Trent leaves to play pretend airplane pilot again, Paula is left all alone to touch his pillows in her sleep (make of that what you will) when Lugosi/Chiropractor Vampire Guy comes into her bedroom for some reason and chases her out of the house and into the cemetery, where he, Vampira and now the newly resurrected Inspector Clay wander around aimlessly while the girl runs around screaming. Shots alternate between soundstage and outdoor film, actors run across the same part of the cemetery several times over and the time of day changes completely at random until Paula is finally carried off the movie by a passing motorist. The dead reconvene at a waiting space vessel which takes off just as the cops arrive.
Wait, the detective and the dead wife come back as zombies, but the old man comes back as a vampire? How does that work?
Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, Colonel Thomas Edwards, Chief of Saucer Operations (as if there were such a position in in the Army, at least to my knowledge) is briefed by a chain-smoking general about the radio signals the aliens have been sending them all this time, and then plays him one which they have translated via their new "language computer." The speaker identifies himself as Eros, a soldier from some unnamed planet within the galaxy who describes his race as advanced eons beyond humans, calls they "stupid" for thinking they were alone in the universe, states that they have come to save their planet from their "ancient, juvenile minds" who keep devising new ways to blow themselves up, and states that the Earth's big guns scare them and that humankind will be destroyed if they refuse to acknowledge their existence.
Not one for diplomacy, are we?
Edwards is sent to California to speak with the Trents when the aliens come back, send their vampire to attack them and then promptly vaporize him with their Decomposing Ray.
You know, I'm beginning to think these cries for attention are signs of a deeper psychological problem.
A trip back into the cemetery to see where this ray came from sees Monster Clay kidnap Trent's wife and Eros invite them inside their spaceship so they can show them that they're holding Trent's wife captive. He then goes on to reiterate that they are on a mission of peace by admonishing them for their primitive wars, calling them "idiots" with "stupid minds" who will just keep killing each other, and states that mankind must be obliterated before they stumble upon a new type of explosive--a "Solaranite" bomb which would harness molecules of sunlight or whatever as an explosive that would set off a chain reaction and destroy the universe.
Oh, nice use of tact, Eros. The aliens from Independence Day have better people skills.
Anyway, police reinforcements arrive to incapacitate Clay with a stick to the back of his head and save Trent's wife, a fight breaks out on the spacecraft between Trent and Eros that destroys Eros' ham radio equipment and sets off a fire, Trent and the army guys escape just as the flaming ship takes off and explodes in midair, and the remaining zombie creatures instantly decompose where they stand.
Then Criswell comes back daring us to prove that what we just saw didn't happen (we can) and warns us that people whom we don't even know have passed us by in the street may be from outer space, and mentions something about laughing at vitamins and television and outer space before ending with "God help us in the future," not telling us what any of this even has to do with the future.
Plan 9 from Outer Space is a quandary among bad movies. Is it a bad movie? Undoubtedly. Did it look like they only had a special effects budget of twenty dollars (adjusted for inflation)? Absolutely. Does the plot make as much sense as a 27-dollar bill? Of course. Could a hyperactive six-year-old have written better dialogue? Again, the answer is yes.
Is it the worst movie ever made, however? Surprisingly no.
There ARE bad movies out there. Movies that make you cringe, movies that make you hurt, movies that make you want to find the nearest bridge and jump off it. I've done a few on this blog already--Supergirl, Volcano, Mexican Santa Claus, and maybe some others I can't name off the top of my head. To list Plan 9 from Outer Space among those titles just seems...wrong.
Don't get me wrong; it is NOT a good movie. It tries hard to tell a suspenseful science fiction story and fails spectacularly in every category. But I'm certain there isn't a director alive who goes into any movie project with the sole intent of making an absolute stinkburger. Sometimes watching these cinematic failures are like staring at a train wreck. You can't look away. And over the years people continue to not look away at epic fails like these. And they keep telling other movie buffs to not look away. And eventually they gain legions of fans, attract new generations of film lovers and develop a cult following, and nobody ever looks away.
I guess my point is...the worst movie ever made is NOT the worst movie ever made.
Adam Lafferty also likes to talk about movies, among other things, on his other blog, popculturevomitbag.blogspot.com.
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