This review is part of the Horror’s “Worst” Films: Tasteless Entertainment or Endurance Test? series.
Horror’s “Worst” Films – Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Is there a more famous “bad movie” than Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, or a more infamous director than Ed Wood, who had a 1994 biopic made about him by none other than Tim Burton which starred Johnny Depp? Uwe Boll is certainly bad and well-known, but Ed Wood’s Plan 9 was the holy grail of bad films for generations of tasteless movie connoisseurs and continues to be the standard by which all other schlock is judged. And rightly so.
Though released in 1959, Plan 9 didn’t receive the negative recognition we’ve come to associate with it until it was chosen as the “worst movie ever made” by Michael and Harry Medved in their 1980 book The Gold Turkey Awards. Stephen King has written negatively about the movie for what he perceived as its exploitation of a morphine-racked Bela Lugosi. Indeed, Lugosi was about as far from his glory days of 1931’s Dracula, or from his fame as a premiere actor in his native Hungary preceding that time, than one could get when he died in 1956. Before he passed, however, he had performed some silent test footage with Wood for what was intended to be Tomb of the Vampire, some of it outside actor Tor Johnson’s home, who would also appear in Plan 9 (nor is this the last time we’ll see Johnson on this list). Rather than discard that meager footage, Wood built Plan 9 around it and cast his wife’s chiropractor to play Lugosi’s double even though he looked nothing like the actor, covering his lower face with a cape. What King saw as exploitation may have been tribute, as Wood and Lugosi allegedly became close in the actor’s final years.
Nevertheless, that Wood was in a sense making Lugosi’s last movie attracted many actors to the project who’s better judgment would have otherwise kept them at bay, such as Maila Nurmi, more famously known as the wasp-like Vampira, TV’s incredibly influential first horror host. Nurmi reportedly insisted that her character be mute because she found the dialogue dreadful.
Ed Wood is what one gets when they combine enthusiasm and determination with absolutely no talent or taste. Plan 9 manages to be a fast-paced, entertaining ride mostly because it never sits still. It’s easy to count the short-comings, such as the bizarre rambling narration by Wood’s friend, the eccentric and famously inaccurate psychic Criswell (“And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future”), and well as the cheap sets, the bad acting, the pathetically poor costumes and special effects, and lack of editing continuity as sequences go from night to day to night again, and so on. Plan 9 is a bad film, undoubtedly, but it’s never a boring one.