Often dismissed as low-budget trash, there’s far more than meets than eye to “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and Ed Wood’s brilliant vision.
Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space is considered one of the worst movies of all time. However, the irony is that the film is remarkable for how bizarre and bad it is. It’s at the top of my “so bad it’s good” list.
Filmmaker Ed Wood achieved his dream posthumously. He left this dimension on December 10, 1978, but his name would live on, most notably, with Tim Burton’s film about his life, Ed Wood (1994).
Plan 9 from Outer Space is a cult masterpiece.
It checks off all of the boxes for the perfect cult film: an odd cast, even stranger dialogue, and cheesy effects that are far from special. It features memorable dialogue such as, “Future events such as these will affect you in the future,” and, “All you of Earth are idiots!”
Wood’s tale about extraterrestrial grave robbers is so bizarre that, once it’s seen, it cannot be forgotten.
The making of Plan 9 from Outer Space is just as entertaining as the film itself.
Plan 9 features a bizarre unlikely cast that includes two horror icons, a TV psychic, and a drag queen (let’s not forget, this was the 1950s).
Legends Bela Lugosi and Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira, both appear in the film.
In his later years, legendary scream king Bela Lugosi was down on his luck when Wood first offered him a part in his film Glen or Glenda (1953). Lugosi would work with Wood again in Bride of the Monster (1955).
Bela Lugosi passed away on August 16, 1956. Before his passing, Wood shot some scenes of Lugosi for a project called The Vampire’s Tomb. However, The Vampire’s Tomb was never made.
When Wood had the idea to make Plan 9, or as he called it Grave Robbers from Outer Space, Lugosi had already passed away. Wood decided to use the footage he previously shot of Lugosi. Of course, that footage only got him so far. Ever resourceful, Wood talked his wife’s chiropractor, Tom Mason, into standing in for Lugosi for the remainder of the movie.
Mason wasn’t exactly Lugosi’s twin. He was much taller. To solve this problem, Wood had Mason hunch over and cover his face with his cape in all of his scenes.
Maila Nurmi found herself in a similar position.
Nurmi was the host of The Vampira Show on KABC-TV from 1954 to 1955. After the network suddenly canceled her show, she accepted Wood’s offer to star in Plan 9. However, she thought the dialogue was so ridiculous that she insisted on playing the part mute. Nurmi would go on to become a horror cult icon herself.
The cast also included Criswell, a psychic known for making appearances on TV talk shows and making bizarre and inaccurate predictions.
Born Jeron Charles Criswell King, he was the host of his own TV show, Criswell Predicts.
He was known for making outlandish predictions. He once predicted that his friend, actress Mae West, would become President of the United States and that he would ride on a spaceship to the moon, along with West and Liberace’s brother George.
He also made an eerie prediction about Former President John F. Kennedy. He said that the President wouldn’t be able to run again in 1964 because something would happen to him in November 1963.
Another interesting addition to the cast includes John “Bunny” Breckinridge, a drag queen and actor, known for his flamboyant lifestyle.
Breckinridge was openly gay during a time when it was far less accepted than it is now. But Wood certainly wasn’t afraid to be controversial. The most interesting fun fact about Bunny Breckinridge is that he let writer Gore Vidal use his last name for the titular transgender protagonist in Vidal’s 1968 novel, Myra Breckinridge.
Most of the funding for Plan 9 came from a devout Baptist, J. Edward Reynolds who found the original title (Grave Robbers from Outer Space) offensive. So, Wood changed it. Wood and many cast members even agreed to have a full body baptism at Reynolds’ church. The baptism is depicted in Burton’s film.
According to Metal Floss, Tor Johnson pretended to drown during the ceremony as a prank.
As for the very not-so-special effects, we can’t forget the infamously low-budget sets, including plywood tombstones that wobble in some scenes.
The shadow of a boom microphone appears in the cockpit during a scene. An actor is holding a copy of the script on his lap in another scene. These didn’t appear in the original theatrical version of the movie. They were visible after the film was reformatted for television and video.
Then there are the very unconvincing spaceships.
Wood had some suggestions to use hubcaps, pie tins, or dinner plates. However, Wood eventually used “build it yourself” UFO model kits, which he acquired from a hobby shop.
The extraterrestrials are not very exciting or exotic looking. This was shot on a microscopic budget, so we don’t get elaborate makeup or even a well-made Halloween mask. We don’t even get any antennae.
I recall in Ed Wood, Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray) requests glitter or antennae and is told no.
For many years, fans wondered who composed the soundtrack, which has a quirky sound that fits the movie. Since it is a low-budget movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space doesn’t have an original soundtrack. The score is a composite that was put together with pieces of stock music. The tracks were assembled by music supervisor Gordon Zahler, who worked within Wood’s budget. However, Zahler never provided the names of the composers of the music he used.
During the 1990s, historian Paul Mandell managed to find the original recordings. Mandell was able to identify the lively quirky music featured in the opening credits as “Grip of the Law” by Trevor Duncan.
Like most cult movies, Plan 9 has a bizarre but very interesting plot.
Plan 9 is one of many plans that an alien species has for convincing earthlings of their existence which involves reanimating the dead to attack the living.
The extraterrestrial characters can control the corpses with electrode guns which shoot waves into the pineal glands of the dead. Their goal is very interesting: to prevent earthlings from developing the ultimate weapon — a bomb that could destroy the universe. The aliens don’t trust humans with this degree of power because they feel that we lack the intelligence to handle it and that we will only use it for destructive means.
To some, this may seem like a nonsensical plot. However, it’s really not if you think about it — or for those who see the world through a darkly-tinted cynical lens.
Plan 9’s dialogue may be over the top and melodramatic, but the movie doesn’t lack a plot. In fact, as silly as it is, Plan 9 from Outer Space attempts to deliver a message.
The aliens are frustrated at how narrow-minded and two-dimensional human beings are in their attempts to make humans acknowledge their existence.
PLAN 9 can be seen as a rather smart satire on our culture and society, and the way so many tend to ignore inconvenient truths, despite the overwhelming evidence right before their eyes. Certainly, we can see this in the current state of the world.
The speeches delivered by Eros (Dudley Manlove) near the end of the film along with his partner, Tanna, (Joanna Lee), are an indictment of all of the flaws in society reiterated by outsiders and misanthropes throughout many generations.
The aliens call out humans for their narrow-mindedness, ignorance, and senseless hatred and violence.
The aliens explain they want to stop humans from developing the ultimate bomb that would have the power to destroy everything. Considering humanity’s track record, it would inevitably be used to destroy everything to further our relentless pursuit of superiority and power.
However, this golden moment is ruined when Eros interrupts Tanna to say that on his planet women are only for procreation and not for fighting man’s battles.
While progressive in many ways, the alien species is still sexist.
As with any cult film, the old saying that one person’s trash is another’s treasure applies. Some may think Wood is the worst filmmaker of all time. However, Wood managed to capture the imagination of writers and filmmakers; consider the many books and documentaries about Wood over the years.
Tim Burton’s Ed Wood was nominated for three Golden Globes with Martin Landau winning a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi. Rick Baker also won Academy Awards for his work on the film.
The way Wood managed to piece his films together in spite of all limitations, and his determination and commitment to realizing his vision — no matter how strange anyone else thought it was – is impressive. The unlikely cast, outlandish stories, and shoddy sets are what make Wood’s films unique and unforgettable.