The premise of this movie is simple, Ed Wood had some spare footage of Bella Lugosi and wanted to use it. This is the chain of events that lead to bringing fame to “Plan 9 From Outer Space” as well as it’s director Ed Wood. Word got out that Lugosi had died during production of the movie and director Ed Wood’s wife’s chiropractor took over his role covering his face with a cape so that no one would be able to tell it was somebody different. This in turn lead to viewings of the movie, a declaration by critic Michael Medved that “Plan 9 From Outer Space” was one of the worst science fiction movies ever made, and eventually Ed Wood being declared the worst film director of all time.
In retrospect it is a bit unfair to label Ed Wood as a bad director. He was doing nothing different than any other schlock director was in the 50’s, making quickie movies on a shoestring budget. Sure the actors couldn’t act, the sets wobbled, the special effects looked fake and the dialog was cheesy. The only difference between his films and Michael Bay is that Bay had multimillion dollar budgets to pay for decent Hollywood actors, fabulous sets, and cutting edge special effects. Both Wood and Bay’s films were just as much schlock.
Viewing what was suppose to be Ed Wood’s worst, “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, I was surprised to see that the movie was nowhere near the bottom that Medved claimed it was. Actually the plot is pretty intelligent. Aliens become worried that Earthlings are coming close to creating a bomb that could destroy the universe. As explained by the aliens, the Hydrogen Bomb can cause the air itself to explode. The next step is a weapon that causes particles of sunlight to explode, and if the humans were to set it off then the explosion could travel across the light rays from the other stars causing them to explode as well. The aliens have good reason to fear this weapon. When they try to explain how dangerous it is to one of the humans he insists that man has the right to build such a weapon and the aliens have no right to stop them. The aliens are trying to destroy mankind only as a last resort. They had spent many years trying to contact humans only for the government to order the existence of flying saucers to be covered up.
Secretly the government has been recording radio messages from the aliens trying to make contact, but publicly had been threatening U.F.O. witnesses with imprisonment if they said publicly the saw a flying saucer. The only silly part of the plot is how the aliens intend to destroy the Earth, their plan #9. They have weapons that are able to reanimate the dead and cause them to go on a killing rampage although the aliens only manage to reanimate three corpses. The humans, Americans in particular, prove unrepentant. During the climax the aliens lure three of them onto their flying saucer and try one last time to reason with them one last time. Instead the film’s “hero” beats up the lead alien and sets fire to his spaceship.
“Plan 9….” will always be remembered for Wood inserting footage of Bella Lugosi. The complete footage has Bella and other mourners standing over a grave, a mournful Bella walking around outside his house then walking off, Bella in his Dracula costume entering and exiting the same house at nighttime, and Bella in the Dracula costume walking around a graveyard. It was all silent footage that lasted less than two minutes. There are two accounts as to how Wood came in possession of this footage. One was that he shot it to show to investors for a new movie with Bella which was to either be called “Tomb of the Vampire” or “The Ghouls Go West”. Another account was that this was home movies Ed shot of Bella in his spare time. Either way Ed put the footage to good use. The movie opens with the funeral scene and a voice over describes Bella as “the old man” mourning over his dead wife. The film then cuts to the footage of Bella walking around in front of his house with the voice over describing how the old man is now overcome with grief. Bella walks off screen and the sound of a car screeching to a halt is heard. This explains how Bella’s character died. The Dracula costume footage is put to use explaining that the old man has been turned by the alien into a reanimated corpse. The only thing that Wood needed to do was shoot some footage of Lugosi’s character interacting with the other cast members. This was done by hiring his wife’s chiropractor to wear a Dracula cape and deliberately drawing the cape in front of his face to then stalk around the set while the other actors run away. Despite years of film critics saying how crude this was and how the chiropractor looked nothing like Lugosi, in reality it actually works. The character’s face is covered up enough that unless you were carefully studying the movie then you would never know the difference.
The bottom line is this… the story is actually pretty intelligent and above par for the 1950’s. The actual dialog is cheesy but cheesy enough to be humorous. Cheap sets and props, such as a way too small mausoleum and curtains substituting for the interior of a spaceship add to the fun. The special effects are of the pie plate attached to a wire variety. “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is entertaining, even if much of it is unintentionally entertaining. But the worst movie ever made? I have seen hundreds that are worse than this.