There are so many movies worse than Plan 9 From Outer Space.
This is a movie that should have had the budget of an epic, yet had the budget of your grocery store visit. Yet it doesn’t stop trying to be that movie, no matter what.
I blame the Medved brothers who named it the “worst film ever made” in their book The Golden Turkey Awards. Wood and his film were also posthumously awarded the Golden Turkey Awards for Worst Director Ever and Worst Film. Many of the people who think of this as a bad movie have never seen it.
If you’ve seen it on TV, you may laugh about seeing the boom mics and pieces of the other film equipment. Wood never intended for this to happen. Plan 9 was composed and shot for the 1.85:1 aspect ratio theatrical projection, the predominant widescreen format of its day. It was never intended to be seen in a 1.33:1 open matte aspect ratio or on a TV screen. Then again, Wood also incorporated stock footage as well as other film he’d shot of Lugosi in the 1:33:1 format, so everything looks cropped improperly.
The film begins with Criswell, one of Wood’s friends, playing the narrator, starting things off by saying, “Greetings my friends! We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives!” Jeron Criswell King — The Amazing Criswell — grew up in a troubled family in Indiana where he learned to sleep in a coffin.
At some point in the mid-50’s, Criswell began buying time on Los Angeles TV channel KLAC Channel 13, selling his Criswell Family Vitamins. At some point, he started filling out dead air on the show by proclaiming predictions for the future. Eventually, this made him something of a celebrity and even friends with Mae West (who sold him her old luxury cars for as little as five dollars), appearances on The Jack Paar Show and a writing career that included a weekly syndicated newspaper colum and three books, including From Now to the Year 2000, Your Next Ten Years and Forbidden Predictions. In these books, he predicted that a laser beam would destroy Denver, that cannibalism would become commonplace and that the world would end on August 18, 1999. Sadly, Criswell died 17 years before he could see if that prediction would come true. Supposedly, he claimed that JFK wouldn’t run for re-election because something would happen in November 1963 and friends like Maila Nurmi — who are we to deny Vampira herself, may I ask you? — claimed he really as a psychic.
He also appeared in two other Wood-related films, Orgy of the Dead and Night of the Ghouls. In this film, he literally says “my friends” four times in under a minute and speaks in his typical televangelist style. I also adore that the judge from TV’s Divorce Court, Bob Shields, was Criswell’s announcer.
Man, I could talk about Criswell all day and how he predicted Mae West and Liberace’s brother would go to the moon with him or how his wife had a dog she was convinced was her cousin Thomas reincarnated or that Mae West actually recorded a song about him, but we gotta get back to this movie.
“Can your heart stand the shocking facts about graverobbers from outer space?”
After a funeral, a UFO causes a plane to nearly crash. That same UFO lands at a graveyard and causes the dead — Vampira! — to rise and kill the gravediggers. The old man, distraught at the loss of his wife, steps in front of a car and kills himself. And that’s how Bela Lugosi — at least Bela in stock footage and being played by Ed Wood’s chiropractor — shows up in this movie.
This is a term known as a fake Shemp, given because there were four shorts that the Stooges had to contracturally finish under their 1955 contract with Columbia (Rumpus in the Harem, Hot Stuff, Scheming Schemers and Commotion on the Ocean). Sadly, Shemp Howard died of an unexpected heart attack at age 60. So what did they do? Well, through a combination of Joe Palma standing with his back to the camera and stock footage, the films were completed.
This term was invented by Sam Raimi, who used it to describe the many ways that he and his friends — Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, Josh Becker, David Goodman and his brother Ted Raimi — would fill in for roles on the original Evil Dead for people who had long since left the production.
See — I get distracted easily! Back to the action!
Inspector Clay (Tor Johnson!) is on the case. Well, he is until he’s killed off by Vampira and not-Bela in zombie form, renanimated by Plan 9, the fiendlish plot of Eros (Dudley Manlove, the best name ever), who uses it to resurrect the recently dead by stimulating their pituitary and pineal glands.
Eros has come to Earth because human weapons development will one day discover Solaronite, which can blow up sun particles and start an uncontrollable chain reaction that just might blow up the entire universe. Yeah — I wouldn’t trust humans with that weapon either. After all, we are as Eros says, stupid. “You see? You see? Your stupid minds. Stupid! Stupid!”
All it takes is a block of wood to knock out zombie Tor Johnson and save the day, rescuing the zombified Paula Trent and blowing the UFO — or is it a model kit or a hubcap or perhaps a paper plate — up real good.
In true Ed Wood fashion, everyone and any one had a role in this movie. The Rev. Lynn Lemon, who plays an unnamed minister, was one of the Baptist producers of the film, while gravedigger J. Edward Reynolds was a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention in Beverly Hills and executive producer of this movie.
I love Plan 9 From Outerspace. Sure, that’s just a shower curtain getting reused over and over. Yes, one of the cops keeps pointing his gun at himself. And man, the story makes no sense and then makes even less by the end. But who cares? Are you not entertained? Can you forget it? And how many people know of this film that don’t know one other 1950’s science fiction movie?
Art by Mitch O’Connell. Available from https://www.outregallery.com/products/plan-9-from-outer-spaceYou have so many options if you want to watch this:
Tubi has the film available by itself, with Rifftrax and also a live Rifftrax version.
Amazon Prime has the movie in black and white, colorized, with Rifftrax and also has the documentary Unspeakable Horrors: The Plan 9 Conspiracy all about the true story of the film.
You can also download it at the Internet Archive.
NOTE: The UFO poster art for this article comes from Pittsburgh artist Jim Rugg.