Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Plan 9 From Outer Space
YouTube viewing

Let's start with the question everyone asks: is it really the worst movie of all time? Friends and neighbors, I have seen a lot of movies in my life, but I haven't seen nearly enough to even be remotely qualified to answer that question. Personally, I think the "all time" label, while it's certainly well-earned, is also part hyperbole, a gimmick used to get people to willingly engage in what they believe to be a "campy" experience that they can tweet about later. 
I'm not even sure it's the worst movie I've blogged about - but it's down there near the bottom, all right.

If there's one thing I've learned in the five-plus years I've been blogging about movies, it's that one man's Manos: The Hands of Fate is another man's Vertigo. It's one thing to say such-and-such a movie is poorly written, with mediocre acting and dirt-cheap production design, but it's another thing altogether to say that same movie was hilarious and entertaining, however unintentionally. 

There's a quote that the late great Roger Ebert used a lot to describe his approach to movie reviewing; I forget who originally said it: "A man goes to the movies. The reviewer must be able to admit he is that man." Basically, it means you can't be a snob when it comes to evaluating a film. If those two dumb-ass robots in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen honestly made you laugh, you gotta own up to that. And lots of people laugh at the stupidest things!

I'm fairly sure I've said it here before, but I think we need the bad movies, because how else can we recognize the good ones? And if some fun can be had with them at their expense, why not? That said, I'm not the type to revel in the bad movies simply because they're bad. I've seen The Room once, with an audience. I know what the movie is about; I understand why it's as popular as it is, and I'm glad I had that experience - but I don't need to see it again and again. Life is too short to wallow in bad movies.

I think I saw Plan 9 From Outer Space once before, during my video store years. In looking at it again last week, I asked myself: is this an irredeemably poor movie or, like the original Little Shop of Horrors, is it a good idea executed poorly? If I were the pitch man for this movie, I suppose I might call it The Day The Earth Stood Still meets Night of the Living Dead, for what that's worth (even though it predates the latter), but I would not want to try to sell this movie in any way other than - you guessed it - an unintentional comedy. And even that much is a dubious proposition.

Why would the aliens implement an experimental technology, which clearly hasn't been perfected, against the humans - and cheer its success on a grand total of three people out of a global population of billions? Why would they concentrate their attack on a Southern California suburb when they had an armada of flying saucers they could and did deploy around the country (and presumably, the world as well)? Where was the alien commander when the humans infiltrated their saucer and fought his henchmen? And they call us stupid?

Yesterday was Bela Lugosi's birthday. I swear I don't plan these things.
They just happen.

You get the idea. If I were to list all the plot holes in Plan 9, I'd be sitting here until next year... so let's talk about its camp value. The special effects are anything but special, but this film had a limited budget, after all. Tor Johnson and Vampira make for the un-scariest zombies ever, and the way they just wander aimlessly around the cemetery is pretty funny. 

It's hard to believe a movie this mediocre even managed to obtain distribution, but I imagine credit for that must go to writer-producer-director Ed Wood. Tim Burton's biopic on him may not have provided as complete a picture as it could have, but for better or worse, that's probably how most people see him now - and in his defense, I doubt he set out to make a bad movie. No one does that (except, perhaps, the SyFy Channel). Heck, the fact that he was able to sustain a career of sorts for as long as he did, despite the quality of his movies, certainly says something about his character and his persistence...

... but I wonder if he ever learned from his mistakes. I suspect he didn't, and that strikes me as a shame, because one who was as committed to the medium as Wood was ought to have experienced some kind of growth as an artist over time. I would need to see his post-Plan 9 work to determine for certain, but let's face it, have you heard of movies like Night of the Ghouls or The Sinister Urge

On the one hand, I suppose it's fortunate that Wood is remembered as well as he is, even if it's for the wrong reasons, but as a creative person, I can't help but find it a bit sad that any improvement he may have experienced as a filmmaker was minuscule at best. That's something, perhaps, that people rarely think about while they're laughing at Plan 9. After all, he could've just as easily faded into obscurity, forgotten and unloved. He had no way of knowing what the future held for him... and we all know what Plan 9 says about the future...


  1. Re your "Manos: The Hands of Fate"/"Vertigo" line - I am definitely going to quote you!

    I hesitate to get my chuckles from someone's misstep, unless that someone steps on rake.

  2. Who was it who said that comedy equals tragedy plus time...?

  3. I once had a dvd collection of Ed Wood's films and enjoyed the ones I watched...for the unintentional comedy that you point out. He was definitely a sincere dude! He had a passion for what he was doing, so you have to give him props for giving it a go.

    Plan 9 and Manos are so bad that they're good, but it sure helps to watch the MST3K versions. I went to the Rifftrax in cinema events for both. Fun stuff. :)

  4. Maybe the next time I watch a bad movie, it'll be the Rifftrax or MST3K version so I can spare myself the agony!


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