Halloween Endurance Test: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

We caught the infamous, “worst movie of all time,” Plan 9 from Outer Space during a special Rifftrax performance. Rifftrax are the guys behind the Mystery Science Theater 3000 robots, still riffing on the horrible films they watch. Years after the show’s demise, their hit-to-miss ratio of good jokes to bad hasn’t changed a bit, though it is weird to see a grown man talking in Tom Servo’s voice rather than Tom Servo himself.

You also have to wonder whether they were setting themselves up to fail here, as Plan 9… already has a considerable pop culture reputation. The Misfits’ record label in the 80s was called Plan 9, and as late as ’96-’98 Filmfax magazine was selling Tor Johnson t-shirts. I know because I had one, along with a special Ed Wood box set that came wrapped in faux pink agora. Not to mention Tor Johnson Records itself. Tim Burton had already made his award-winning biopic, Ed Wood.

The story behind the film is already well known. Wood, never the most capable director, knew aging, drug-addled star Bela Lugosi (of Dracula fame) didn’t have long to live. So he shot as much footage of Lugosi he could; mainly of Lugosi walking in and out of his house. After Lugosi’s death, Wood then cast his own chiropractor to finish out the part, with his cape-draped arm held in front of his face to fool the audience.

Continuity doesn’t exist in the film. Scenes switch back and forth from daytime to nighttime depending on what set or location they were shooting on.

After Lugosi, original television scream queen Vampira is the film’s other marketable star. She plays a zombie here, as part of her agreement to make the film involved the stipulation that she wouldn’t talk. (An amusing stipulation that would be used again by Christopher Lee years later, in Hammer’s Vengeance of Dracula.)

Wood was well known for being able to come up with inventive shorelines (here, space aliens plan to invade Earth using an army of zombies), and, after his film career petered out, he would end up surviving by penning cheap, sex books (an early one, Orgy of the Dead, was made into a film). Unfortunately he had no such skill with dialogue.

“It’s tough to find something when you don’t know what you’re looking for.”

“And remember my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future.”

“Stronger? You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! STUPID!”

Even inconsequential lines get screwed up, as when the army officer says “One thing more…” Perhaps the alien’s rays also screw up our grammar! An story angle that Wood somehow missed!

“You speak of ‘solarinite,’ but just what is it?” asks the officer.

“Take a can of your gasoline, say this can of gasoline is the sun. Now, you spread a thin line of it to a ball representing the Earth. Now, the gasoline represents the sunlight, the sun’s particles. Here we saturate the ball with the gasoline, the sunlight, then we put a flame to the ball. The flame will speedily travel around the Earth, back along the line of gasoline back to the can, or the Sun itself. It will explode this source, and spread to every place that gasoline, our sunlight, touches.

Explode the sunlight here gentlemen, you explode the universe. Explode the sunlight here, and a chain reaction will occur direct to the sun itself, and to all the planets that sunlight touches; all the planets in the universe.”

To think, the Day the Earth Stood Still managed to reduce that unweildy monologue to less than a line, merely embodying it into the character of Gort.

Even the film’s title is a mistake. Running out of funds halfway through the project, Wood turned to a Baptist investor for assistance. Said investor was interested, but only on two conditions: 1.) the cast and crew would be baptized (Wrestler/actor Tor Johnson being so huge that they had to use a swimming pool!), and 2.) the words “Grave Robbers” couldn’t be used in the title; as it was felt to be sacrilegious. Thus Plan 9 was born!

Unfortunately Wood had already filmed psychic/friend Criswell’s introductory speech, one where he asks if the audience can handle “the shocking facts about Grave Robbers from Outer Space?” One minute into the film and we’ve already hit the first mistake!


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