“Plan 9 from Outer Space” is a 1957 American science fiction-horror film about the fear of “grave robbers from outer space”. It was produced, written, directed, and edited by Ed Wood. It stars Gregory Walcott, Bela Lugosi, Mona McKinnon, Tor Johnson, “Vampira” (Maila Nurmi), and Lyle Talbot. Black and white. 79 minutes.
“Plan 9 from Outer Space” is a low-budget cult film known as “the worst films ever made” for its extremely poor quality, which is frequently described as “so bad it’s good”.
The film was funded by a Southern Baptist church and was shot in 1956. It had a theatrical preview screening at the Carlton Theatre in Los Angeles under the title “Grave Robbers from Outer Space” in 1957. After that, it was retitled “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and was released to the public in 1959 as part of a double feature in Texas and several other southern states.
The film came to attention because it had been aired on late-night TV in the US from 1961 until 1980 many times.
In 1978, a book called “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time” was published. In the book, the authors, film critic Michael Medved, his brother Harry and Randy Dreyfuss encouraged readers to vote for the worst film. The result of the poll was published in the book “The Golden Turkey Awards” (1980) by the Medved brothers. “Plan 9 from Outer Space” was selected as number one, and they certified it as “the worst movie ever made”.
“Plan 9 from Outer Space” is a strange hybrid of the elements of the 1950s science fiction films and Gothic horror films in the 1930s and 1940s. The outline of the plot is similar to the science fiction film “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951) directed by Robert Wise, while the zombies in the film look like vampires in Gothic horror films, such as “Dracula” (1931) directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi.
Wood shot some scenes with Bela Lugosi for projects unrelated to the film in 1956 just before Lugosi died. Though he started the production of the film after Lugosi died, to add Lugosi’s name to the credits of the film, Wood incorporated Lugosi’s footage into a handful of brief scenes in the film and introduced Lugosi as the old man. In several other scenes, Wood’s wife’s chiropractor Tom Mason played the old man, covering his face with a cape. These scenes are inconsistent with Lugosi’s footage because Mason looked nothing like Legosi and was significantly taller than Lugosi.
The film is totally “bad” in every way: the inexplicable setting, incoherent plot, shoddy sets and props, laughably cheap special effects, poor costumes, bad acting, meaningless dialogues, and editing without continuity as sequence. However, it is never a boring film. It is rather a lovable film in that the poor quality and absurdity of the film itself make the audience laugh.
Film scholar Rodney F. Hill described the film as a “campy, cult masterpiece” with a “minimalist avant-garde aesthetic” and “Brechtian self-awareness of its own artificiality”. Assuming that it is an avant-garde work created from a kind of poorness, you might say the album “Philosophy of the World” (1969) by The Shaggs is similar to this film.
The 1994 American film “Ed Wood” directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp is a biographical comedy-drama film about Ed Wood. It depicts how Wood came to make “Plan 9”.
The colorized version of the film was released by Legend Films in 2005.
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Synopsis (Spoiler Alert)
In the intro and outro of the film, psychic and predictor Criswell appears as himself. He also works as a narrator.
An old man (Bela Lugosi) organizes his wife’s funeral with mourners in a cemetery in San Fernando, California. His wife is buried at her grave by two gravediggers.
Pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) and co-pilot Danny encounter a flying saucer when they are flying American Flight 812 over San Fernando toward Burbank, California. The saucer lands at the cemetery.
The old man’s wife is resurrected from her grave as a zombie (Maila Nurmi), who looks like a vampire, and she attacks the gravediggers.
The old man is killed in a car accident. He is interred in a crypt in the cemetery, and his funeral is held. Mourners find the gravediggers’ dead bodies.
Inspector Daniel Clay (Tor Johnson) and his police officers arrive on the scene, and they start investigating the case.
At his home next to the cemetery, pilot Trent tells his wife Paula (Mona McKinnon) that he saw a flying saucer.
The saucer lands at the cemetery again. The old man is resurrected as a zombie. Inspector Clay is killed by two zombies. Inspector Clay’s funeral is held at the cemetery, and he is buried at his grave.
The flying saucers are witnessed by the people one after another in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.
The U.S. forces and aliens try to communicate with each other by exchanging messages but failing.
Colonel Thomas Edwards leads an operation to attack the saucers. He makes the tanks shoot the saucers with rocket guns, but the saucers disappear.
Two aliens, Commander Eros and his assistant Tanna return from their saucer to their Space Station 7, and Eros tells the alien ruler about “Plan 9”, in which they demonstrate their power to the Earthians and make them believe the aliens exist by resurrecting the dead. They have controlled the dead by shooting electrodes in their pineal and pituitary glands.
When Paula is at home alone, the zombie old man breaks into her bedroom. She escapes into the cemetery. Inspector Clay is resurrected from his grave as a zombie. Paula is hounded by three zombies. She falls in a faint. A car passes by, and the driver saves her.
Lieutenant John Harper and his police officers investigate the cemetery, and find that Inspector Clay’s body has disappeared from his grave.
At the Pentagon (United States Department of Defense), General Roberts (Lyle Talbot) orders Colonel Edwards to find the saucer in San Fernando and to explore aliens’ purpose, after playing him a recorded message from Eros.
In Space Station 7, Eros reports the status of Plan 9 to the ruler. The ruler approves Eros’s plan to make zombie armies march on Earth’s capitals by resurrecting many deaths.
Colonel Edwards and Lieutenant Harper visit the Trents’ house and hear from Trent about his saucer sighting. Police officer Kelton encounters the zombie old man, who came out from the saucer. The zombie old man chases Kelton to the Trents’ house. Eros concentrates the decomposition rays to the old man, reducing him to a skeleton.
Colonel Edwards, Lieutenant Harper and Trent keep Kelton and Paula waiting in the car and walk into the cemetery in search of the saucer.
Eros makes Clay attack Kelton and Paula. Clay knocks out Kelton.
Edwards, Harper and Trent find the saucer. Eros and Tanna open up the hatch and let them come in the saucer.
Eros shows them an image in which Clay takes Paula, lifting her up in his arms. Eros tells them that human weapons development will lead to the discovery of “Solaronite”, a substance which explodes sunlight molecules, and it brings the danger of destroying the entire universe.
Police officers Kelton and Larry find Clay carrying Paula near the saucer. They knock him out with a wooden club and rescue her because they cannot kill the zombie with their guns.
In the saucer, Trent jumps to Eros, and they get into a hand-to-hand fight. The saucer’s mechanical equipment is damaged in their struggle and catches fire. The three Earthians escape from the saucer. Tanna gets the saucer off the ground. The burning saucer explodes in the sky, and the zombies decompose to skeletons.