Thursday July 22, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Worst Movie Ever?
On this Day:
In 1959, Ed Wood’s cult classic: “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, called one of the worst films ever made, premiered.
Plan 9 from Outer Space is a 1957 independently made American black-and-white science fiction-horror film, produced, written, directed, and edited by Ed Wood. The film was shot in November of 1956, and had a theatrical preview screening on March 15, 1957 at the Carlton Theatre in Los Angeles (the onscreen title at this time read Grave Robbers from Outer Space). It later went into general release on July 22, 1959 in Texas and several other southern states re-titled Plan 9 from Outer Space.
It stars Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Tor Johnson, and “Vampira” (Maila Nurmi) and is narrated by Criswell. It also posthumously bills Bela Lugosi (silent footage of the actor had been shot by Wood for another, unfinished film prior to Lugosi’s death in August 1956, and was inserted into Plan Nine later). Other guest-stars are Hollywood veterans Lyle Talbot, who claimed that he never refused any acting job, and former cowboy star Tom Keene.
The film’s storyline concerns extraterrestrials who seek to stop humanity from creating a doomsday weapon that could destroy the universe. The aliens implement “Plan 9”, a scheme to resurrect the Earth’s dead, referred to as “ghouls”. By causing chaos, the aliens hope the crisis will force humanity to listen to them; otherwise the aliens will destroy mankind with armies of the undead. The film was originally developed under the title Grave Robbers from Outer Space, but in 1959 it was retitled Plan 9 from Outer Space and re-released under that name.
Plan 9 from Outer Space played on television in relative obscurity from 1961 until 1980, when authors Harry Medved and Michael Medved dubbed it the “worst film ever made” in their book The Golden Turkey Awards. Wood and his film were posthumously given two Golden Turkey Awards for Worst Director Ever and Worst Film Ever. It has since been retrospectively described as “the epitome of so-bad-it’s-good cinema” and has gained a huge cult following.
Mourners are gathered around an old man at his wife’s grave as an airliner overhead flies toward Burbank, California. Pilot Jeff Trent and co-pilot Danny are blinded by a bright light, accompanied by a loud noise. They look outside and see a flying saucer land at the cemetery, where both gravediggers are killed by a female zombie.
Lost in his grief, the old man is struck by a car and killed. Mourners at the old man’s funeral discover the dead gravediggers’ bodies. When Inspector Daniel Clay and his police officers arrive, Clay goes off alone to investigate.
Jeff and his wife, Paula (who live near the cemetery), hear sirens. He tells her about his flying-saucer encounter, saying that the Army has sworn him to secrecy. As the saucer lands, a powerful swooshing noise knocks the Trents and the people at the cemetery to the ground. Clay is killed by the female and old-man zombies. Lieutenant Harper states: “But one thing’s sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible”.
Newspaper headlines report flying-saucer sightings over Hollywood Boulevard, and three fly across Los Angeles. In Washington, D.C., the military fires missiles at more saucers. Chief of saucer operations Thomas Edwards says that the government has been covering up saucer attacks, and a small town has been annihilated.
The aliens return to their Space Station 7, and Commander Eros tells the alien ruler that he has been unsuccessful in contacting Earth’s governments. Eros recommends “Plan 9”, the resurrection of recently-deceased humans. Concerned about Paula’s safety, Jeff urges her to stay with her mother but she refuses. That night, the undead old man breaks into the house and pursues Paula outside, where the female zombie and Inspector Clay join him. Paula escapes, finally collapsing after the three zombies return to Eros in the saucer.
At the Pentagon, General Roberts tells Edwards that the aliens have been telling the government that they are trying to prevent humanity from destroying the universe. Roberts sends Edwards to San Fernando, where most of the alien activity has occurred.
Clay attacks Eros, nearly killing him. After examining Clay, the ruler orders the old man destroyed to further frighten humanity. He approves Eros’s Plan 9 to raise zombie armies to march on Earth’s capitals.
Edwards and the police interview the Trents, unaware that the flying saucer has returned to the cemetery. Officer Kelton encounters the zombie old man, who chases him to the Trents’ house. Eros’ ray hits the old man, who is reduced to a skeleton. Edwards, the Trents, and the police drive to the cemetery.
Lieutenant Harper insists on leaving Paula in the car; when she refuses to stay there alone, Kelton stays with her. Eros and Tanna (his fellow female alien) send Clay to kidnap Paula and lure the other three humans to the saucer. Seeing its glow in the distance, Trent and the police head toward it. Clay knocks Kelton out.
Eros lets Trent and the police enter the saucer with pistols drawn. He tells them that human weapons development will lead to the discovery of solaronite, a substance which explodes sunlight molecules. Such an explosion would set off an uncontrollable chain reaction, destroying the universe. Eros believes that humans are immature and stupid; he intends to destroy humanity, threatening to kill Paula if Jeff and the police try to stop him. Officers Kelton and Larry arrive, and see Clay near the saucer carrying the unconscious Paula. Realizing that their weapons are useless, they sneak up behind Clay and knock him out with a wooden club. Eros says that Clay’s controlling ray has been shut off, which releases Paula. He and Jeff fight, and the saucer’s equipment (damaged in their struggle) catches fire. The humans escape, and Tanna and the unconscious Eros take off. The fire quickly consumes the saucer, which explodes, and the zombies decompose to skeletons.
Lead actor Gregory Walcott, who had an admiration for Ed Wood’s tenacity in his projects, still had some bad opinions of Plan Nine. He commented years later, “Ed had poor taste and was undisciplined. If he had ten million dollars,(Plan Nine) would still have been a piece of tasteless sh*t. I liked Ed Wood but I could discern no genius there. His main concern was making his next film…. It looked like they shot the thing in a kitchen….worst film of all time. Thirty years later, it’s come back to haunt me.”
Vampira years later recalled “I didn’t have a decent costume for Plan Nine. What I wore was old, worn out. It looks like I had a hole in the crotch of the dress, if you notice….But I thought, “oh well, nobody’s ever gonna see this movie, so it doesn’t matter.”
Plan 9 from Outer Space is considered by some critics, including Michael Medved, to be the worst film in the history of cinema. Other reviews, however, have rated the film more positively. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 68% approval score and an average rating of 5.8/10 based on 37 reviews, with the consensus of its critics observing: “The epitome of so-bad-it’s-good cinema, Plan 9 from Outer Space is an unintentionally hilarious sci-fi ‘thriller’ from anti-genius Ed Wood that is justly celebrated for its staggering ineptitude.” Many of them stated that the film is simply too amusing to be considered the worst film ever made, claiming that its ineptitude added to its charm. There were also claims that the director even managed to convey some interesting ideas. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, for instance, claims that in recent years “the film’s reception modulated away from jovial mockery of its wanton indifference to normal professional standards of script, performance, and effects, in favour of a more nuanced appreciation of its dreamlike narrative assemblage of genre tropes, resonantly unspeakable dialogue, and irrepressible budgetary ingenuity.”
As of 2011, Plan 9 had failed to place in the IMDb Bottom 100, a list compiled using average scores given by Internet Movie Database users, though some of Wood’s other movies had. In 1996 the film received a salute by the author of the Cult Flicks and Trash Pics edition of VideoHound, in which it is stated: “The film has become so famous for its own badness that it’s now beyond criticism”.
The film’s title was the inspiration for the name of Bell Labs’ successor to the Unix operating system. Plan 9 from Bell Labs was developed over several years starting in the mid-1980s and released to the general public in 1995.
In 1996 Paul Mandell produced a CD that recreated the film’s musical score; the CD was released by the now-defunct Retrosonic Corp.
In October 2005 a stage adaptation, Plan Nine from Outer Space: The Rip-Off, was staged in Jacksonville, Florida. The play, based on Ed Wood’s script, was written by Steven Bailey. In 2006, another stage adaptation, Plan LIVE from Outer Space!, was staged at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The play, based entirely on Wood’s script, was written by James Gordon Taylor; it won a Canadian Comedy Award the following year. A stage adaptation was also performed in Glasgow by Off World Productions in 2015, again based on Wood’s script. The Off World production was also performed at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In the Seinfeld episode titled “The Chinese Restaurant”, the episode’s entire storyline involves trying to get a table at a Chinese restaurant before going to see Plan 9 from Outer Space, which is playing for one night only. Jerry emphasizes the significance of Plan 9, saying, “Just a movie? You don’t understand. This isn’t plans 1 through 8 from outer space. This is Plan 9! This is the one that worked, the worst movie ever made!”
One level from the 2005 video game Destroy All Humans! features the alien protagonist causing mayhem at a drive-in theater that is playing a looped scene from Plan 9: specifically, when the flying saucers are being attacked by the United States military. The scene in question can also be unlocked for viewing by the player.
A portion of the film was featured in The X-Files episode “Hollywood A.D.”, broadcast in April 2000. The series’ protagonist, Fox Mulder, is paid a visit by his partner Dana Scully at his home. The film is playing on the television, and the VHS sleeve is seen as Mulder states that he has seen Plan 9 42 times.
In 1991, Eternity Comics released a three-issue miniseries, Plan 9 from Outer Space: Thirty Years Later!, which served as an unofficial sequel to the film.
An adventure game of the same name was made, in which the player must recover the film from Lugosi’s double, who has stolen it.
The film was included in live performances at the SF Sketchfest by The Film Crew, composed of former Mystery Science Theater 3000 cast members Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. A commentary based on the performances was released by RiffTrax. It was advertised as a “Three Riffer Edition”, due to Nelson’s solo commentary for the film’s colorized DVD release, which had previously been sold as an audio file on the Rifftrax website. On August 20, 2009, the RiffTrax trio performed the commentary at a live event in Nashville, Tennessee, and the performance was broadcast to theaters across the United States.
The 1994 film Ed Wood is an Oscar-winning American comedy-drama biopic that was produced and directed by Tim Burton and stars Johnny Depp. It depicts Ed Wood’s creation of Plan 9 from Outer Space. The film was released to critical acclaim but was a box office bomb, making only $5.9 million against an $18 million budget. It went on to win two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Landau and Best Makeup for Rick Baker, who designed Landau’s prosthetic makeup, and the makeup for Ve Neill and Yolanda Toussieng.
In connection with the Planet Nine hypothesis, the film title recently found its way into academic discourse. In 2016, an article titled Planet Nine from Outer Space about the hypothesized planet in the outer region of the Solar System was published in Scientific American. Several conference talks since then have used the same word play, as did a lecture by Mike Brown given in 2019 (from Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
What do you call a zombie who writes music? A decomposer…
Second, a Song:
Penguinwitharose condensed Plan 9 From Outer Space into a short video of 5 minutes onYouTube.com, but he says “[B]ut now you get the whole point for about 5 minutes!”
Here is the condensed version of Plan 9 From Outer Space. I hope you, eh, enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“We are going to finish this picture just the way I want it… because you cannot compromise an artist’s vision.” – Ed Wood
Further to the Trans-Siberian Railroad Smile:
John Gescher of Calgary, Alberta, Canada writes:
“Hi David,Hope all goes well for you and yours. Is this the railway that Stalin used to send people to the Gulag in Siberia?
Interesting question John! I found this:
“After Lenin died of a stroke in 1924, Stalin assumed control of the Soviet Union. In the 1930s, Stalin instigated a tyrannical campaign to purge the country of anyone disloyal to his regime. Millions of Soviet citizens were executed or sent to the gulag for crimes like speaking out against Stalin or committing minor theft. Even the lowest figures estimate that 20 million people died during Stalin’s reign.Gulag prisoners were packed into train cars on the Trans-Siberian Railroad and shipped to far-off camps in freezing cold. The long train journey was an excruciating prelude to the gulag. Once in the camps, workdays lasted as long as 12-14 hours. Prisoners were given meager rations and often slept on bunks made of wooden planks. Some told of going without blankets even in the depths of winter. Guards exercised ruthless control over the camps, shooting inmates who tried to flee and killing others for petty offenses just to instill fear in the others. Because the gulags were usually located in such remote parts of the country, even the few prisoners who escaped found themselves in vast wildernesses with few pockets of civilization besides the gulag itself.
An estimated nine out of every ten prisoners died in the gulags, including many artists and intellectuals. One of Russia’s most well known poets, Osip Mandelstam, was sent to the gulag twice. During his second exile, Mandelstam died at a transit camp near the Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok. His poems were later published only because his wife Nadezhda had memorized them.
After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union and publicly condemned the atrocities committed in the gulag. In 1962, Khrushchev allowed writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn , who spent eight years in the camps, to publish his novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich , about a typical day in the gulag. Solzhenitsyn’s novel won the Nobel Prize and brought worldwide attention to the Soviet labor camps. After the Khrushchev Thaw began, gulags continued to function, although to a much lesser extent, during the remainder of the Soviet Union’s existence.
Although most gulag sites were destroyed, travelers in Russia can still visit several noteworthy gulag museums and actual prison camps scattered around the country.” (per https://www.rbth.com/travel/2014/06/06/the_ultimate_guide_to_siberian_gulags_and_soviet_exile_sites)
Trish Shwart of Victoria, BC, Canada writes:
“This is a cool topic. Barry and I travelled on the trans-siberian railway going from Beijing through Mongolia and across siberian Russia in 2019. It was a fabulous experience although not one, given Covid, we are likely to be able to repeat in the future.”
and the Rev. Bob Beasley of Pain-Court, Ontario, Canada writes:
“Thank you, Dave.
The video on the TSR was fascinating. I’ve visited Siberia, but not by train. A visit to Vladivostok remains on my bucket list.
I heard Yakov Smirnoff on Johnny Carson in the mid’80s and a response to one of Johnny’s questions remains in my memory. Typically, his stand up routine poked fun at Soviet leaders and the challenges of life in the Soviet Union at the time. When he sat down afterwards to be interviewed, Johnny asked him “Can you tell these jokes in the Soviet Union?” Yakov responded “once!”
and last but certainly not least, Eric O’Dell of Surrey, BC, Canada writes:
“I’ve come across several very good videos on the Trans Siberian Railway in recent months. It would be something special for sure. In a smaller way, the train across the Australian Nullarbor Plains is another novel trip I would think.”
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky