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Plan 9 from Outer Space

Plan 9 from Outer Space(1959)

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Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Beneficiary of more than its fair share of critical brickbats, Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) is not only not the worst film ever made, it's not even the worst Ed Wood film ever made. Written and shot around existing footage of aging Dracula star Bela Lugosi in the sad days leading up to his 1956 death and cobbled together with enthusiasm, determination and whatever Hollywood leavings could be scavenged, Plan 9 has become the whipping boy of midnight movies for its technical gaffes, flat acting, continuity errors and tautological dialogue ("Future events such as these will affect you in the future"). Guilty as charged-- but the film deserves honorable mention as an unsung milestone in American independent filmmaking.

Highly personal, brazenly cross-pollinated from a genre standpoint and openly critical of the Western atomic stockpile, the self-financed Plan 9 also utilizes the non-professional actors and guerilla production tactics that distinguished the Nouvelle Vague in France a few years later. However risible Wood's script may be, his dialogue is endlessly quotable and images of Tor Johnson and Vampira doing the zombie shuffle are forever burned into the retina of horror fandom's collective eye. While few would argue its artistic superiority, Plan 9 is viewed, discussed and quoted more times in any given year than John Cassavetes' Shadows (1959), Hal Hartley's Trust (1990) or Darren Aronofsky's Pi (1998), none of which have, for all their indie credibility, inspired so much as a single refrigerator magnet. Could respected A-list filmmakers such as Nora Ephron, Neil LaBute or even Tim Burton, if denied the studio perks on which they rely to facilitate the creative process, produce a work as enduring as Plan 9 from Outer Space, which is still being discussed and enjoyed fifty years after it was made?

Director: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Producer: J. Edward Reynolds
Screenplay: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Cinematography: William C. Thompson
Editing: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Cast: Bela Lugosi (Ghoul Man), Gregory Walcott (Jeff Trent), Mona McKinnon (Paula Trent), Tor Johnson (Inspector Clay), Paul Marco (Patrolman Kelton), Duke Moore (Lt. John Harper).

by Richard Harland Smith

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Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

As a condition of the contract between Ed Wood and a Baptist organization covering production costs, many of the Plan 9 from Outer Space cast and crew had to be baptized in a swimming pool in Beverly Hills.

Producers J. Edward Reynolds and Hugh Thomas, Jr. appear in the film as gravediggers.

A Hollywood chiropodist and hypnotist named Thomas R. Mason was hired to double for Bela Lugosi.

The footage featuring Bela Lugosi was shot for an aborted project called The Vampire's Tomb. The house belonging to Lugosi's "Old Man" was owned by Swedish wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson, who had performed with Lugosi in Wood's Bride of the Monster (1955) and Reginald Le Borg's The Black Sleep (1956).

During principal photography, Plan 9 from Outer Space was called Grave Robbers from Outer Space, which was considered blasphemous by the film's Baptist financiers. The original title is still used in Criswell's opening monologue.

Maila Nurmi was paid $200 for one day's work on Plan 9 from Outer Space and rode to and from the shoot on the Santa Monica Boulevard bus in full Vampira makeup and costume.

After an argument with Ed Wood, veteran makeup man Harry Thomas insisted that his name not be used in the film's credits. Thomas' assistant, Tom Bartholemew, received sole credit.

Location footage of an actual graveyard was shot in a San Fernando Valley cemetery slated for relocation.

Cult Movies by Danny Peary
Cult Movies by Karl & Philip French
Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr. by Rudolph Grey
The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
Incredibly Strange Films (Re/Search)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks: Conversations with 24 Actors, Writers, Producers and Directors from the Golden Age by Tom Weaver
The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi by Arthur Lennig
The Horror People by John Brosnan
The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror by David J. Skal
It Came From Weaver Five by Tom Weaver
Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver
Video Watchdog

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

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Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

"A routine idea, crudely written, directed and acted, provides just about the weakest SF-cum-horror thriller to come out of Hollywood in years."
Monthly Film Bulletin

"From the hammy intro by Criswell to the hammy afterword by Criswell, this grade Z 1956 home movie masquerading as a theatrical film is an unalloyed delight, raising rank amateurishness to the level of high comic art."
Joe Dante, Castle of Frankenstein

"Incredibly awful script, acting, special effects and editing mar the film a wee bit."
Ed Naha, Horrors: From Screen to Scream

"... so very bad that it exerts a strange fascination."
John Brosnan, The Horror People

"The merits of this incredible film have not been exaggerated. It's not actually the worst film ever made, but it's the most entertaining bad one you'll find... Worth watching nine times."
Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film

"... the worst horror film ever made... (an) abysmal, exploitative, misbegotten piece of trash... (a) miserable waste of celluloid."
Stephen King, Danse Macabre

"If you see it, it's unlikely you will argue that any film is's so bad that it borders on the ludicrous. To think that such an inept, berserk picture exists truly boggles the mind."
Danny Peary, Cult Movies

"... the film gives the appearance of having been slung together by drugged mortuary attendants."
Philip Strick, Science Fiction Movies

"It literally 'says' nothing, it has no characters, no story, no direction, no whatever; it's a completely unstructured dream produced with no interference from the conscious mind at all."
The Aurum Encyclopedia of Film: Science Fiction

"The director's magnum opus... inimitable..."
John Charles, Video Watchdog

"Despite its reputation, this is actually a long way from being the worst film of all time... With its papier mache flying saucer and the worst cardboard graveyard ever, this has become a cult favourite."
Stephen Jones, The Essential Monster Movie Guide

"The picture is utterly wretched-- almost incomprehensible-- and has deservedly been listed as one of the worst films ever made."
Arthur Lennig, The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi

"So mesmerizingly awful it actually improves (so to speak) with each viewing. And remember, it's all based on sworn testimony!"
Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide

"Subversion is the film's driving force, and Wood does it with style. Nothing here is what we expect, or what narrative demands. The graveyards have plastic headstones, paper mausoleums, and sticks for crosses. A simple sequence of driving from a police station to the cemetery becomes an existential nightmare as the sky shifts willy-nilly between day, dusk, and darkest night over the course of the drive."
Gary Morris, Bright Lights Film Journal

"Things I learned from this movie: Funerals take place at 4:00 am, spacecraft developed by advanced aliens are unable to fly without wobbling, outer space is awful damn windy..."
Andrew Borntrager,

"The ultimate cult flick"
John Wirt, Baton Rouge Advocate

"This is a perfect film... the standard by which all other vampire/UFO, grave robber films must be found wanting."
Clayton Trapp Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films

"Whether it's the obviously cardboard tombstones, astoundingly stupid 'day for night' photography or the delightfully clumsy performances... Plan 9 provides guaranteed laughs."
Brian Lindsey,

"...sluggish, clunky, repetitive, a technical nightmare, without proper funds, badly-acted, and preachy almost to the point of an insult. Yet it is absolutely earnest. Therein lies its humour and its persistent appeal to cult audiences: it tries so hard, it tries so honestly, and it fails so horribly."
James O'Ehley, The Sci-Fi Movie Page

"What's most striking is the sincerity that Wood brings to his work. The man doubtlessly thought himself to be a capable filmmaker and believed he had something of value to tell audiences. The result is a strange and endearing sweetness that radiates from every frame of Plan 9. It's sort of like watching the Special Olympics -- Wood may not be the most fleet-footed guy on the track, but you're pulling for him anyway."
David Lazarus, Salon

"In many ways, Plan 9 from Outer Space is the ULTIMATE cinematic experience. It requires absolute attention from the audience, and demands complete suspension of disbelief in order for the premise and performances to work. And these are good things. Movies are meant to engage, to stir and involve. If Plan 9 is going to entertain you, you have to meet it halfway. You have to forgive its flaws and its gaffes and simply enjoy."
Bill Gibron, DVD Verdict

"Ed Smith's (sic) nano-budget sci-fi howler just may be the worst movie ever made. But if you don't find yourself giggling you're not of this Earth."
Thomas Delapa, Boulder Weekly

"I'm sure Plan 9 was horrible in its day. I have no doubt of this based on what I've seen watching it. But frankly, it can't even begin to compare to the lousy stuff that circulates today."
Steve Anderson, Film Threat

"(Its) sheer incompetence makes it oddly lovable and it's packed with incident. At least they tried, eh?"
Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

"... a delightful exercise in desultory special effects, off-the-wall dialogue, and low-budget mishigas."
J. Hoberman

"Plan 9 from Outer Space is the ultimate in improvised filmmaking."
Guido Henkel,

"Ed Wood, Jr.'s 1956 reverse-classic Plan 9 from Outer Space may not be the Worst Film of All Time... but in its total conviction, strained seriousness, wacky syntax, absurd non sequiturs and deliriously inept direction through Wood's bullhorn, it was certainly the most entertaining slice of '50s kitsch."
Paul Mandell, Film Score Monthly

"Now that almost all great directors have been thoroughly analyzed in print, zonked-out eccentrics are having their day, and Ed Wood is the zonkiest of all. He lies somewhere in the twilight zone between idiocy and inspiration, between genius and hopelessness. He was inspired all right, but by goals and desires incomprehensible to us mere mortals. Plan 9 from Outer Space... is testimony to Wood's guilelessness-- he can't even make a cheap bad movie right, but he makes it his own way."
Bill Warren, Keep Watching the Skies (revised edition)

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

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Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

"We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future." Criswell"And now for the first time, we are bringing to you the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are giving you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friends, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty, let us reward the innocent. My friends... can your heart stand the shocking facts about Grave Robbers from Outer Space?" Criswell

"The ever-beautiful flowers she had planted with her own hands became nothing more than the lost roses of her cheeks." Criswell

"Finding a mess like this ought to make anyone frightened." Inspector Clay

"Say Lieutenant, you get that funny odor?" Patrolman Larry

"Last night I saw a flying object that couldn't have possibly been from this planet, but I can't talk about it. I'm muzzled by Army Brass." Jeff Trent

"Inspector Clay's dead... murdered... and somebody's responsible." Lieutenant Harper

"People turning south on the freeway were startled when they saw three flying saucers flying over Hollywood Boulevard." Criswell

"There comes a time in each man's life where he can't even believe his own eyes." Criswell

"For a time we tried to contact them by radio but no response. Then they attacked a town. A small town, I'll admit, but nevertheless a town of people... people who died." Colonel Edwards

"Looks like we beat them off again, sir." Army Captain

"Well, as long as they can think, we'll have our problems. But those whom we are using cannot think. They are dead, brought to a simulated life by our electrode guns. You know, it's an interesting thing when you consider... the earth people who can think are so frightened by those who cannot... the dead." Eros

"Now, off to your wild blue yonders." Paula Trent

"Hey, Edie, how about you and me balling it up in Albuquerque?" Copilot Danny

"It's quiet all right... like a tomb. I'm sorry, Jeff. That was a bad joke." Edie

"Why do I have to get hooked up with these spook details? Monsters, graves, bodies!" Kelton the Cop

"Bring the giant here, that I might get a better look at him." The Ruler

"I'll bet my badge right now we haven't seen the last of those weirdies." Lieutenant Harper

"I'll tell you one thing. If a little green man pops out at me, I'm shooting first and asking questions later." Jeff Trent

"I, a fiend?" Eros

"All you of Earth are idiots." Eros

"You see... you see... your stupid minds, stupid, stupid!" Eros

"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 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 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, to every planet in the universe. This is why you must be stopped." -Eros

"Perhaps, on your way home, someone will pass you in the dark, and you will never know it. For they will be from outer space." Criswell

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

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Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

As a child, Poughkeepsie-born Edward Davis Wood, Jr., was often punished by his mother Lillian by being made to wear frilly girls' dresses. Consequently, Wood was a heterosexual transvestite all of his adult life.

"Junior" Wood got his start in films as an usher at the Bardavon Theater on Maple Street, eventually working his way up to ticket taker and assistant manager.

Ed Wood joined the Marines at age 17 and saw action during World War II. As part of Operation Galvanic, Wood participated in the three-day invasion of Tarawa in November of 1943, during which over a thousand American lives were lost.

Wood once roomed with independent producer Alex Gordon, who eventually moved out for fear that Wood's cross-dressing might reflect badly on his own career. Gordon remained on good terms with Wood and introduced him to Bela Lugosi.

Ed Wood's favorite movie was Karl Freund's The Mummy (1932).

Executive producer J. Edward Reynolds hoped the profits from Plan 9 would underwrite a film biography of evangelist Billy Sunday.

Previewed as Grave Robbers from Outer Space at the Carlton Theater in Los Angeles on March 15, 1957, the film went into general release as Plan 9 from Outer Space in July of 1959, on a double bill with the British suspense thriller Time Lock (1957), which featured a pre-James Bond Sean Connery.

Interiors were filmed at Quality Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Leading actor Gregory Walcott was at the time a busy Hollywood contract player who attended the same Baptist church as executive producer J. Edward Reynolds and acted in Plan 9 from Outer Space as a favor.

Walcott's onscreen wife, Mona McKinnon, was a roommate of Dolores Fuller, a former girlfriend of Ed Wood and star of Wood's autobiographical Glen or Glenda (1953). McKinnon and Fuller had acted together in Ron Ormond's Mesa of Lost Women (1953), often short listed as one of the worst movies of all time.

Dressed as a morbid Charles Addams character, Maila Nurmi had won first prize at the Bal Caribe, a Hollywood masquerade ball in 1953, and was subsequently hired by KABC-TV's program director Hunt Stromberg, Jr. to be an on-air horror movie hostess the following year. Thirty years later, Nurmi sued Cassandra Peterson, aka "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" for trademark infringement.

Cast in Plan 9 as UFO-chasing Colonel Tom Edwards, Tom Keene was born George Duryea in Rochester, New York, and studied at Columbia University and Carnegie Tech before heading west. After undergoing a name change at RKO Studios, Keene enjoyed a long career in Poverty Row westerns and episodic television. The one-time "Honorary Mayor of Sherman Oaks" Keene died of cancer in 1963.

Color blind cinematographer William C. Thompson had also lensed such cult favorites as Dwain Esper's Maniac (1934), Dementia, aka Daughter of Horror (1955) and The Astounding She-Monster (1957).

Paul Marco's "Kelton the Cop" got his screen surname from the street on which his agent lived.

Top-billed Tor Johnson was a Sweden-born pro wrestler who also appeared in such studio films as Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) with William Powell and Myrna Loy, Road to Rio (1947) with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and State of the Union (1948) with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Johnson died in 1971.

In 2006, Tor Johnson was honored by MTV as one of "10 Actors Who Can Take a Folding Chair to the Face."

In the footage used in Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bela Lugosi wears one of the Dracula capes he wore when playing the part on stage. After his death, he was buried in the same cape.

Cast member Dudley Manlove had been the announcer for the NBC Radio mystery program Candy Matson, Yukon 2-8209 in San Francisco and migrated to Los Angeles after the series' cancellation in 1951.

The contemporary six-man lounge combo The Dudley Manlove Quartet takes its name from the California-born actor, who died in 1996.

Manlove's onscreen amanuensis, Joanna Lee, enjoyed a successful late life career as a Hollywood scriptwriter and director. Lee penned the topical TV movies Cage Without a Key (1975), I Want to Keep My Baby (1976) and Mary Jane Harper Cried Last Night (1977).

Special Guest Star John "Bunny" Breckinridge was a direct descendent and namesake of 14th American Vice President John Cabell Breckinridge.

Seen briefly as an army general, Lyle Talbot is the father of Stephen Talbot, who played Gilbert on the television series Leave It To Beaver.

Plan 9's atmospheric score was cobbled together from existing library tracks by music packager Gordon Zahler, paraplegic son of Poverty Row music director Lee Zahler. The film's infamous main title is actually composer Trevor Duncan's "Grip of the Law," written for Great Britain's Impress Mood Music Library. In 1960, CBS Television used the cue to score a broadcast covering Soviet premiere Nikita Kruschev's visit to America.

Ed Wood never profited from the theatrical release or belated cult acclaim of Plan 9 from Outer Space and died homeless in 1978.

Cult Movies by Danny Peary
Cult Movies by Karl & Philip French
Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr. by Rudolph Grey
The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
Incredibly Strange Films (Re/Search)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks: Conversations with 24 Actors, Writers, Producers and Directors from the Golden Age by Tom Weaver
The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi by Arthur Lennig
The Horror People by John Brosnan
The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror by David J. Skal
It Came From Weaver Five by Tom Weaver
Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver
Video Watchdog

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

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