Sunday, 8 July 2007

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

From the best, to what is commonly considered to be the worst.

The worst film I ever enjoyed.

THIS film as a favourite, I hear you ask? Well, just to be different, yes, and to show I suppose that love of movies is not necessarily a love of great art, but an identification with - and even a nostalgia for - a certain kind of entertainment no longer possible these days.

Just picture the following scenario: the Earth is rapidly developing its atomic power so that it can destroy millions not only in their own world, but even destroy the entire universe. A race of beings from another planet travels to Earth to prevent the potential catastrophe, by raising those Earthlings already dead as a warning of what will happen to everybody else if the Earth scientists do not stop their research.

Sounds like an interesting, perhaps even mind-boggling idea for a movie perhaps? In this particular case however, the creator was the ever enthusiastic but almost totally talentless Edward D. Wood Jr, whose body of work has to be seen to be believed.

Plan 9 from Outer Space was his nadir, both his favourite film and also his shoddiest, his most profound and also his most laughable. It also demonstrates a director with a passion and enthusiasm for his craft that overcame everything else, including how awful it was.

It is ultimately the enthusiasm and sentiment that shines through Plan 9, and is what makes it so endearing. It took me more than a couple of viewings for me to appreciate this however, as well as the added interest in Ed Wood's career with the Tim Burton film of that name released in 1994. The first viewing was on Channel 4 in the mid-1990s, among a series of strange films entitled "Attack of the Killer B's", which had the most bizarre theme tune, that couldn't possibly (so I thought) be from a film. Yet I soon discovered this was Plan 9's opening theme!

What makes it so nostalgic in many ways is the brief appearance of Bela Lugosi, who died a few days into pre-production. Lugosi's appearance was actually some early test footage for a unfinished film entitled Tomb of the Vampire, beginning with the poignant sight of Lugosi at a funeral mourning the death of his wife. Clearly Bela himself looks frail and close to death, and his pain in this little sequence is all too evident. Next we see him outside his house, still in mourning but coveting the preciousness of life by picking up a little flower from his garden - seconds later he walks off camera, and a hideous sound effect of a man run over by a car constitutes the presumed "death scene" of the character. But being Bela Lugosi of course, he "rises" from the dead and is seen parading regally around his house and a weedy looking field in his iconic Dracula costume.

That represents the sum total of Lugosi's actual "performance" in Plan 9 from Outer Space. The rest of him, as such, is represented by a rather tall and lumbering American non-actor (Ed Wood's chiropractor apparently!), who waddles around rather unconvincingly with the Dracula cape obscuring most of his face (as Lugosi himself did in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) in an attempt to pad out the genuine Lugosi footage into the fabric of the story. Lugosi himself would probably have been amused at the sheer effrontery of it.

This is one of many hilarious continuity goofs in the film. On other occasions the hero, Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) says goodbye to his wife Paula (Mona McKinnon) from their veranda, and walks into a patently obvious indoor studio where his car awaits with velvet curtains attempting to replace the night time affect. These same curtains also pop up in Jeff's airplane cockpit, and even the headquarters of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe (Bunny Breckinridge) in his faraway space station!

There were others besides Lugosi in Ed Wood's band of lovable "rogues". Chief among these was giant wrestler Tor Johnson, who broke - literally - into occasional film roles in the 50s and 60s, usually in wordless parts using his awesome physicality. Here however, he is in a "speaking" role as a police inspector who is quickly dispatched by the aliens, which is just as well, because his lines up till then are delivered in an accent that is even thicker than his muscles! Third in this triumvirate of horrors is Maila Nurmi, a TV celebrity whose exotically Gothic looks as "Vampira" led to her not only being cast (appropriately) as Bela Lugosi's wife, but also directly influenced the look of other vamps to come such as Elvira.

This "army" of the living dead is summoned out of their cardboard graves by the aliens to set upon and terrorize the human race, who are powerless to stop them with their guns loaded with blanks. From this enjoyably ridiculous first half of the film, we get to the more "meaningful" part of the story where our heroes eventually manage to track down the captain of the alien spaceship, who is played by Dudley Manlove (a narrator of ice cream commercials), and has the bulk of the ridiculous plot to describe from this moment on.

To top and tail it all off, comes the flamboyant and ludicrously inaccurate TV psychic Criswell, who was moved enough by the film's subject matter to write his own introduction and postscript, and whose narration is in many ways, the icing on the cake. One of his own lines of narration seems an apt description of the film:

"There comes a time in every man's life, when he just can't believe his eyes!"

Well, see for yourself....

1 comment:

Mark said...

Unfortunately I remember seeing Plan 9 from Outer Space...just the once! It is a truly awful film but that in some ways makes it endearing although I am not sure I could sit through it again!

100 Favourite Films

100 Favourite Films