PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE: Ed Wood's Greatest Claim to Fame

”This is the one. This is the one I'll be remembered for!”

-- Johnny Depp as Edward D. Wood, Jr. in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994)

Plan 9 from Outer Space had been playing on broadcast television in 16mm obscurity until 1980, when authors Harry & Michael Medved singlehandedly kicked off what has come to be known as 'The Ed Wood Renaissance’ when they knighted the film with dubious moniker of 'The Worst Movie Ever Made' in their book The Golden Turkey Awards. (To add insult to injury, they also gave Mr. Wood

the Worst Director award.)

Original FRANKENSTEIN (1931) lobby card

A throwback to Ed Wood’s childhood fascination with the

monsters of the original Universal thrillers, Plan 9 combines a

gothic sensibility overlaid with an atomic age plot most likely

inspired by that of The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise,

1951).

A model of the robot GORT from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (Photo courtesy: The Robot Hall of Fame / Wikimedia Foundation)

Unfortunately, gothic fiction in film had fallen out of favor after the 1930s and 1940s, and its combination with then contemporary science-fiction themes such as flying saucers & aliens created a bit of a filmic non-sequitur for theater audiences in 1959.

In cult film terms, though, part of Plan 9’s warped appeal seems to be the fact that the story aims to be something Ed Wood’s limited

financial resources at the time could not support — an epic genre film.

Anne Francis & Robby the Robot in FORBIDDEN PLANET directed by Fred M. Wilcox for MGM  (Photo courtesy PICRYL.com)

Although quality sci-fi (such as Forbidden Planet, 1956, is typically a Hollywood genre which typically requires a huge budget provided by a major film studio, that Wood attempted regardless gives it (and Wood’s other creations) a certain Horatio Alger / everyman filmmaker appeal.

As film critic Rob Craig argues in this regard — Plan 9 has much

in common with both epic theatre ("grand melodrama on a

minuscule budget") and the Theatre of the Absurd (characters

acting as buffoons, nonsense and verbosity in dialogue, dreamlike

and fantasy imagery, hints of allegory, and a narrative

structure where continuity is consistently undermined).

The film even inspired a 1992 video game (for the Atari ST and Amiga computers) which begins when the producer notices that the film has been stolen by Bela Lugosi's bitter double (Tom Mason, Wood’s wife’s chiropractor).

Chiropractor Dr. Tom Mason "doubling" for the late Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959)

The player must then carry out an epic search of the original

locations where Plan 9 from Outer Space was filmed to find the six

missing reels before Bela’s double releases the film COLORIZED

with more of himself edited into it. (Gasp!)

Plan 9’s once awful reputation has mellowed with time, and the

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction now claims that in recent years

"the film's reception (has) modulated away from jovial mockery of

its wanton indifference to normal professional standards of script,

performance, and effects, in favor of a more nuanced appreciation

of its dreamlike narrative assemblage of genre tropes, resonantly

unspeakable dialogue, and irrepressible budgetary ingenuity.”

* AUTHOR'S NOTE: The new 4K restoration of Plan Nine From Outer Space was presented at Heritage House as part of "Turkey Month" in November of 2017.