Film reviews

#22 – Plan 9 from Outer Space (1956)

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Film review #22

Director: Ed Wood

A science-fiction movie by Ed Wood, sometimes dubbed “The worst movie ever made”. Does it live up (or down) to this reputation?

In the small town of San Fernando, California, two gravediggers are burying a young woman when they hear strange noises, upon deciding to leave, they are attacked and killed by the very young woman they were supposed to be burying. At the same time, a plane in the sky piloted by Jeff Trent witnesses a flying saucer hovering in the sky…Back at the cemetery, the husband of the young woman who died earlier has died himself, absorbed by grief. Mourners discover the bodies of the gravediggers, and alert the police. Inspector Clay and some police officers arrive to investigate, but Clay is attacked and killed by the re-animated corpses of the woman and old man…

Jeff Trent has returned home from his job as a pilot and is sitting on the porch of his home with his wife Paula, telling her about his encounter with the UFO. Suddenly, a strange gust of wind knocks them over. Flying saucers have now been spotted across the USA, but the government is refusing to acknowledge their existence. The army put Col. Edwards in charge of attacking these strange ships, which causes them to flee.

On Space Station 7, the saucers are regenerating, and we see the aliens for the first time, they say their mission to contact the governments of Earth has been unsuccessful, and since they will not acknowledge their existence, they decide to implement “Plan 9”: The resurrection of the recently deceased, to get the humans attention…

While Trent is away on another flight, the corpse of the old man rises again and sneaks into Paula’s house and chases her to the cemetery, where he is joined by the corpses of his wife and Inspector Clay. She is rescued by a passing driver after she is rendered unconscious and the corpses return to the alien spaceship. Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, Col. Edwards learns that the aliens have sent radio messages to Earth, but the government has not responded. He is sent to California, where most of the strange incidents have occurred.

After the old man appears on the porch of Trent’s home, Edwards, the police, Trent and his wife head to the cemetery, where they saw a strange light that apparently turned the old mans corpse into a skeleton. They find the alien spaceship, and learn that the aliens have been trying to contact Earth to warn them about “solarbonite”, a weapon the humans may soon discover which if used, would destroy the entire universe. A fight ensues, during which a fire starts, so the humans escape the ship, leaving the ship to blast off into space and explode…

This is certainly a cheap movie. Not just in terms of looks either. The sets are sparse and filmed obviously in front of a curtain, and supposedly sturdy walls and gravestones wobble and shake. The acting is amateur-ish, the script is full of grammatical errors, the special effects are cheap, and the stock footage is out of place. So why has this film not just disappeared into the annals of time to be forgotten about? The director/writer Ed Wood produced a number of these trashy movies in the 50’s, which all showed the cheapness which became a trademark of sorts. His flamboyant showmanship when he starred in his movies as well as directing them also made him a recognisable face in cinema at the time, garnering him some level of popularity.

Two years after Wood’s death, he was awarded the Golden Turkey award posthumously for being the “worst director ever”. This lead to a revival of his films and has lead to a cult-following. His love for making movies, despite his lack of proper resources, probably helped gain him this following.

Back to the movie, there are a number of continuity errors in the dialogue (the narrator refers to the story being in the future, than immediately refers to it in the past tense), and in one scene the shadow of a studio microphone can be seen over the set. All these things make the film very difficult to be taken seriously, yet still we are looking at an important piece of cinema history here, even if it isn’t a very good piece. Wood’s dedication and passion for film making under the poorest of situations give this movie a new light.

Not everything in this movie is bad. Some of the ending dialogue brings up some of the classic sci-fi questions. The aliens (Who look completely human) reveal their motives as trying to stop humans from inadvertently developing a weapon that would destroy the universe, and are just trying to defend themselves. They also refer to the “one God”, noting that humans aren’t the only species with a belief in God. This was probably added in because of a church bankrolling this film’s (limited) budget, but it is an interesting thought about how religion could transfer across space and time, similar to what we saw in The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). Despite all this, the aliens are defeated and run away, and humanity is left with the possibility of annihilating itself and the universe. The choice for humanity to survive or destroy itself is apparently left in it’s own hands, as the narrator suggests. A cliché which has been done before, but a poignant message nevertheless.

So overall, Plan 9 From Outer Space is a little bit of cinema history, though not for its quality. Not a movie one can take seriously, but if you’re looking at the whole spectrum of sci-fi movies, this is almost an essential part.