Monster Mash Blogathon: Plan 9 From Outer Space

Plan 9 from Outer Space poster

My excitement over being the first to pick Plan 9 From Outer Space for the Monster Mash Blogathon was quickly replaced with apprehension as I realized positively everything to be said about Plan 9 has already been said. To combat this disadvantage, I decided to approach P9 as movie that needed improvement and I, winner of the Best Director Oscar five years running, would grab that challenge by the ears. [1]   It’ll be fun, I said. Loadsa laughs, I said.

Let me tell you, my friends, the shocking truth: Plan 9 is unbearably overstuffed with errors. Correcting it is impossible. I was ill prepared for the sheer magnitude of ineptness contained within the frames of Plan 9 From Outer Space. That may sound ridiculously naive, but P9 has always been a film I felt had a few genuinely enjoyable and good moments. However, when you’re making lists — two, in fact, one called GOOD and the other BAD — you don’t have to watch many scenes in Plan 9 to realize the BAD column is going to overflow, spill out onto the carpet and cause a permanent stain. Not an obvious one, but the kind that leaves a lingering dark shadow on the floor. The neighbors won’t notice, but you’ll know it’s there. You’ll always know.

When Mr. Wood wrote the screenplay for Plan 9 From Outer Space, he clearly didn’t realize he had the plots for at least two movies, perhaps three, swirling about on the pages. He mashed science fiction with zombie horror and crime drama, but did not create a multi-layered work; rather, he created a mass of incomprehensibility punctuated by moments of stunning insanity.

Criswell in Plan 9 From Outer Space

My friends, can your hearts stand the shocking facts about how bad Plan 9 From Outer Space really is?

If I were in a position to fix this film, truth be told, I would retain a lot of it as is. I’d keep the basic story. The idea of aliens who come to earth and conquer humanity by raising the dead to fight the living is pretty damn good. Plus, there are two best things about Plan 9: Tor and Maila Nurmi.

Maila Nurmi in Plan 9 From Outer Space
Their look is absolutely terrific, and when they’re lurching about the set constructed out of a used black curtain and a couple of vertical tree branches stolen from the city park, you don’t notice the rotten scenery.

Tor in Plan 9 From Outer Space

Also, keep Bela. I know, I know, it’s tacky to use outtakes of a dead actor to make it appear he is now one of the walking dead. Tackiness aside, I do think it could work. First, edit the outtakes better so they are more coherent (more on that in a moment). Then, after Bela’s character is resurrected by the aliens, use a double in ghoulish makeup instead of the bizarre face-covering shtick Ed chose to go with. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Drive down to the local Duckwall’s and pick up a couple of packages of kiddie Halloween makeup, ask Maila for a few tips, and you’re done.

While you’re already at the downtown Duckwall’s, pick up some cheap black fabric, a set of pinking shears, and a staple gun. Tack up some of that black fabric in the background behind doors so your poor stewardess doesn’t have to keep the shower curtain closed to prevent revealing the unfinished stage behind her. Oh, and replace that shower curtain with a fabric curtain. I know, the space-age polymers in 1950s shower curtains were a sight to behold, but they have no place in an airplane cockpit. I, winner of seven Best Director Academy Awards in a row, will not budge on this detail. [2]

Gregory Walcott in Plan 9 From Outer Space

Also, Ed? Have someone else read your script. I know you pounded out the porn (no pun) at a fantastic rate, but this is a movie script and requires a touch more finesse than “He slammed his rod into her hoohah and they both liked it a lot so they did it again.” [3]   Hire some enthusiastic film newbie for a fiver a week to weed out unnecessary repetition and nonsensical sentences. Give them an extra 50 cents and send them out to buy a thesaurus at a used book store.

Understand that Ed’s approach to writing may frustrate me, but it does not surprise me. The man knew time was money. So I understand his methods, but I do not approve, because it is clear that 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there could have improved the film by an order of magnitude. The script is one of those 30 minute deals.

Have someone else edit your movie, Ed. The editing sucks out loud and is probably the single most destructive thing in the film. Everybody thank Dr. Film for saving you the bone-crushingly tedious task of trying to read my own attempts to describe how this film could be saved by some moderate editing skill. While I was working on this entry, Dr. Film posted his re-edited version of the graveyard scene in P9 where the wife is being chased by the moseying dead. It’s a terrific read with video clips to illustrate his point. Basically, my plan is to get a time machine and send Dr. Film back to 1950whatever to fix Plan 9.

Another 30 minute fix would be getting some extra fishing wire to bolster those damn wiggly wobbly UFO hubcaps. And would it have killed Ed to put this poor guy outside next to a tree instead of inside in front of a blank wall?

The stunning sets of Plan 9 From Outer Space
He is so lonely, not even a delightful potted fern to keep him company. I should note that I would also address Ed’s inability to keep day and night straight, but that depresses me so much I simply can’t deal with it right now. The blank grey walls have made me too sad.

Other Things I Like About Plan 9 From Outer Space In No Particular Order:

* The stock footage is not eye-gougingly awful. It is mildly appropriate, especially if you squint. Keep it.

Tor Johnson in Plan 9 From Outer Space
* Tor as a police officer. Work with him for a couple of minutes on diction for the lines he slurs and you’re good to go.

* Gregory Walcott. His acting is surprisingly good in the first scene with his wife, but he turns sullen and distant, perhaps even a bit sleepy, in the following scenes. For those of us watching the movie to laugh, his angsty gloom face is absolute hilarity, but we’re trying to improve the film here, so we need to get Walcott to bring his B game to the table instead of his Q game. (The Q stands for NyQuil).

Saucers Seen Over Hollywood - Plan 9 From Outer Space

* Saucers Over Hollywood! A nice touch. If the only place you can film is LA, use LA. Don’t try to hide it by pretending it’s really Montana.

bitchy aliens - Plan 9 From Outer Space
* And, finally, the bitchy aliens. I adore these smug bastards, whom I have dubbed Usenet Aliens because they spend their free time hilariously failing at everything they attempt while repeatedly accusing those around them of stupidity. John “Bunny” Breckinridge and Dudley Manlove were experienced actors who, if directed appropriately, could have been really great. Instead, Manlove flounders with horrible dialogue, and Breckinridge indulges in sweeping Susan Hayward arm gestures and eye rolling. Not that I don’t love him for it, but honestly, the aliens as a whole come across as laughable for being sissies, which I know Mr. Wood did not intend, but the result is undeniable. Rein Bunny and Dudley in, give Joanna Lee something more to do than play the stereotypical 1950s inept female cohort, and you’ve got a winner.

It’s impossible to deny that Plan 9 From Outer Space has captured our hearts precisely because it is so flawed. We can all see and enjoy those wobbling gravestones and hubcap spaceships; no one can ignore Lyle Talbot saying “flying saucers” about a dozen times over the course of 60 seconds. But there is a genuine earnestness to Edward D. Wood, Jr., more overt in Glen and Glenda but still obvious here, and we love him for it.

Further Reading:

BadMovies.org: A great write up with unintentionally hilarious comments. Count how many people skewer Ed for numerous errors while making plenty of their own. (My favorite: The person who thought the movie was made in 1971.) They’re all Usenet Aliens!

The Unbroken Dream of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: I can’t pass up an opportunity to once again suggest you read Mykal’s amazing post about Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda.

Also, I am aware there is a remake.

***

[1] I have not won any Oscars and yes, that is an obscure Elton John reference, thanks for noticing.

[2] Still haven’t won an Oscar.

[3] Not an actual quote. I hope.

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30 Comments

  1. I adore these smug bastards, whom I have dubbed Usenet Aliens because they spend their free time hilariously failing at everything they attempt while repeatedly accusing those around them of stupidity.

    Priceless. Positively priceless.

    The only drawback I can see looming on the horizon in trying to improve Plan 9 is that as a multiple Academy Award winner you would be suffering from “the Oscar curse” and all attempts to save the movie would result in utter futility. Fortunately, your Chuckie Award would effectively negate this and the brand spanking new film could entertain a new generation of moviegoers while providing fodder for Usenet denizens on how you never should have tampered with it.

  2. I like that you won two more Oscars in the middle of writing the piece. They’re so bored with your utter dominance that the academy just periodically ships statues to you via FEDEX.

    I don’t think PLAN 9 can be approved upon. You might think that resurrecting three zombies from a cardboard graveyard might be a lame way to take over the earth, but, keep in mind, it wasn’t plan A…more like plan J (if my math is correct). If you had a plan A for how to spend an evening, but eventually had to resort to a plan J, I guarantee your evening would suck.

    My favorite line is “I can’t say a word, I’m muzzled by army brass!”

    “He slammed his rod into her hoohah and they both liked it a lot so they did it again.”
    -I thought when people said the word “hoohah”, they were quoting Pacino from Scent of a Woman. Now I know better. Thanks for poking holes in my ignorance. :P

  3. Very funny post! I like the fact that you actually took an original angle to face this weird naive movie.
    One thing I like about Wood is the fact that he wanted so much to make movies and loved it so much that he actually did anything! In some way it is inspiring. In others I would never try to copy his films…

  4. “Usenet Aliens” snork. That made me laugh out loud.

    Great reveiw.
    My dad introduced me to this movie years ago and we laughed our asses just watch all the flubs, mistakes and what can be loosely called “plot”, “editing” and “acting”.

    Fantastic coup to get this gem. I picked The Screaming Skull and still have not quite recovered.

  5. Plan 9 is one of those movies where if you were to change one single syllable, the entire thing would fall apart. It’s perfect the way it is. If you were to ‘correct’ it, it would lose its charm and become just another awful movie. Or so sez I.

    Also: as someone who has actually READ Ed Wood’s porn, I can state categorically that Wood brought the same aesthetic to porn as he brought to movies. No, really. It’s unmistakably the work of the same man.

  6. I’ve always thought the basic premise was a good one too, though I wonder whether having a bigger budget would’ve improved Wood’s directorial skills that much. Would he end up with something like this?

  7. Great post Stacia – Of course now you know that I have to dig up my copy of P9 to watch right now … Thanks …

  8. Love your post.

    However, I think there is a simple way to “fix” this film, at least much of it, by changing the way viewers approach the film. A simple title card at the front of the film might do the trick:

    Remember when we were kids and we would make-believe that we were cowboys and robbers? We used nothing but sticks for horses. Filmmaking is only make-believe, folks. What difference does it make if you spend a million dollars or one dollar, as long as you realize that it’s supposed to be a plane cockpit?

    We had a ton of fun making this film and I hope you have fun watching it.

    Ed Wood

  9. The only thing I would change would be to clean up a few Solanite issues. I can never tell if we’re the basketball or the gas can.

    I have seen this movie in a theatrical setting more times than I can count. And with each year I swear I’m gonna skip it. And yet, when the music swells and Criswell does his thing, there I am, waiting to get smacked in the head by flying paper plate.

    You win, Plan 9. You win.

  10. “The neighbors won’t notice, but you’ll know it’s there. You’ll always know.” Hilarious, great post! Really liked your ideas on how to improve the unimprovable, especially the one about the potted plant (yes, that poor fellow does look a bit lonely there) – Home Depot, here we come! Really inventive approach to writing about one of the most famous movies ever.

  11. It’s a shame Breckinridge made no other film appearances.
    BTW- his namesake was a Confederate general and they could have passed as twins.

  12. “…a mass of incomprehensibility punctuated by moments of stunning insanity.” THAT’S IT!

  13. Stacia, I think you did an admirable job covering what has to be the Mt. Everest of schlock. I enjoyed your witty deconstruction of a dubious classic.

  14. I am sure this will sound quite redundant but Great Post (again!).

    Another hilarious take on a classic film.

    I remember first seeing this film about fifteen years ago (after seeing Ed Wood!!) and (of course already knowing it was going to be pretty damn bad) reveling in its utter badness. Thanx for bringing that feeling back (and yes, I mean that in the most complimentary manner).

    Oh, and congrats on…how many Oscars is it now?…

  15. Thanks guys! I have to say that my viewing since Plan 9 has been rather macabre: The Big Knife, The Bad Sleep Well, Peeping Tom, and Let the Right One In, so now I’m longing wistfully for the simpler days of eye-rolling aliens and sad, sleepy airplane captains.

    Also, I think the print TCM shows (the one I used on this post) is matted improperly. I believe the film is supposed to be widescreen and we’re seeing the “top” of the frame when we shouldn’t be. I’ll have to investigate that, but I just wanted to put that out there.

  16. Stacia, I got a huge kick out of your suggestions on “improving” PLAN 9! Of course, the utter ineptness of Ed Wood and company is part of this movie’s loopy charm, but your take on it was a delight.

    I can relate, having written a 2-part blog post in September 2010 for Tales of the Easily Distracted about what was wrong with Robert Benton’s 1982 Hitchcock manque STILL OF THE NIGHT, because I just couldn’t get the flaws out of my head! :-)

    By the way, I happened to watch a classic PERRY MASON episode featuring Gregory Walcott. His acting was mildly better than in PLAN 9. :-) In any case, great post, Stacia!

  17. “He slammed his rod into her hoohah and they both liked it a lot so they did it again.”

    That’s it. The blogathon’s over. We can all go home now. I don’t think that anyone can beat that for sheer hilarity. If I was personally picking out awards again this time around, trust me…you wouldn’t walk away empty handed.

  18. Stacia: Your love for this film comes shining through!

    The fabric shower curtain bit made me see Wood anew (as well as laugh out loud). Plan 9 is one of those works that everyone who loves films must, sooner or later, deal with. All must hear the Plan 9 bell tolling sooner or later. You have stepped up to the mark in very fine fashion!

    By the way, my verification word is “moofull.” No kidding. That somehow describes my love for Wood perfectly.

  19. Thanks Nathanael! I am the queen of tasteless banality.

    I’m so glad you stopped by, Mykal. You’re right, I do love this film, and though my premise may have offended some who find it perfect, I wanted some way to talk about P9’s faults without just posting a grocery list of mistakes.

  20. Great article of a classic bad movie! It is probably one of the best bad movies since unlike the truly terrible films, it is actually watchable.

  21. You’ve found the interesting squicky pieces that fall hardest and really stick when the bottom of this carefully-held-at-arms-length plastic trash bag fails on the way to the dumpster. Then you’ve spread the entrails out for further augury. The best argument yet for this film, a fruitless endeavor usually, but well done anyway.

  22. I do love that you went through this film and sorted through the various shadings of Ed Wood’s mistakes.

    And the Usenet Aliens are the ne plus ultra of Arrogant Aliens. And my personal favorite line from this film, one that used to grace my Facebook page: “Modern women. They’ve been like that all down through the ages. Especially in a spot like this.”

    Excellent job, Stacia, as always.

  23. Great article! “Usenet Aliens” is hilarious. You are right that everything bad about Plan 9 has been said, and I like that you found some positives in the film.

  24. I like Ed Wood Jr. most of all because he is earnest. His crazy movies are a mess, and are often entertaining for that reason, but I never feel like laughing at him. A lack of irony can be beautiful.

  25. I think it’s a mistake for you to send me back to fix Plan 9. In 1959, Simone Simon was still very cute, and I would think I might prove unreliable.

  26. Seriously, though, someone oughta get a grant for me (and whoever else want to do it) and see if we could improve Plan 9 by using only recutting, redubbing and insert shots that Wood could have done himself. I think the film could be helped immeasurably. You could change it from a turkey to an average B-grade picture, I’d wager. Well, probably below average.

  27. I’d love to see you try, Dr. Film!

  28. I’d hate to see you, or anyone, try, Dr. Film! Tamper with Plan 9? No. It is what it is. The idea of (good God) cutting and dubbing Wood’s work is about as bad as ideas get.

    Plan 9 requires no “help” or improvement. It is perfect. (Stacia, I know you would never really touch a line or moment!).

  29. If they can reconstruct London After Midnight with a bunch of stills, then I think anything is fair game at this point. Whether it’s a good idea or not is a whole ‘nother issue.

  30. Pingback: Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Summertime (1955) | She Blogged By Night

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