The history of American cinema is full of great movies that earned great recognition due to the impact of their artistic achievements or technological innovations, that in time resulted in fame for their makers. "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is an exception to this, given the fact that the fame that earned for its creator, Edward D. Wood Jr. was that of being the "Worst Director of All Time". Released in 1959, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" was an independent movie that went unnoticed upon release until in 1980 was discovered by film critics Michael and Harry Medved, whom labeled as "The Worst Movie Ever Made" because of the enormous amount of errors and technical problems the film had. Nevertheless, in spite of this, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" has a strange appealing that makes it different from many other awful film: it has a heart. The cinema of Ed Wood is naive and incompetent, but owner of an extraordinary charm. "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is the legacy of a man whose love for cinema was bigger than his own artistic skill, and that was willing to anything to complete his movie.
According to the film's narrator, the Amazing Criswell (as himself), "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is the true account of the facts of the fateful day where a group of extraterrestrial beings arrived to Hollywood in a flying saucer. It all begins in a funeral, where and old man (Bela Lugosi) mourns the loss of his young wife (Vampira). In the meantime, what seemed to be a routine flight for pilots Jeff (Gregory Walcott) and Danny (David De Mering) becomes a close encounter with the flying saucer. The saucer lands on the cemetery, and at night, the gravediggers are attacked by the reanimated corpse of the old man's wife. The very next day, the old man gets killed in a traffic accident, and during his funeral, the dead bodies of the two gravediggers are found. Inspect Clay (Tor Johnson) from the local police begins his investigation in the cemetery. At that moment, pilot Jeff feels uneasiness about his encounter with the flying saucer, and confesses to his wife that the army required him to keep quiet about it. Soon Inspector Clay faces the reanimated corpses of both the old man and his wife, and becomes part of Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Written, directed and produced by Ed Wood himself, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is a bizarre mix between the kind of science fiction stories that dominated the 1950s and the classic gothic horror films that were a huge part of Wood's childhood. So, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" has the typical plot of alien invasion spiced up by reanimated corpses and Bela Lugosi unexplainably dressed as Dracula. The narration by Criswell gives a sensationalist tone to the story, presented as the "true account" of the survivors of the tale, in an attempt to mimic the tone of veracity in police procedural shows like "Dragnet". However, this effort proves useless by the outlandishly bizarre plot, not to mention the ridicule dialogs that verge on absurdity that Wood has given to his characters. "Plan 9 from Outer Space" also mimics the pacifist message of films like "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951), where the alien invasion comes with the purpose of stopping the human race before it becomes dangerous. The most interesting thing in Wood's screenplay is perhaps the clear anti-statist message the film has: for Wood, the government knows a lot more that what we think.
As mentioned before, the fame of ·"Plan 9 from Outer Space" has its origin in the incompetence in which the film was crafted, as director Ed Wood doesn't seem to care much for matter such as continuity and coherence between his material. So, there are moments in which sky can change from day to night and vice-versa, the actors vary in their dramatic intention (if any), and special effects are done without care and in the lowest possible quality. Nevertheless, it's also clear that Wood knew pretty good what cinema could make, as he is able of portraying a car wreck using only sound, and creating entire sequences mixing what was show on set with archive footage. Wood knows how cinema works, he simply does it with extreme carelessness. Whether this had been the result of low budget or if its in fact an excess of overconfidence, or perhaps a combination of both, is something we can't really know. What can be appreciated is the great interest of Wood in telling an epic story despite having low resources, and his determination to do it no matter what (to the point of substituting Bela Lugosi when the horror icon passed away).
Bela Lugosi having a main role (the last of his career) in "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is another fact that has contributed for the film's unquestionable cult status. At the beginning of the 50s, Lugosi found himself working in countless B-movies to sustain his addiction to painkillers. Meeting Ed Wood, a young filmmaker who considered himself a big fan of Lugosi, meant a brief return to starring roles for the legendary Hungarian actor. Bela Lugosi shot with Wood a couple of scenes for a move that would never be finished, due to Lugosi's untimely death. However, that footage would end up as part of "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (albeit without sound). To finish Lugosi's role, Wood hired Tom Mason, who makes a poor impersonation of Lugosi by hiding his face with the cape. Acting, like everything else in "Plan 9" is careless and tacky, though some performers, such as Gregory Walcott do try to make the effort to get a good result. Tor Johnson, Vampira, Dudley Manlove and the Amazing Criswell complete a bizarre cast that's certainly unforgettable, though perhaps for the wrong reasons.
And that's probably the best way to describe "Plan 9 from Outer Space", an unforgettable movie for all the wrong reasons. Everything that Wood wanted to make poignant, ends up as ridicule, and what he wanted to be thrilling, results in absurd fun. Involuntarily, Wood has created an entertaining horror movie that has become a fun genre icon. The reason behind this is precisely the naiveté and utter incompetence in the film's craftsmanship, since probably if the movie was correctly done the story may end up as just another boring run of the mill sci-fi film. And that's something really interesting, as even when the film is plagued of problems, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" is never boring. An achievement that many other films, better done and with bigger budgets, can't say they achieve. It's difficult to consider "Plan 9 from Outer Space" a good movie, yet curiously, it's even more difficult to label it as a bad one, as even when probably the result is far from what director Ed Wood desired when he conceived it, what "Plan 9 from Outer Space" really achieves is probably more worthy.
"Plan 9 from Outer Space" is a movie with a charm quite difficult to explain, as it's images convey a strange fascination. In the movie one can find cheap effects, exaggerated overacting, an absurd screenplay and an weird work of editing, and yet, in the end everything works in such a way that the film remains entertaining from beginning to end. Tim Burton's movie, "Ed Wood" (1994) is a testament of the fascination produced by "Plan 9 from Outer Space". And that's because in away, the making of "Plan 9 from Outer Space" englobes the pain and the glory of making movies, of gathering the talent and resources of a bunch of people (as big or little as they can be) to give life to a dream, to a vision. Ed Wood's vision, a man whose soul was in film despite his talents saying otherwise, is paradoxical in the sense that it completely fits that old statement that the movie is so bad that it's good.