There are some films that become legendary among fans of the medium. Films which are renowned because of their plots, their direction, the acting within them. Of course, that renown isn’t necessarily positive, and there are many films which are remembered solely because of how phenomenally terrible they are. Many of those films were directed by Ed Wood, Jr., and his best-known and worst-reputed film is 1959’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, a movie often brought up in discussions of what movie should be considered the worst film ever made. So naturally, I had to watch it and find out just how bad it is.
Criswell’s prediction? PAIN.
The film nominally stars Bela Lugosi, except it really doesn’t. Ed Wood took some unused footage of Lugosi before he died, and incorporated that footage into Plan 9 with some narration from faux-psychic Criswell to tie it into the rest of the movie. Criswell also opens and closes the film, and his monologue is a classic of unintentional comedy (“We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.”) The dialogue in the rest of the film is better, but not usually by much.
Lugosi is featured as an old man whose wife dies; shortly after he himself is killed walking into traffic. He and his wife, played by Vampira (the stage name of Maila Nurmi and a predecessor of Elvira), rise from the grave and begin subtly terrorizing townsfolk around the graveyard. After they kill a police inspector (Tor Johnson), he too rises. All of this is being caused by aliens, in an attempt to… somehow… gain the attention of Earth’s government, and get them to cease production on a weapon that could threaten the whole universe.
They’re so far beyond us, their logic baffles our primitive Earth-minds.
This film, as you might expect, has its problems. But most of those can be laid directly at the feet of writer-producer-director Ed Wood. The actors playing the aliens, military, and townsfolk usually did a decent enough job with what they were given to work with. They just weren’t being given much (and in most cases, never were again; the IMDB credits for these actors mostly go nowhere, except for documentaries on Plan 9 itself.) The plot barely holds together, the dialogue is corny, and even someone who isn’t a film student can tell something has gone awry with the directing. Of course, all you need is your eyes to tell you that: As I noted above, Lugosi’s work in this film was actually work in other, uncompleted, films. So when it was necessary to have his character interact with others, and Lugosi having died in the meantime, Wood simply replaced him with someone else who bore no resemblance, and instructed him to hold his cape over his face the whole time. It doesn’t work very well. Of course, even that’s better than the equally stiff movements of the other “dead” characters, who basically adopt classic horror poses and then walk while still maintaining those poses. I’ve never seen Vampira in anything else before, and I can still tell she’s being wasted here.
OK, that’s perfect! Now don’t ever move your arms again!
Throw in the bad-even-by-1959-standards special effects, and it’s easy for me to say that Plan 9 From Outer Space is absolutely, without question, the… second worst film I’ve ever seen. Bad as it is, it’s still got a long way to go before being as bad as Manos: The Hands of Fate. Plan 9 From Outer Space is so bad you can’t help but laugh at it (and it’s great for that purpose), but it’s not so bad it makes your ears bleed. Having now seen both of the films usually declared the worst films ever made, I can state which is worse, and Manos is the clear winner… or loser, if you prefer. But Plan 9 beats just about everything else.
I should note, for those wishing to experience this for themselves, that it’s available in YouTube’s free movie section in its original form, and on Hulu with the RiffTrax treatment.