“Greetings, my friend. 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.
“You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places.
“My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?”
These words signal the opening of Ed Wood’s infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space, delivered from a coffin by Mae West’s personal psychic, Criswell, the Liberace of fortune tellers. This is a man who once claimed that Denver would be struck by a ray from space that would cause all metal to adopt the qualities of rubber, leading to horrific accidents at amusement parks. He also predicted mass cannibalism and that world would end on August 18, 1999, Luckily, he was wrong on both counts.
Back to Plan 9 though, the magnum opus of cult director Ed Wood, a crossdresser who wore a bra and panties under his uniform in the fiercest battles of World War II. He was later portrayed by Johnny Depp in a Tim Burton movie that probably cost about a hundred times more to make than all Eddie’s films put together.
A man with boundless enthusiasm for making movies that was sadly not matched to an equal level of talent, Eddie used to knock around with drug-addled horror star Bela Lugosi. Ed was planning a new movie with him, variously titled Tomb of the Vampire or The Ghoul Goes West, and he filmed a couple of short sequences of poor old Bela wandering around looking confused in his Dracula cape. Then Bela inconveniently popped his clogs before any kind of plot could be constructed around these scenes.
Never deterred, Ed hit upon the genius idea of using the footage in a new movie, to be called Graverobbers From Outer Space, employing a double for the late horror star. These days it would be done with CGI, but Wood decided instead to hire a convincing lookalike. Er, strike the word convincing, and lookalike too. Ed settled on his wife’s chiropractor, Tom Mason, as a stand-in for Lugosi, even though Mason was a great deal taller than Lugosi and was a much younger man who bore no resemblance to him whatsoever.
The resultant mismatched footage was then shoe-horned it into a typically madcap Ed Wood storyline about flying saucer aliens invading L.A. Their dreaded Plan 9 involves reviving the dead in a cardboard graveyard to conquer our world. They intend to do this with just three slow-moving zombies: Bela’s stand-in, horror hostess Vampira and hulking wrestler Tor Johnson, who was so big he once broke the toilet seat at Ed’s house.
There’s so much funny stuff going on here that it’s hard to believe Ed didn’t know he was making a comedy. From the flying saucers that are obviously hubcaps on strings to the way that scenes change from day to night without a moment’s notice, it achieves a level of ineptitude that borders on the sublime.
Then there’s Ed’s dialogue, which is not really designed to be spoken aloud. Take this exchange between two policemen:
Patrolman Larry: “Strange. If someone had broken in, the dirt should be piled up here somewhere. It looks like it’s fallen in, into the grave.”
Lieutenant John Harper: “Larry, you’ll be out of that uniform before you know it.”
Definitely the kind of stuff that will leave you scratching your head – just like Tor Johnson does with a loaded gun in one hilarious scene!
In another, a laser beam suddenly changes Bela Lugosi’s zombie into a skeleton, and a puzzled bystander is heard to say, “He wasn’t like that a minute ago!”
Strange to think that all these years after poor Ed died broke in a friend’s Hollywood apartment at the untimely age of 54, Plan 9 remains his most enduring legacy, restored to high definition for our home video collections and immortalised in popular culture.
The Seinfeld episode The Chinese Restaurant centred around Jerry and his friends eating at a Chinese restaurant before going to the movies to see Plan 9 from Outer Space. Explaining the appeal of the film to his companions, he says: “This isn’t like plans one through eight. This is plan nine, the one that worked! The worst movie ever made!”
Is Plan 9 the worst film ever? With Michael Bay in the world? We don’t think so. The truth is that Ed Wood’s no-budget sci-fi opus is bad in an amusing way, and therefore a lot more fun to sit through than the many hundreds of genuinely awful productions that have swamped cinemas and home video shelves in the years since poor old misunderstood Eddie shuffled off to that great cutting room in the sky.