[This Halloween season, we're paying tribute to classic horror cinema by celebrating films released before 1970! Check back on Daily Dead this month for more retrospectives on classic horror films, and visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Halloween 2019 special features!]
“Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.” Right from its opening sentence delivered by The Amazing Criswell, you can tell there’s something different about Plan 9 From Outer Space, that it’s not going to be quite like anything you’ve seen before. Then again, that could be said by any movie directed by Ed Wood, who not only told stories with his films, but also celebrated the genres they called home and the people that helped make them possible. In the case of Plan 9 From Outer Space, it’s multiple genres, many people, and an endless amount of entertainment, making it a melting pot of a midnight movie that is perfect for Halloween season viewing.
While it may have been easier for Wood to make Plan 9 From Outer Space a purely sci-fi story or one that only stuck its living dead toes in the horror pool, he instead opted to channel his inner Victor Frankenstein by combining the two genres as much as possible, resulting in a movie that is just as much at home in a double feature with The Day the Earth Stood Still as it is with Night of the Living Dead. While I can’t help but wonder what Plan 9 From Outer Space would be like if Wood had honed in on just the zombie or the alien aspects of his story (both elements have the potential to stand on their own), the melding of a gothic graveyard with a sleek spaceship from the far reaches of space only adds to the charm of his midnight tale and the story’s quirky nature. Much like a tale told by an earnest storyteller around the campfire, Plan 9 From Outer Space brings in elements from all corners of the horror and sci-fi genres. This is a world where zombies and aliens not only co-exist, but also thrive in each other’s company. The resulting fun of this madcap mash-up is infectious.
The laughs, too, are contagious. There’s a reason that live stage readings of Plan 9 From Outer Space have been taking place in recent years with a talented roster including Dana Gould, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Janet Varney. From the all-over-the-place plot and the inflections and pauses in the dialogue, Plan 9 From Outer Space is rife with comedic potential. Whether or not these moments are intentionally funny can be left for the viewer to decide (especially since the game cast take on their roles with an admirable and professional earnestness), but rather than take away from the story, the movie’s comedy adds to it. Ambitious storytelling doesn’t have to be received with a straight face, even if it’s delivered with one, and Plan 9 From Outer Space excels in letting both horror and sci-fi fans in on its joke—even if all the jokes aren’t intentional.
Plan 9 From Outer Space also has a lot of heart lurking beneath its humor and horror, particularly with its tribute to Bela Lugosi, who appears posthumously in his final film performance. If it seems like Lugosi’s scenes in Plan 9 From Outer Space are from a different movie, that’s because they are, as the scenes were taken from Wood’s unfinished projects that were filmed before Lugosi passed away in 1956. Ever the crafty filmmaker, Wood found a way to use that footage with the overall narrative for Plan 9 From Outer Space, using Tom Mason as a stand-in for Lugosi following his death to flesh out his character. Whether the footage’s insertion was exploitative or a tribute to Lugosi can be debated, but from a horror fan’s perspective, I think it’s great to see Lugosi in vampire mode one last time. Sure, he’s not playing Dracula, but he might as well be. Even though the story of Plan 9 From Outer Space has Lugosi’s character as a zombie, the footage he acted in was intended to be for Wood’s vampire films. Getting the chance to see Lugosi in a graveyard with his arms outstretched and cape spread wide feels like one final victory lap for one of horror’s greatest icons. It’s like seeing Dracula in his element one last time, which is an undying treat for the horror community as a whole.
Plan 9 From Outer Space has been labeled as one of the best worst movies ever made, but I would argue that it has more genuinely good, or at least admirable, elements than most people give it credit for. Made on an estimated budget of $60,000, the film is a great example of DIY filmmaking, proving that you don’t need a big budget to tell a story with big ideas, and that it’s possible to make a movie with your friends using the resources that you have, whether that’s filming in your co-star’s house or dangling a homemade UFO off a string to bring a spaceship to life. Plus, in addition to Lugosi’s swan song, Plan 9 From Outer Space includes memorable performances by the iconic Maila Nurmi (aka Vampira) and Tor Johnson, whose appearance as a zombie is both one of the movie’s money shots and one of the creepiest scenes in horror cinema (at least according to yours truly).
Ed Wood may not have had a lot of money to make his movies, but he did have a lot of imagination, and Plan 9 From Outer Space has that in spades. Bringing together the living dead and aliens with horror, humor, and heart, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the ultimate midnight movie for your Halloween movie marathon this year, or rather, in the future, for as Criswell says, “That is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives,” and that is where Plan 9 From Outer Space has a permanent home as an unforgettable film.
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