Classic Review – Plan 9 From Outer Space

by | Aug 13, 2021 | Podcast, Two Drink Cinema | 0 comments

Plan 9 From Outer Space is generally regarded as one of the worst films ever made, some say it takes the cake as the worst. But it’s one of our favourites at Two Drink Cinema and we can’t get enough of watching it. Lee even bought it on DVD from a Sanity store clearance bin ($5 well spent!). Ed Wood is a cult figure for fans of B-grade-scifi-horror. Plan 9 is without a doubt his most well-known film and ticks all the boxes of this super niche genre. Bad sets, bad acting, a terrible script, questionable lighting and a whole lot of stock footage. All of this combines to create a film that’s like a car crash, so bad you can’t look away. 

Plan 9 From Outer Space, originally titled, Grave Robbers From Outer Space is about a very subtle, yet also very obvious alien invasion that occurs almost entirely in a cemetery in suburban LA. These ‘intruders’ plan to resurrect the dead in order to garner some attention from our leaders. Evidently, all of their previous incursions had been ignored. Their attempt at gaining attention is ‘Plan 9’ which is the plan to resurrect the dead to frighten the living into submission. This desire for attention seems to be their entire purpose, until the end of the film when an impassioned, albeit highly camp, speech from Eros, the alien visitor, explains their entire purpose to the three men sent to take down these intruders. We’ll get back to that speech.

The film opens with the narrator The Amazing Criswell introducing us to the story of something that might happen in the future but is actually based on actual accounts of people who witnessed these events. If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, that’s OK. Criswell’s attempted explanation didn’t make sense to us either. Is it the future or the past? We’ll never know. Criswell hits us with quality lines such as Lee’s favourite “We are all concerned about the future, for that is where we will spend the rest of our lives.” and one of Brett’s highlights, “Future events such as these will affect you in the future.” If you watched his scene independently of the rest of the film you’d think he was a spoof of the classic horror narrator genre (like Richard O’Brien’s homage to the same in Rocky Horror Picture Show). But it’s not. Ed Wood seems to have been so committed to the ‘realism’ of this story that he hired an actual radio and TV psychic to make these predictions/true accounts of “Grave Robbers From Outer Space”. Criswell’s career started on TV selling his family’s vitamins, you can see the chip on his shoulder when he calls people out for a lack of belief in the product ‘we laughed at the horseless carriage…and even vitamins!’ His narration drops in and out inconsistently throughout the movie but is a source of great entertaining lines whenever it pops up. 

Almost as entertaining are the lines delivered by Tor Johnson’s Detective Inspector Clay. Johnson was a Swedish wrestler turned B grade film star who featured in a number of Ed Wood’s films, often as a wrestler or strongman. While his presence as one of the risen dead is imposing and certainly frightening for all of those who encounter him in the dark graveyard that’s where his strength in this film ends. His delivery of lines leaves a lot to be desired. How can the officers working for him can take orders when it took Lee three attempts to understand the line ‘I’ll get one of the flashlights from the patrol car’. He only has four or five lines but each slurred, accented attempt at acting has us laughing harder than the last time we tried to watch The Big Bang Theory.

However, this accent could explain the lack of adequate firearm safety in the local police department. On many occasions, the lieutenant uses his pistol to scratch his shoulder or even his head! Surely the Keystone Cops had been left in the silent movie era. At first we thought this comic relief was more bad acting than intentional writing but then, when you find out that Paul Marco plays Officer Kelton in at least three of Ed Wood’s movies, you think that the comic relief was intentional and just, like most of this movie, badly done. 

Bela Lugosi features periodically throughout the film. You see much less of him than his top billing would suggest. There’s actually a good reason for this. Lugosi passed away during this movie, both on and off-screen. Incredibly bad timing for Ed Wood as a director. What are the odds that your lead dies in the one month you were filming this feature? But, undeterred by the loss of the biggest B-grade star of the time (Lugosi had played Dracula after all) Ed Wood continued filming. The result is two of the funniest moments of the film, Lugosi walking out of the woods, then being rewound to walk back in and then the repeating of that shot twice more in the next 15 minutes. Lugosi was replaced with Ed Wood’s chiropractor, cleverly disguising himself by holding a cape over his face. No one would ever know it wasn’t the B-grade star.

The film takes a number of turns and a number of sub-plots make appearances. The government is evidently trying to deny and cover up the presence of aliens despite the appointment of an Air Force Colonel in charge of saucer activity. If you think you’re stuck in a career crisis try being the colonel in charge of saucer activity who’s told there’s no such thing as flying saucers!

The love story between the innocent pilot and his wife who share a fence with the invaded cemetery is sandwiched between a meeting with the local authorities and a break-and-enter by Wood’s medically trained antagonist and tugs at our heartstrings with the line ‘sometimes I hug your pillow while you’re away’. We get it, you’re in love! Soppy lines are even worse when they’re badly acted between military stock footage. 

It’s an 80-minute movie and those are just two of the minor subplots which aren’t really given any space within the movie. The Two Drink Cinema rewrote the story. If you want to know more about it, get in touch. Maybe we’ll do a special podcast episode on it. 

The main issue with the plot is that you never really find out why these aliens are resurrecting our dead. Until the last 15 minutes. This is where it all comes together and they are the most overt 15 minutes of the film. Some of the most obviously masculine and powerful scenes in cinema. The strong, manly pilot, the Air Force colonel and the police lieutenant get their guns/backscratchers and push off into the woods around the cemetery, chests puffed out to find these supposed intruders. The pilot is committed to saving his wife from the face-shrouded alien, the colonel committed to using the might of the US Armed Forces to show the universe that America is a power not to be messed with. Typical 1950s sci-fi stuff. It’s a common theme for 50s sci-fi. Having just trounced the Japanese audiences wanted to continue to be reassured that their military could take down any potential threat. But these powerful men meet Eros, a representation of the arrogance of every invader ever. He lectures the humans with one of the best speeches ever, even if it is full of clunky, incredibly late exposition. Eros’s superior intelligence is really brought to the fore when he appears to be the only actor able to pronounce the name of the deadly weapon ‘solarmanite’ (it doesn’t look that hard does it?). Each of the three humans pronounces it differently, thank God it’s not an intergalactic spelling bee. 

After his epic speech, in which he displays both his arrogance and his rather camply masculine power over Tanna, his female counterpart, the pilot lands one swift punch which turns the tide on the invader’s dominance. Suddenly the entire cockpit is ablaze and no one can stop the fire spreading. So after a speech of dominance over the ‘stupid’ human race, the aliens come unstuck with one quick punch. The saucer takes off on its string held by an underpaid ‘best boy’ and explodes. Mankind is saved! Thank god for the might of the American man!

Criswell ends the film with another speech about the events of the future which are based on the real accounts of the past (we still don’t get it). He warns us that these events could happen to us “someone could pass you in the night and you would never know, for they may be from outer space”. If someone passes you in the night and you don’t know it, where they’re from is irrelevant isn’t it?
A hilariously awful movie, so bad it’s good. No matter how many times we watch it there’s always something more. No matter how many words we type here we can’t possibly do it justice. Our full Two Drink Cinema discussion is available on our YouTube channel.
If you haven’t watched the movie, please do so, it’s so worth it. If you have, we hope this review inspires you to rewatch it. Thanks for reading and supporting Two Drink Cinema.
In the words of The Amazing Criswell “May God help us, in the future…”


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