Plan 9 from Outer Space

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Plan 9 from Outer Space
"PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE" in large red letters adorns a beam from a night sky containing spacecraft and warplanes. The foreground has the head of a man in a bubble-headed red spacesuit, a caped vampire attacking a victim, a seductive vampiress and gravediggers at work. Above the title is "UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS FROM OUTER SPACE PARALYZE THE LIVING AND RESURRECT THE DEAD!"; below are "BELA LUGOSI", "VAMPIRA" and "LYLE TALBOT".
Theatrical release poster design by Tom Jung showing "A DCA Film"
Directed byEd Wood
Produced byEd Wood
Hugh Thomas, Jr.
Charles Burg
J. Edward Reynolds
Written byEd Wood
Narrated byCriswell
StarringGregory Walcott
Mona McKinnon
Tom Keene
Tor Johnson
Dudley Manlove
Joanna Lee
John Breckinridge
Vampira
Bela Lugosi
Music byGordon Zahler
CinematographyWilliam C. Thompson
Editing byEd Wood
Distributed byDistributors Corporation of America (as Valiant Pictures)
Release date(s)July 22, 1959
Running time79 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$60,000
(adjusted by inflation: $472,534)
 
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Plan 9 from Outer Space
"PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE" in large red letters adorns a beam from a night sky containing spacecraft and warplanes. The foreground has the head of a man in a bubble-headed red spacesuit, a caped vampire attacking a victim, a seductive vampiress and gravediggers at work. Above the title is "UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS FROM OUTER SPACE PARALYZE THE LIVING AND RESURRECT THE DEAD!"; below are "BELA LUGOSI", "VAMPIRA" and "LYLE TALBOT".
Theatrical release poster design by Tom Jung showing "A DCA Film"
Directed byEd Wood
Produced byEd Wood
Hugh Thomas, Jr.
Charles Burg
J. Edward Reynolds
Written byEd Wood
Narrated byCriswell
StarringGregory Walcott
Mona McKinnon
Tom Keene
Tor Johnson
Dudley Manlove
Joanna Lee
John Breckinridge
Vampira
Bela Lugosi
Music byGordon Zahler
CinematographyWilliam C. Thompson
Editing byEd Wood
Distributed byDistributors Corporation of America (as Valiant Pictures)
Release date(s)July 22, 1959
Running time79 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$60,000
(adjusted by inflation: $472,534)

Plan 9 from Outer Space (originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space) is a 1956 American science fiction thriller film written and directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. that premiered in 1957 and was released in 1959. The film features Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Tor Johnson and Maila "Vampira" Nurmi. The film bills Bela Lugosi posthumously as a star, although silent footage of the actor had been shot by Wood for other, unfinished projects just before Lugosi's death in 1956.

The plot of the film involves extraterrestrial beings who are seeking to stop humans from creating a doomsday weapon that would destroy the universe. In the course of doing so, the aliens implement "Plan 9", a scheme to resurrect Earth's dead as what modern audiences would consider zombies (called "ghouls" in the film itself) to get the planet's attention, causing chaos.

For years the film played on television in relative obscurity, until 1980, when authors Michael Medved and Harry Medved dubbed Plan 9 from Outer Space the "worst movie ever made". Wood was posthumously awarded the Medveds' Golden Turkey Award as the worst director ever.

Plot[edit source | edit]

A flying saucer is seen flying over the cemetery. The film is often criticized for the poor quality of its special effects.

In San Fernando, California, two gravediggers are filling the grave of the young wife of an unnamed old man. Hearing a strange noise, they decide to leave the cemetery, but are attacked and killed by the resurrected corpse of the young woman. Meanwhile, in the skies nearby, a pilot named Jeff Trent and his co-pilot Danny encounter a flying saucer.

Absorbed in his grief over his wife's death, the old man walks into the path of an oncoming automobile. At his funeral, mourners discover the bodies of the gravediggers. Inspector Daniel Clay and other police officers come to the cemetery to investigate. While searching the graveyard, Clay encounters the female zombie, now joined by the reanimated corpse of the old man, and is killed.

Jeff Trent is watching the cemetery with his wife, Paula, and tells her about his flying saucer encounter, stating that the Army has sworn him to secrecy. He suspects the events at the cemetery are related to his encounter with the UFO. A powerful wind knocks everyone to the ground, and a spaceship lands nearby.

In the weeks that follow, newspaper headlines report other flying saucer sightings. The military, under the command of Col. Thomas Edwards, Chief of Saucer Operations, attacks the alien spaceships, which flee Earth. Edwards reveals that the government has been covering up the flying saucers, and wonders if the aliens are connected to other disasters on Earth.

The aliens return to Space Station 7 for regeneration. Their commander, Eros, informs their ruler that he has attempted, unsuccessfully, to contact the governments of Earth. He says that to force the people of Earth to acknowledge his people's existence, he is implementing Plan 9, which involves resurrecting the recently dead by stimulating their pituitary and pineal glands. The three alien ships return to Earth.

Trent is about to leave home for another flight. Concerned for Paula's safety, he urges her to stay with her mother while he's gone, but she insists on staying home. That night, the corpse of the old man rises from his crypt and sneaks into their house. Joined by the corpse of his wife and the newly resurrected Daniel Clay, he chases Paula through the cemetery. Paula collapses and is found by a passing motorist. All three zombies return to Eros's ship, which lifts off.

Eros is nearly killed by the corpse of Inspector Clay.

At The Pentagon, Gen. Roberts informs Edwards that the government has been receiving messages from the aliens. Roberts plays the last message, which has been translated into English by a recently invented "language computer". The general sends Edwards to San Fernando, California, where most of the aliens' activities have occurred.

In California, the police interview the Trents about their experiences with the aliens. Unbeknownst to them, the alien saucer has returned to the graveyard. While waiting by the police car, Officer Kelton encounters the old man. The old man chases the officer to the Trents' yard, where they shoot him, with no effect. The nearby aliens strike the old man with a ray, causing his body to decompose, leaving only his skeleton. Not knowing what to make of this, the Trents and the police decide to drive to the cemetery.

Pilot Jeff Trent confronts the aliens.

Eros and fellow alien Tanna send Clay to kidnap Paula in order to lure the other three to their spaceship. Meanwhile, seeing a glow in the distance, Trent and the police head toward the ship. Kelton stays with Paula, but is incapacitated by Clay. Upon awakening, he calls for help, and Officer Larry comes to aid him.

Eros allows Trent and the police to enter, and they board with guns drawn. Eros tells them that human weapons development will inevitably lead to the discovery of solarbonite, a substance that has the effect of exploding "sunlight molecules". A solarbonite explosion would set off a chain reaction that would destroy the entire universe. Eros believes humans are too immature to not use this power, and intends to destroy mankind to prevent this.

Outside the ship, Clay arrives with Paula. Eros threatens to have her killed if they try to force him to go with them. Officers Kelton and Larry arrive and spot Clay with Paula. Realizing their guns are useless, they approach Clay from behind with a stick. Eros sees this and shuts off the ray controlling Clay, allowing Paula to go free. A fight ensues between Eros and Jeff, during which the ship's delicate equipment is damaged, setting off a fire. The humans flee the ship, and Tanna flies it into the atmosphere. The flaming ship explodes with both aliens. As a consequence of the explosion, Clay and the female zombie are decomposed in the same manner as the old man.

Cast[edit source | edit]

Credited[edit source | edit]

Uncredited[edit source | edit]

Bela Lugosi, in silent footage for the abandoned Tomb of the Vampire, which was later recycled for Plan 9.

"Bela Lugosi's Last Movie"[edit source | edit]

Shortly before Bela Lugosi's death in August 1956, he had been working with Wood on numerous half-realized projects, variously titled Tomb of the Vampire or The Ghoul Goes West.[2] Scenes unconnected to Plan 9, featuring Lugosi weeping at a funeral, walking in front of Tor Johnson's house at daytime, walking in and out of Johnson's side door at nighttime, and a daylight scene on a patch of scrubland near a highway showing Lugosi stalking towards the camera and dramatically spreading his Dracula cape before furling it around himself and walking off screen, had been shot. Only the first two sequences had reached any level of completion. When Lugosi died, Wood shelved these projects.[2] It is not certain for which projects the Lugosi footage was intended, and Wood's own account of the affair in his written memoirs seems to suggest that the director had something like Plan 9 in mind when the material was filmed. This claim stands in apparent contradiction to the Vampires' Tomb/Ghoul Goes West theory, backed up by a comment Lugosi made about Ghoul being his next project in a filmed interview upon his release from drug rehabilitation.

Shortly after Lugosi's death the story and screenplay for Grave Robbers from Outer Space were written and finalised, with Wood planning to use the unconnected, unrelated footage of Lugosi as a means of putting a credit for him on the picture. Though Wood's actions were driven in part by the desire to give his film a 'star name' and attract horror fans, the Lugosi cameo was also meant as a loving tribute and farewell to the actor, who had become fast friends with Wood in the last three years of Lugosi's life. Wood hired his wife's chiropractor, Tom Mason, as a stand-in for Lugosi, even though Mason was taller than Lugosi and bore no resemblance to him.[2] Narration from Criswell was also employed in an attempt to better link Lugosi's footage with the rest of Plan 9.

Coincidentally, further Lugosi footage Wood had shot at an unspecified pre-1956 date was to have been the basis of a second posthumous movie for the horror legend, titled Ghouls Of The Moon. The footage had, however, been shot on volatile nitrate stock, and had dissolved into toxic-smelling sludge by the time Wood's thoughts turned to the new venture in the summer of 1959. Ghouls Of The Moon was abandoned entirely as a result. Mystery surrounds the content and nature of the lost material, described only as 'wild' by a friend of Wood's who had seen the raw footage shortly after it was shot.

Release and title changes[edit source | edit]

Grave Robbers from Outer Space was shot in 1956, and finished the following year, when it had its preview in March at the Carlton Theatre in Los Angeles. Another year elapsed before Distributors Corporation of America (DCA) picked it up and copyrighted it, intending to distribute it during the spring of 1958, but the company folded and it was not released until July 1959 through Valiant Pictures, the receiver of DCA. By then the film had been retitled Plan 9 From Outer Space (one story is that the film's financiers, two local Baptist ministers, objected to the "Grave Robbers" part of the title, so Wood changed it to "Plan 9"). The original title is mentioned at the end of Criswell's opening narration when he asks the audience, "Can your heart stand the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer space?" Like many independent films of the period, Plan 9 was distributed under a states' rights basis[clarification needed]. Not long after, the picture was distributed through a television package.

Criswell's opening narration

Plan 9 From Outer Space gained notoriety through the Medveds' book because of its multiple continuity problems.[3]

Critics say the absurdity of the film is found in the dialogue rather than on-screen action. Criswell's opening narration redundantly informs the viewer that "future events such as these will affect you in the future", while referring to viewers as "my friends" four times in the same minute.[3] Criswell also begins the narration by referring to future events, only to later describe them in the past tense ("... the full story of what happened on that fateful day"), and inexplicably calling for "the guilty" to be punished.

Several exterior sets on sound-stages are interspersed with second-unit footage shot outdoors (for example, the old man's reanimated corpse chasing Paula Trent through the cemetery). In a number of these scenes the outdoor footage was intended to be shot day-for-night, but this is not apparent in video transfers of the film, making these scenes contrast harshly against the on-set footage.

A visible shadow of the boom microphone (center of photo's upper edge) in a cockpit scene.

During the first airplane cockpit scene, the first officer is visibly reading from the script in his lap, and a flash of light from a flying saucer reveals the shadow of the boom microphone.[3] The microphone and first officer's script are not visible in the film's original theatrical release, as they do not fit in the frame in its intended projection aspect ratio of 1.85:1.[4] These mistakes are noticeable only in the film's open matte transfer on video.

Music[edit source | edit]

The music for Plan 9 from Outer Space was compiled by Gordon Zahler. Zahler used stock recordings of works by about a dozen composers, which was a fairly common procedure in the 1950s for scoring low-budget films and television programs. However, Zahler apparently never provided a reliable accounting for the score.[5] In 1996, Paul Mandell produced a CD that recreated the film's score by tracking down the stock recordings and the composers;[6] Mandell subsequently wrote an article about the film's music for Film Score Monthly.[7] Some websites do now credit these composers.[8]

Documentations[edit source | edit]

In 1992, the film was the subject of a documentary called Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion, which is included on Image Entertainment's DVD edition of Plan 9. The documentary visits several locations related to the film, including the building with Ed Wood's former office (at 4477 Hollywood Blvd), and what was left of the small sound stage used for the film's interiors, which is down a small alley next to the Harvey Apartments at 5640 Santa Monica Boulevard. That same year, Rudolph Grey's book, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., was published, and contained anecdotes regarding the making of this film. Grey notes that participants in the original events sometimes contradict one another, but he relates each person's information for posterity regardless.

In 2006, another documentary by Kevin Sean Michaels, titled Vampira: The Movie, chronicled Maila Nurmi's work with Wood and her role as television's first horror host.[9]

Legacy[edit source | edit]

As an ode to Plan 9 being famously known as "the worst film of all time," pre-release copies of the colorized DVD included this limited edition air freshener.

It is widely considered the worst film in the history of cinema. However, when as many reviews as possible were collected on the review site Rotten Tomatoes, the report was that 66% of critics gave the film positive reviews.[10] Many of them stated that the film is simply too amusing to be considered the worst film ever made, claiming that its ineptitude added to its charm. There were also claims that the director managed to convey some interesting ideas. As of 2011, Plan 9 has failed to place in the IMDB Bottom 100, a list compiled using average scores given by Internet Movie Database users,[11] though some of Wood's other movies have. In 1996, the film received a salute by author of the Cult Flicks and Trash Pics edition of VideoHound, in which it is stated that "The film has become so famous for its own badness that it's now beyond criticism."[12]

The film's title was the inspiration for the name of Bell Labs' successor to the Unix operating system. Plan 9 from Bell Labs was developed over several years starting in the mid-1980s and released to the general public in 1995.[13]

In 1996, Paul Mandell produced a Compact Disc (CD) that recreated the musical score from the film; the CD was released by the now-defunct Retrosonic Corp.[6] In 1997, David G. Smith wrote and composed the music for Plan 9 from Outer Space: The Musical.[14]

In 2006, the film was featured on Turner Classic Movies program, TCM Underground, hosted by Rob Zombie.[15]

In 2006, a stage adaptation of the film, Plan LIVE from Outer Space!, was staged in the Toronto Fringe Festival. The play was written by James Gordon Taylor (based entirely on Wood's script). The play won a Canadian Comedy Award the following year, and a bootleg video of it was also released.

In 1991, Eternity Comics released a three-issue series titled Plan 9 from Outer Space: Thirty Years Later!, which served as an unofficial sequel to the film.[16] In 2009, Bluewater Productions released Plan 9 From Outer Space Strikes Again!

An adventure game of the same name was made in which the player must recover the film from Lugosi's double, who has stolen it.[17]

The film was included in live performances at the SF Sketchfest by The Film Crew, composed of former Mystery Science Theater 3000 cast members Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. A commentary based on these performances was released by RiffTrax, advertised as a "Three Riffer Edition", due to the fact that Nelson's solo commentary for the film's colorized DVD release had already been sold as an audio file on the Rifftrax website.[18] On August 20, 2009, the RiffTrax trio performed the commentary at a live event in Nashville, Tennessee, and the performance was broadcast to theaters across the United States. The live version of the show was released on DVD on December 8, 2009[19] and in Blu-ray on December 15, 2011.[20]

Revisions[edit source | edit]

In 2006 Legend Films released a colorized version of Plan 9 from Outer Space on DVD.[21] Though the colorization process was largely done straight, unlike the campy bright colors used in the studio's release of Reefer Madness, there were a few alterations. Legend had auctioned off the opportunity to insert new material into the film through two auctions on eBay. The first allowed the auction winner to provide a photograph that is digitally inserted into part of the scene between the Ghoul Man and Paula Trent. The second allowed the winner to have his or her name placed on a gravestone during a scene with Wood regular Tor Johnson. The third alteration is at a point where Eros gets punched and his skin briefly turns green.[21]

The Legend Films colorized Plan 9 from Outer Space was screened in Atlanta, Georgia at the Plaza Theatre on September 9, 2006, and was hosted live by Elvira impersonator Patterson Lundquist with a live running commentary. As a part of the promotion sets of the autographed Michael J. Nelson DVD were given away as prizes. The event was featured in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and served as the grand re-opening of the theatre, which had fallen on hard times under previous ownership.

Autographed pre-release copies of the DVD were made available in 2005, and the colorized version was also given special theatrical screenings at various theaters throughout the United States, including the Castro Theatre.[22][23] The DVD featured an audio commentary track by comedian Michael J. Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame, in which he heckles, or "riffs" the film in a style similar to an episode of the series, a restored black-and-white version of Plan 9, a home video of Wood in drag performing a striptease (Wood, in real life, was a transvestite) and a comedic feature narrated by Nelson detailing the "lost" Plans 1-8. The autographed edition also came with a limited edition air freshener.[23] Nelson's commentary is also available through his company RiffTrax, where it can be downloaded as either an MP3 audio file or a DivX video file with the commentary embedded into the colorized version of the film.[24][25]

The San Diego-based 3-D production & conversion studio PassmoreLab is currently working on the 3-D version of the original film.[26]

Remakes[edit source | edit]

Filmmaker Ernie Fosselius created the short film, Plan 9.1 From Outer Space, which featured hand-carved wooden puppets of the characters from the film. The puppets acted out the scenes along with the edited soundtrack of the original film.

As of September 2009, there are two more proposed remakes:

See also[edit source | edit]

References[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ a b Craig, Rob (2009). Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films. McFarland. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-7864-5423-5. 
  2. ^ a b c Peary, Danny (1981). Cult Movies. New York: Delacorte Press. pp. 266–270. ISBN 0-440-01626-6. 
  3. ^ a b c "Goofs for Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  4. ^ BoxOffice Barometer. "Plan 9 From Outer Space" February 29, 1960. Pages 117, 130.
  5. ^ Jacobs, Chip (October 25, 2011). "The shocking musical truth of 1950's sci-fi". 
  6. ^ a b "Plan 9 from Outer Space Soundtrack (Retrosonic)". 
  7. ^ Mandell, Paul (May 1996). "Forty Year Mystery Solved: The Music Behind Plan 9 From Outer Space". Film Score Monthly 1 (69). 
  8. ^ "Plan 9 from Outer Space (1956) - Cast and Crew". AllMovie. 
  9. ^ http://www.vampirathemovie.com
  10. ^ "Plan 9 on RT". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  11. ^ IMDB. "Bottom 100". IMDB. Retrieved 2 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Schwartz, Carol (1995). Videohound's Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 978-0-7876-0616-9. 
  13. ^ Raymond, Eric S (2003-09-17). "Plan 9: The Way the Future Was". The Art of UNIX Programming. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-13-142901-9. Retrieved 2007-05-07. 
  14. ^ "Plan 9 from Outer Space: The Musical". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  15. ^ "Plan 9 from outer space airing in Turner classic movies", Voices, Yahoo! .
  16. ^ "Plan 9 From Outer Space: Thirty Years Later". Atomic Avenue. Retrieved 2007-05-13. 
  17. ^ "Amiga Reviews: Plan 9 From Outer Space". Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  18. ^ "Plan 9 From Outer Space — Three Riffer Edition!". RiffTrax. January 22, 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-01-19. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  19. ^ http://www.rifftrax.com/dvds/rifftrax-live-plan-9-from-outer-space
  20. ^ http://www.rifftrax.com/blu-ray/plan9livebluray
  21. ^ a b "Alternate versions for Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  22. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (March 10, 2006). "What makes a bad movie? For starters, take a look at Plan 9 From Outer Space". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  23. ^ a b McMillan, Dennis (March 16, 2006). "Ed Wood Festival Comes To The Castro". San Francisco Bay Times. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  24. ^ "Plan 9 from Outer Space". RiffTrax. Archived from the original on 2007-12-16. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  25. ^ "Plan 9 from Outer Space VOD". RiffTrax. Archived from the original on 2007-12-23. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  26. ^ "BD Horror News - Ha! Ed Wood's Disasterpiece 'Plan 9' Gets 3-D Treatment!". 
  27. ^ "New Stills From Grave Robbers From Outer Space.". July 1, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  28. ^ "Plan 9's teaser trailer.". September 9, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  29. ^ "PLAN 9 - News". 

Further reading[edit source | edit]

External links[edit source | edit]