Ed Wood’s classic clunker Plan 9 from Outer Space dares to ask that question:  If two easily-defeated, more-mindless-than-usual zombies attacked a few townsfolk, would it be enough to conquer the world?  Also, couldn’t space aliens who look like ordinary people be the ones to re-animate these few hostile, deceased assailants?  Do we ask or address these questions out of boredom or inspiration?  Either way, this movie exists.  

This is a movie that tries to land with a crash but is more of a dull thud, yet it’s still likable somehow. In fact, hit’s primarily enjoyable because of all the horror themes scattered throughout.  Characters visit the graveyard so often that there might as well be a cemetery bus. I also love how everyone knows something is up, yet no one’s well-written enough to truly convey a sense of mystery or wonder, and the actors seem lethargic, only conveying excitement or interest by occasionally raising their speaking volumes.

Plan 9 from Outer Space:  A silly and tragic tale?

As many horror fans already know, Plan 9 from Outer Space was the final film for legendary actor Bela Lugosi.  Though certainly not his finest film, this fact surely shapes our impressions of this film, perhaps even softening some of its rough edges.  Bela himself plays a rather sad character, especially during the moments the character is alive.  Basically, we know him as a mourner of his recently deceased wife who — perhaps in a stupor, perhaps even in suicide mode — wanders into oncoming traffic and seals his own fate (the moment is offscreen, so we don’t entirely know how gross his death is).  

Interestingly, the Bela character seems to retain more intelligence than the other reanimated dead.  He seems to be at least vaguely more self-aware, cloaking his face behind a cape.  It’s certainly an ode to Lugosi’s character of Dracula, even though the old mourner is no vampire, warlock, or anything like that. More realistically, it was also to conceal the fact that, during most of the old man’s scenes in Plan 9 from Outer Space, he’s actually played by Tom Mason, who was Ed Wood’s wife’s chiropractor at the time.

Plan 9’s wacky moments

In terms of addressing the film’s wackiness, where does one begin?  One place might be with the film’s cops.  No, these police officers aren’t quite baton-wielding brutes in suits, but they often wave their guns around or use them to scratch their foreheads, and usually with their fingers on the trigger.  In other words, if you’re around this police department, you’ll probably want to have body armor.

Also, during numerous scenes, the interiors of airplanes look incredibly unconvincing.  Basically, it looks like one of these planes would rattle apart the very second they take off!  You also have headstones that wobble in the graveyard scenes (extra funny considering so many scenes take place in or near the graveyard).  Basically, watching “Plan 9 from Outer Space” can be like combing through wreckage to find out what went wrong, like a forensics investigation.  Still, even if some of these things are accidental, they are what Bob Ross might have called “happy accidents.”  

Scariest moments?  

Unless someone’s out of their minds or very easily frightened, they probably won’t be scared by Plan 9 from Outer Space, even a little bit.  Still, the question of “What’s the scariest moment” is a fun kind of challenge.  Personally, I would say it’s when Vampire Girl (Maila Nurmi) attacks and kills the gravediggers (J. Edward Reynolds and associate producer Hugh Thomas, Jr.).  Though also comical, her fixed, horrified expression is at least borderline scary, and those gravediggers seemed like hapless everymen who certainly don’t deserve their offscreen fate.

Then again, one supposes many would choose Inspector Clay’s corpse (Tor Johnson), who also comes equipped with a horrible grimace.  As an added bonus, Plan 9 from Outer Space is still more watchable than The Beast of Yucca Flats, where Tor Johnson plays someone changed into a mindless menace after getting bombed, rather than being destroyed by the bomb blast.
That movie is somehow considerably worse!  

The legacy of Plan 9

Most of us like good movies, but it sometimes pays to head off in a different direction and watch a real stinker.  Oddly enough, this one doesn’t have the worst cast imaginable, but no doubt simply wasn’t pushed in the best direction to create truly inspiring performances. Put Ralph Bellamy in a total clunker movie and you’d probably still have some things be “off.” Then again, oddly enough, we might not even discuss this film today had it been conventionally better.

Every character is as goofy as the gravediggers, even if it’s not as conventionally funny as Leslie Nielsen was.  Also, at the very least, this movie gave everyone from Ed Wood to the crew members something to do.  I can, on some level, laugh at and enjoy the encounters between the main cast and the lackluster aliens (Dudley Manlove and Joanna Lee), the male and female zombies, Jeff the pilot (Gregory Walcott), and his phony cockpit and stirring speech about being “muzzled by army brass.” This movie also gave us Ed Wood, which was a box office bomb but a critical success and well worth checking out.

What are your thoughts on Plan 9 From Outer Space? Assuming you’re not muzzled by army brass, let us know in the comments!

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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