PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) and Counting the Cost
NOTE: Originally published in The Sci-Fi Gospels (2020). Photos added.
“We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.”
Distributor: Valiant Pictures
Producer: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Director: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Writer: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Runtime: 79 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Scripture Reading: Luke 14:28-30
The crowning achievement of notorious Hollywood hack Edward D. Wood, Jr. and widely considered the worst movie of all time, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the definitive “so bad, it's good” cult classic. In recent years, the film has undergone critical reevaluation due in no small part to Tim Burton's thoughtful biopic, Ed Wood, but as we will see, the problem was not how Plan 9 was critiqued. The problem was how it was valued.
Infamous TV psychic Criswell opens the film with the indecipherable narration quoted above that sets the tone for the absurdity of what is to come. Then, Bela “Dracula” Lugosi's character mourns his deceased wife and walks into traffic to kill himself. There is very little footage of Lugosi in Plan 9, as it was filmed for another project before his death. Wood used the clips as a way of wooing potential investors, however, dubbing the film “Bela Lugosi's last movie.” Truly a soaring memorial to his late friend. The finished product is a gonzo adventure with vampires and zombies, and aliens planning to use sunlight as a bomb to blow up the earth.
Wood's monetary woes are the stuff of legend, and the depths to which he stooped to get the funding for Plan 9 is legendary in itself. To secure the minuscule budget, he finagled a Baptist church into financing his flick with the promise of using the profits he imagined it would generate to produce a series of short bible videos for them. He went so far as to convince his cast to be baptized as members of the church! Trouble brewed, however, when the ministers who bankrolled him began to raise questions about the film he was making, most notably its initial title, Grave Robbers From Outer Space. Wood soldiered on, though, adapting to every setback, whether it was the title change, shoddy sets, or the very cardboard tombstones that filled them keeling over on camera. He was single-minded; nothing would get in the way of completing his epic, whether it was quality, ethics, or respecting his dead friend. Since he didn't have Bela around to finish filming, Wood just put his wife's chiropractor in a Dracula costume and had him cover his face with his cape.
Plan 9 is an object lesson on counting the cost. Luke 14:28-30 says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” People have been ridiculing Ed Wood for decades, but how often are we just as guilty of failing to count the cost, opening ourselves up to ridicule? Colossians 3:23-24 tells us to do everything we do with all our might, as if working for the Lord and not for the approval of people. It could be argued that Ed Wood worked with all his might to make Plan 9, and he clearly didn't care about what others thought of it. Does that make it good? A better question is what makes it bad? How do you measure badness? Is a bad movie just a movie that is made poorly? The reason we still talk about Plan 9 is because of its low production quality; its charm is in its failings. Had Plan 9 been well-made, it might have slipped into obscurity like so many middle-of-the-road films of its era. In a preposterous way, Ed's effort paid off.
Ultimately, Ed Wood was a complicated, passionate man whose ideas were bigger than he was able to actualize – and maybe even understand. Whether his actions were born from unswerving optimism or something more sinister, who knows? But I suspect the former. Like Wood, we may never attain perfection in our efforts, but just because the things we create aren't perfect doesn't mean they can't be great. I once heard that Don LaFontaine, the famous movie trailer voice guy, was asked why he tried so hard to make movies he knew would be bad sound good. He replied, “Because every movie is someone's favorite.” It's far from my favorite, but I love Plan 9 From Outer Space, and if I can look at a film so messy and clumsy with such fondness, maybe God feels the same way when He looks at me and the messes I make.
- Describe something you have done that you were proud of that others didn't
appreciate as you had hoped.
- How do you determine if a movie is good or bad?
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A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.