Screen Screams: Review of “Outer Space Plan 9”
It’s that time of year again. October is upon us. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema have put together another month-long curated series with Screen Screams. This year, we’ll be checking our clocks as we eagerly await the forbidden fun we call “the midnight movie”. And with the midnight films comes a variety of projects that are perhaps too specialized for the masses. Today, it’s time to cover what some consider to be the epitome of ‘so bad as it is good’ movie: Plan 9 of outer space.
Has there been a romance more tragic than that between filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr. and cinema as a whole? Take a look at its history and you’ll see someone who adores the act of making movies. Not only did he spend a great deal of his time writing and directing, but he also self-funded the majority of his projects. Top that off with his collaborations with legendary actor Bela Lugosi and you’ve got a filmmaker who wants to pay homage to cinema’s past. One small problem, however: Wood lacks the ability to execute his vision in a satisfactory or competent manner. And with Plan 9 of outer space, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
It’s a shame because the story promises an interesting mix of sci-fi and horror. Considering the “outer space” in the title, it’s no surprise that aliens are playing a major role in the proceedings. In the first act, we see their invasion of Earth from the perspective of average citizens. This includes people like Colonel Edwards (Tom Keene), Lieutenant Harper (Duke Moore) and commercial pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott). But their invasion is more than a simple conquest. They have a plan to raise the dead to help them prevent humanity from endangering the universe. Because it turns out that humans are developing a solaronite bomb, which has the power to destroy all life.
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To list all the reasons why Plan 9Running this extremely bad story would take forever. So, to keep it simple, let’s start with the fact that a central point is missing. You would think it would be entirely from the perspective of people like Colonel Edwards or Lieutenant Harper. That way, the audience could hang on to someone who looks the most like them. However, Wood is so committed to making it a whole that not a single person becomes the emotional anchor. Even the aliens, who have clear motivations, don’t get a lot of material. Because he wants to give humans equal treatment, there are some expanses where all we see of aliens are the flying saucers they maneuver.
Wood also pays special attention to the perspective of the living dead. This is where he tries to show his appreciation for the horror genre. This is especially evident in the Undead cast, as it gives horror icons like Lugosi and Maila Nurmi some screen time. But like the narrative, this attempt to pay homage has no impact. Instead of letting Lugosi and Nurmi be disturbing zombies, the film essentially forces them to “play the hits.” In Lugosi’s case, he can squeeze into a caped outfit that isn’t too detached from what he did as Dracula. In Nurmi’s case, she stands tall in her usual Vampira persona.
However, there is a much bigger problem: the casting is the most Plan 9 ever made to be called a horror movie. Just when you think you see Nurmi’s character attacking someone, Wood walks away from the action. Even the officers’ quick yells at him are enough to make the film move on to a new scene. So it’s not like we get a decent glimpse of the Risen at Work. In all fairness, one could argue that these outbursts of violence were beyond the film’s schedule and budget. And given that Wood funded it himself, it easily could have been. But if that’s true, then all that does is expose Wood as someone who cuts exactly the wrong corners.
Rightly so, cutting the exact wrong corners is part of Wood’s whole personality. From barely-designed sets to dollar store costumes, this is a movie that flaunts its low budget to an entertaining degree. There are conversations that take place in bustling interiors, but it’s hard to tell because the backgrounds are often empty walls. On top of that, Wood can’t fathom the idea that poor lighting can accidentally expose things that are not meant to be seen. During a scene inside a cockpit, a bright light illuminates the figures, revealing the shadows of the boom microphones. Of course, this is not a rare mistake. But at least a competent director would ask for a rethought set – or even a cropped shot. This is not the case with an author like Wood …
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The only aspect in which poor quality cinema works Plan 9The favor of s involves the aliens themselves. That’s not to say that characters like Eros (Dudley Manlove) and Tanna (Joanna Lee) are in no way layered. Plus, like the rest of the cast, Manlove and Lee have some of the most staid line deliveries ever to be filmed. But since aliens aren’t supposed to mimic human emotions perfectly, they feel rather natural. You would think that a scene in which Eros childishly berates humans about their trigger mentality would be of no value. And given that Manlove repeatedly says the word “stupid” like it has three syllables, you wouldn’t be wrong to think so. Yet for a brief moment, Wood’s intentions translate seamlessly to the screen.
Plan 9 has become a cult classic over the years, with many adopting it due to its flaws. However, while I admire any attempt to celebrate any part of cinema history, I don’t understand why this film was preserved. Not only is it a flattering sci-fi tale, but it’s also just embarrassing as a horror play. And for the final blow, it’s led by someone who should have stepped up their art before they even thought about telling such an ambitious story. It might only be 79 minutes, but Wood is working hard to make that runtime feel like absolute mud. To the misfortune of everyone outside the Plan 9 fanbase, he succeeded. – Marc Tan
Plan 9 of outer space is available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.