Jeremy: Plan 9 from Outer Space: fearful of humanity’s destructive nature, aliens visit Earth to dissuade the human race from creating the ultimate weapon in the universe, Solaranite, by informing them of its existence and terrorizing them with an artisanal, small batch army of the undead.
Brett: So where do we actually start with Plan 9? Can we start with the disappointment that it’s not as terrible as advertised? I was handed that as received wisdom, it was in book that was published and everything.
Being called the worst movie ever made gave it a cache that it doesn’t quite live up to. I mean, I’d seen way worse movies than that on the TV 20 Thriller double feature. I’d seen worse movies by trolling the video store. Hershel Gordon Lewis makes Ed Wood look like William Shakespeare.
Gabby: It has terrible things about it, but it has things to make it highly entertaining years later. To me that keeps it far from the worst list. There are too many movies that lack its joy. The ‘I’m game for this!’ attitude oozes out from everyone involved in this, I cannot resist its charms. I also cannot call it a terrible movie. It is bat shit fun. It is terrible, but entertaining to the point where you think, wow these people were awesomely crazy.
Jeremy, how did you first come to this movie?
Jeremy: My relationship with Ed Wood is typical for a film nerd in his early teens in the autumn of 1994. I discovered the Tim Burton biopic and MST3K within a few months of each other. My mind was blown by both discoveries – especially MST3K. I can’t recall a time before then that I purposely watched a movie because it was bad.
After seeing the Ed Wood biopic, I wanted to track down and buy all of his ‘50s films. Plan 9 was my first choice. I saved ten dollars for a VHS copy of it. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I discovered that Plan 9 was both as bad and not as bad as I expected (and to a lesser degree, the Burton film spoiled most of its surprises).
I enjoyed it enough to watch it the one time until now, and that was the last Ed Wood movie I bought. Despite my distaste for biopics, I still love the Burton film. And while I haven’t thought about the real Ed Wood in a long time, I still admire his passion and chutzpah. But would I put one of his movies on for fun these days? No. There aren’t enough hours in a day right now.
Gabby: The Burton movie Ed Wood was my introduction as well. I found a movie of his in the library, Bride of the Monster. I wanted to have fun with it, but I didn’t. I want to revisit that as maybe I will embrace the wackiness of Wood. Plan 9 took me a while to warm up to that. But for some reason I really do have non-ironic fun with this.
So what are some elements that you guys think make it a good time?
Brett: There are so many little things. The cop who uses his gun as a pointer, or a head scratcher, or anything. The fact that someone has been murdered and SOMEBODY’S RESPONSIBLE!
The first time I saw Plan 9, I thought that it was a comedy. I thought it was a winking gag of a movie. When I learned that this was just the work of losers, I got self-conscious about it for a while. Eventually I decided that it didn’t matter. They made a movie, and lots of people watch it, so they can’t be that big a bunch of losers.
Jeremy: Plan 9 – the plan, not the movie – is to resurrect the dead and threaten to use them as an army against humanity if we don’t get our act together. And they carry out this plan by reanimating a whopping total of three people – two of them not exactly prime physical specimens, mind you – in a sleepy little town in 1950s America.
I understand not wanting to make any more undead soldiers than you really need – but the aliens needed to think bigger to get their point across.
Even better: this movie is basically a riff on The Day the Earth Stood Still… if Klaatu landed on Earth, invited three schmoes off the street into his spaceship, and told them, “People of Earth, I have come to stop you from inventing the ultimate weapon in the universe, Solaranite.
“Let me explain: take a can of your gasoline. Say this can of gasoline is the sun. Now, you spread a thin line of it to a ball, representing the Ea… Are you getting this down? I have a pen lying around here somewhere. After all, your Earth scientists are going to want to hear about this.
“Wait – put the gun down. Jeez, not only are you not writing this down, but you’re going to shoot us if we don’t stop reanimating your dead. I knew Earthmen were dicks, but you guys are the worst…”
It amazes me that, in the final moments of the movie, the aliens’ fears about humanity are proven true, and that’s where the movie ends. Maybe I’m asking too much, but all I could think as their flying saucer blew up was, “OK, Ed Wood… where are you going with this?”
It’s interesting – you both unintentionally picked movies released in 1959 for this round of films. If all of us hadn’t already watched my movie, I’d pick something from the same year for the symmetry.
When talking about The Wasp Woman, I mentioned that it kept stumbling onto big ideas and then didn’t know what to do with them. Plan 9, on the other hand, knows exactly what it wants to say about atomic anxiety. It just swings for the fences and strikes out in the most ridiculous ways possible.
Gabby: I too love the way it riffs on The Day the Earth Stood Still. The way it does it though feels so ridiculous it is simultaneously a totally different kettle of crazy fish. It is about the same fears but has the opposite way of handling it. The sombre versus the childhood playground re-enactment.
I think that the enjoyment to be had at the badly written dialogue is also a shame. Imagine if this was a straight faced comedy? It would be brilliant. Despite this I still would love to be involved in a peformance of this. Deliver that clunky dialogue with gleeful sincerity. I think that says something at least for the vibes this movie communicates.
Jeremy: It’s fun, it’s stupid, and it means well. I’d enjoy it more if, when the alien commander calls the human characters “stupid, stupid, stupid”, I wasn’t thinking, “Well, yeah… Have you been watching this movie?”
Brett: In the end, I really enjoy this movie. It’s better with the Rifftrax running, but I enjoy it with a group without the commentary. There is a larger discussion about things like MST3K waiting to happen here. While this was never a movie that was on MST3K, it’s the standard for their kind of movie.
I had seen a fair few of their movies before the treatment, but some I hadn’t seen until they were on the show. I learned about Russian fairy tale movies because of that show. The actual movies that Jack Frost, the Magical Voyage of Sinbad, The Day the Earth Froze, and The Sword and the Dragon are based on are frankly fantastic. You just have to see them in their original version without cutting or dubbing.
And it’s because of these innocent, just sort of bad movies, that I got to see the we wonders. Overall, I enjoy Plan 9 on several levels. Sometimes sarcastically, sometimes on its own merits.
Jeremy: Thanks for reading, everyone. To close us out, here is my speculation of what Plans 1-8 were, going by the ridiculousness of Plan 9. In the spirit of Ed Wood, I wrote this in one draft during a quick lunch. Here goes:
PLAN 1: Irradiate four rotisserie chickens in the Macon, Georgia Piggly Wiggly grocery store.
PLAN 2: Clandestinely back every American Libertarian presidential candidate for the next 50 years.
PLAN 3: Beverage-sized ice cubes? Can humans survive without them?
PLAN 4: Killer Murphy Beds from Outer Space. (Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania area only.)
PLAN 5: Help the humans create the internet, then threaten to take their ability to transmit cute animal pictures away from them.
PLAN 6: Cripple the world economy and throw humanity into chaos by introducing the “extended warranty.”
PLAN 7: Replace all of Rhode Island’s ice cube machines with crushed ice machines. (Note: can someone tell Gary to lay off the ice cube related doomsday plans?)
PLAN 8: Has anyone considered not telling the humans about Solaranite and leaving them the hell alone?
Brett: I think my final thought is this. I like me some dumb movies sometimes. There is something oddly comforting about a Plan 9 style movie. Be it something that was on MST3K or just something from the 50 movies for 10 dollars DVD mega packs. You don’t have to pay attention, because A) you know all the words and B) it’s just not that important. These are the mac and cheese of movies, the mashed potatoes and gravy, the grilled cheese. When I’m sick, or depressed, or whatever, Ed Wood and Roger Corman are always there for me with plants that eat people and pie plate space ships.
Yeah, put that on the title card, this is the Mac N’ Cheese of movies.