There was no way for me to view Plan 9 from Outer Space cold; to say that its reputation preceded it is an understatement. My preconception of the film came purely from word of mouth–I had not read much about it. (And I’d seen parts of it before, but apparently found them semi-forgettable.)
The story, in case you’re unfamiliar, goes something like this:
An old man (Bela Lugosi) in Los Angeles attends a funeral for his wife (Maila Nurmi, a.k.a. Vampira), who rises from the dead to kill her gravediggers. The next day the grief-stricken man is hit by a car and dies. At his funeral, people discover the dead gravediggers and call the police. When the inspector checks out the gravesite, the zombie of the old man and his zombie wife kill the inspector, too. In the meantime, there are UFO sightings around Hollywood Boulevard. The military has been trying to cover up the UFO activity. This is where Plan 9 comes in. The aliens flying the UFOs return to their space station, frustrated at their inability to contact government authorities on Earth. Their strategy to get the Earth governments’ attention? Bring up the dead. It’s spirals from there.
So, what did I get out of the “worst movie ever made?” Well, it’s delightful. It’s hard to believe that the filmmakers truly thought they were fooling anybody with their sets, “effects,” editing, etc. It’s all very cheaply done, but once you accept that, there’s a real charm to it. Viewed from that perspective, every incongruity is a feature, not a bug. Bela Lugosi is just plain adorable. I feel so bad for him not because his character’s wife died, but because he seems so out of place in Southern California and because I want to let him just have out with a laugh already. I find myself drawing a parallel between the narrator here and the narrator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Just try to tell me there’s not a camp connection going on. And where did they find this guy, exactly? He’s a preacher and a salesman (perhaps many preachers are salesmen and vice versa, anyway). I’m not buying what he’s selling (I’m buying something else), but I love hearing him out–appreciate the effort!
To me, Plan 9 from Outer Space bears the unmistakable stamp of 1950s television. There may be technical elements that make that statement a no-brainer to those more expert than I–film stock or lighting, perhaps, in addition to the obviously bargain basement budget.
The problem, I suppose, with films like this is that if you don’t have some friends to watch them with or a nice bottle of something… if you’re not able to add something to the experience, the novelty can wear off a tad. In that case, you’ll probably be content to tune out after about the first 30 minutes. By then you’ll have witnessed and heard the bad dialogue and sets, the ridiculous props and “effects,” the narrator (I think I would have liked it more if he’d kept on narrating consistently throughout the film), the silly acting, the preposterous and blatant plot exposition, the drop of bland romance, and the sci-fi/vampire/grave robbing/good ol’ U.S. Army combo. You’ll have seen more than a few grave side scenes–funerals, burials, etc. etc.–and aliens who look and talk exactly like humans. Interesting that the aliens seem far more on top of things than the humans do. Alas, for everything Plan 9 from Outer Space jams in, it still feels slow and seems to last too long.
A final thought: The creepiest dude in the film is neither Lugosi nor Vampira. It’s that other guy, Inspector Clay (Tor Johnson), who the two attacked and who then rose up out of his grave at about the 33 minute mark. It’s like sweet old Dick Elliot (of It’s a Wonderful Life fame) has turned into a zombie! Youth is wasted on the wrong people indeed!