Monday, July 22, 2019

Happy 60th Birthday To Plan 9 From Outer Space!

Happy 60th Anniversary to Ed Wood's timeless masterpiece, Plan 9 From Outer Space. It premiered on July 22, 1959.

Over the years, Plan 9 has gained the reputation of being "The Worst Movie Ever Made." It is no such thing. Heck, I've seen worse movies so far this year! Sure, it's poorly written, directed and acted and inept in every measurable sense, but damn if it isn't entertaining. And in the end, isn't that a movie's job? The worst sin a film can commit is to be boring, and Plan 9 is anything but. I've seen it at least fifty times, and I never get tired of it. 

I'd rather watch a continuous loop of Plan 9 for the rest of my life than ever see a single frame of The Happytime Murders or The Bye Bye Man ever again.

In honor of the movie's anniversary, here are a few facts about the production:

 The film was actually shot in 1956, but it took three years to find a distributor who'd agree to even touch it.

 Plan 9 was originally titled Grave Robbers From Outer Space. The film was financed by a group of Baptist ministers, who objected to the "lurid" title. Wood changed it to appease them.

 The movie opens with an introduction from famed TV psychic Criswell. At the time he had his on weekly show (Criswell Predicts) on KLAC TV in LA, in which he'd make ridiculous and wildly inaccurate predictions.

Criswell's most famous line in the film is, "Future events such as these will affect you in the future." For years I just assumed that was an example of Ed Wood's less than elegant dialogue. Nope! Apparently that was Criswell's own personal catchphrase, and he used it in interviews, columns and on his show.

 Plan 9 famously features horror movie legend Bela Lugosi in a "non-starring" role. Ed Wood befriended Lugosi in his twilight years, and made several movies with him.

Wood shot footage of Lugosi puttering around Tor Johnson's home, with no real script in mind. Sadly, Lugosi died a few months later. Unwilling to let this precious footage go to waste, Wood wrote an entire screenplay around it, and Plan 9 was born.

Unfortunately there just wasn't enough footage of Lugosi to satisfy the demands of the script. In order to flesh out Lugosi's storyline, Wood hired his wife's chiropractor Tom Mason to replace him. 

This was an odd choice to say the least, as Mason was a good foot taller than Lugosi and had completely different colored hair. Mason stepped into the role by holding his cape in front of his face to obscure his features. The effect is completely seamless.

 Actress Maila Nurmi stars in the film as "The Vampire Girl." Nurmi also played Vampira, a TV horror host on a local LA station. Years later she sued actress Cassandra Peterson, aka Elvira, for appropriating her goth chick shtick. Sadly, a judge ruled against Nurmi, allowing Elvira to pretty much steal her act.

Nurmi was paid a whopping $200 for her role. Supposedly she was less than impressed with Wood's dialogue, and agreed to take the part on the condition that she not speak.

Nurmi reportedly put on her Vampira makeup and costume at home, then rode the bus in full regalia to the studio to shoot Plan 9.

 Pro Wrestler Tor Johnson played Inspector Clay/The Ghoul Man in the film. 

In the early 1960s The Ghoul Man became a best selling Halloween mask. In fact that mask was my first exposure to Tor Johnson. I'd see it everywhere, but I had no idea it was from Plan 9 until many years later.

 Although the film's sets look consistently cheap, the police uniforms and cars have an odd and undeniable realism. That's because Tor Johnson's son was a San Fernando police officer, and arranged for Wood to borrow cars, uniforms and weapons.

 Eros, one of the aliens who carries out the titular Plan 9 to conquer Earth, is played by actor/radio announcer Dudley Manlove.

I don't have anything to say here except... Dudley Manlove.

Actually now that I think of it, Manlove uttered the movie's most famous line: "You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! STUPID!"

 The alien Leader is played by flamboyant actor John Breckenridge. He was a well-known LA drag queen, who went by the name of "Bunny."

Danny the co-pilot (seen here on the left) was played by David De Mering, who was Breckenridge's personal secretary and alleged lover. Breckinridge and De Mering both lived with Paul Marco, who played Kelton the cop in the film.

 Behold the awesome special effects of Plan 9 From Outer Space! Eat your heart out, Infinity War!

Contrary to popular belief, Wood did not use hubcaps or pizza pans as the flying saucers. They were actual saucer model kits released by the Lindberg Company, and are still available today!

During the scene in which the saucers fly merrily through the skies of LA, they pass over the studios of CBS, NBC and ABC. Was this Ed Wood's attempt at product placement, hoping one of the networks would pony up some dough?

 In typical Woodsian fashion, Plan 9's aspect ratio changes from scene to scene. Sometimes it's around 1:75 to 1 (which is close to standard movie width), while in other scenes it's 1:33 to 1 (which is TV format).

 Many fans have noted the movie has a timeless quality, as shots change randomly from day to night, often in the same scene.

This wasn't a mistake on Wood's part, but a result of his budgetary limitations. Due to the limits of 1950s film technology, it was necessary to shot nighttime scenes in full sunlight. They'd be darkened with a filter later on to simulate night.

Unfortunately Wood ran out of money, so his "day for night" shots were never corrected, resulting in a film that doesn't seem to know what time of day it is.

Happy 60th Anniversary to Plan 9 From Outer Space! Here's to 60 more!

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