Plan Nine from Outer Space is the immortal choice of bad-film lovers everywhere. And yet, it’s so *entertainingly* bad that one almost wants to believe that this is exactly what producer-writer-director Edward D. Wood Jr. had in mind all along. There have been far more sincere films, with far bigger budgets, that ended up with the same results as this movie. (If memory serves, one pundit referred to John Travolta’s 2000 pet sci-fi project Battlefield Earth as “Plan Ten from Outer Space.”)
The premise is that some outer-space beings (including future TV director Joanna Lee) have launched eight previously botched attempts to claim Earth for their own, and evidently the only plan that will get it right is to bring some corpses from a San Fernando Valley cemetery back to life. And yet, if the key sign of a sci-fi film’s success is that it successfully establishes an otherworldly environment, then Plan Nine succeeds in spades. The film is filled to capacity with:
* double-take-inspiring dialogue (“He’s dead. Murdered. And somebody’s responsible!”).
* non-existent continuity — as a writer once said about Leo McCarey’s work in the Marx Bros.’ Duck Soup, if two shots don’t match, Wood’s answer is to throw them together and let them fight it out.
* strangeness accepted as normality. Prime example: Washed-up star Bela Lugosi died three days into filming and was replaced by Wood’s chiropractor, who was taller than Lugosi and who “doubled” for him simply by masking his face with a black cape.
And yet, many latter-day movies and TV shows ask us to accept just such incongruities in the name of entertainment. For example, we’re meant to accept a bare desk with a goose-necked lamp as being the office of a Pentagon official. Pretty silly. And yet, is NASA’s headquarters conveyed any more realistically on “I Dream of Jeannie”? And any number of sitcoms have dialogue that doesn’t sound any more “life-like” than the stuff that pops from the mouths of Wood’s actors.
It takes a special sense of mise-en-scene to present a facade so weird that it takes on a life of its own. For that alone, Plan Nine from Outer Space deserves its spot in film history.