Classic Film | Issue 14
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Plan 9 from Outer Space is one of the most celebrated science fiction films of all time. Changing tack from the serious social commentary of his previous films Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Atom, legendary director Ed Wood combined slapstick with themes of existentialism, loss, and hubris to create the 1950s B movie in excelsis. A crowning achievement, it is probably the most enduring work of Wood’s career.
Plan 9’s narrator assures us that “future events such as these will affect you in the future.” This bold opening gambit blurs the line between fact and fiction, leaving the audience constantly wondering whether the film contains a grain of truth.
Fearing that the unfettered advance of human technology could result in a doomsday device that wipes out the universe, gay alien hippies execute their master scheme to cow the world’s governments into pacifism. This enigmatic “Plan 9” involves unleashing three reanimated corpses on a small US town. With impeccable logic, the narrator asks “can you prove that it didn’t happen?”
The dramas unfolding in front of the camera were matched by those behind it during filming. Struggling for funding, Wood turned to a church group for some of the film’s financing, and his new backers insisted on a raft of changes. Shorn of its original title Grave Robbers from Outer Space, the film went ahead on a shoestring: The flying saucers are in fact hubcaps on strings, headstones are made from polystyrene, and much of the dramatic showdown between the “visitors” and the US Army is actually stock footage. It is a testament to Wood’s skill that this is barely noticeable.
Plan 9 also has the distinction of being the last on-screen appearance of Bela Lugosi, the original Count Dracula, who died at the start of production. Few would call it an ignominious epitaph, despite Lugosi’s character being hit by a car and his reanimated body played by a stand-in, veiled chiropractor. RIP.
– Kathleen Hanna