The crowning achievement of schlock titan Ed Wood, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1958) is a cheaply made and crude expression of cinematic love. It's also widely regarded as the worst film ever made, a distinction it wears like a medal rather than a scar, embodying the cult-classic credo: "It's so bad, it's good." The dubious story follows a group of aliens who resurrect the dead into a zombie army as part of their ninth attempt to take over the earth. (The previous eight attempts failed, it seems; and it's remarkable that no producer has stepped up since to shoot the prequels.) Plan 9 is notably the final film to feature horror icon Bela Lugosi who, contrary to popular belief, did not pass away during the film's production -- he died before it even began. Determined to pay homage to the actor, whom he had befriended while casting Bride of the Monster, Wood rewrote Plan 9's script to incorporate past footage he had shot of Lugosi but had not used. Cast in Lugosi's role for the remainder of the film was Wood's wife's chiropractor, a noticeably taller man than Lugosi; he spends most of his screen time traipsing around in Dracula-like fashion, covering his face with a black cape. An unintentional compendium of continuity errors, wooden acting, and set designs worthy of an elementary-school play, Plan 9, like all of Wood's films, never ceases to amaze in its shoddiness, but it also never loses its unique charm. Every frame exudes the endless excitement and can-do spirit the director was known for, resolute traits Tim Burton hits on tenderly in his 1994 biographical love letter to the cult icon.
Plan 9 From Outer Space has been unjustly deemed the worst movie of all time. It's true that cardboard gravestones are knocked over, that scenes change from day to night at a moment's notice, and that half of Bela Lugosi's scenes are shot with a taller stand-in who has trouble keeping his vampire's cape on his shoulders. But technical gaffes like these are shared by a number of low-budget sci-fi films with plots that equal the absurdity of this epic's tale of extraterrestrial grave robbers. What distinguishes Plan 9 from less interesting failures is the bizarre but sincerely overwrought screenplay from now-famous director Edward D. Wood Jr. As in his other works (such as the autobiographical Glen Or Glenda? and Bride of the Monster), Wood's words expressed far more of his interior obsessions, beliefs, and philosophies than any other hack churning out similar kiddie spook shows. It's clumsy poetry to be sure, but Wood loved the movies and tried to speak through them. An alien invader's soliloquy on the stupidity of modern man comes off like a strange man on the bus, demanding to tell you what's wrong with the world. Most of Wood's films have this strangely direct feel to them, but Plan 9 From Outer Space is definitely the tightest synthesis of the man's personal idiosyncrasies and his deep desire to tell a story that everyone would love. As a result, it's proven itself to be immensely popular, a rare combination of accessibility and outsider vision that unfortunately never paid off within Edward D. Wood Jr.'s lifetime.