Monday, 30 May 2016

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

For many people, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the gateway drug to the world of bad movies, and it was certainly the case for me. Writer/Director Ed Wood Jr can be accused of many things in terms of deficiencies of plot, characterisation and special effects, but there is no way you can call his work boring.

While on a routine flight airline pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) and his co-pilot Danny are surprised by a bright light and loud sound, and are shocked to see a flying saucer. The saucer lands at a cemetery, where a number of suspicious deaths have taken place. It turns out aliens are hiding out there, carrying out their fiendish plan to take over the world: reanimating the dead, otherwise known as Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The basic elements of the story, mad scientists, atomic power, alien invasions, zombies (albeit the pre-Romero, non contagious, non-flesheating kind) are not unfamiliar in the genre films of the time. In the hands of another film-maker, what could have resulted is the sort of pleasant but forgettable film that so many others were churning out at that time. Thankfully the job was turned over to Ed Wood, a man whose enthusiasm for movies was only matched by his enthusiasm for vodka. This meant that his scripts were bursting with ideas, and while he was not always the best at shaping these into a coherent whole, they have an anarchic energy and anything-can-happen atmosphere, coupled with dialogue that veers between the drearily banal and the outrageously surreal.

There are so many other points of interest along the way, from the health and safety loving police sergeant who insists on punctuating every line of dialogue by pointing at things with his gun, the Styrofoam Gravestones, the outrageously camp chief alien, and the heroic disregard for continuity, especially in terms of what time of day it is.

The star of the film, Bela Lugosi died a few days into shooting, the sort of event that would have crushed a lesser man than Ed Wood. Instead, he simply carried on, getting his wife's chiropractor to play the Lugosi role with his cape over his face so that we can't see the difference, even though he is at least a foot taller than Lugosi.

When I first saw this, back in the early 1990s the consensus was that this was something silly and terrible, something to be sneered at. Nowadays, I feel nothing but admiration for Wood. Granted his film-making skills are not up there with the best, but his enthusiasm and tenacity shines through in the movies, The surfeit of ideas means the film never gets dull and stands up to repeat viewings.