Plan 9 From Outer Space (1958)
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Vampira
Although Ed Wood’s masterpiece "Plan 9 From Outer Space" has been released on DVD before, that release wasn’t particularly appealing, as it was taken from a shoddy source and the DVD itself was also quite a disappointment. When Image Entertainment took control of the "Wade Williams Collection" of movies for release on DVD, my hopes were high that finally this memorable movie would get the kind of DVD release it rightfully deserves. Now it is finally here, available as part of Image Entertainment’s new "Edward D. Wood Jr. Library" which includes a series of films by the eccentric director. Best known for his enthusiasm rather than his skills as a filmmaker, all of Ed Wood’s films turned out to be ridiculed by critics at first, but quickly reached cult status due to the fact that they are incomparable to anything out there – then and since.
After eight different plans to take over Earth have failed, space invaders from Mars have decided that it is time to put plan 9 into practice. In accordance with this wicked plan, the aliens resurrect the dead on our home planet and turn them into killing zombies at their command. Their plan seems to work out this time, as their zombies kill a series of people and their space ships begin to infiltrate wide parts of the world, but soon the authorities and the military are on their heels in their attempt to drive back the invasion from outer space. It is a race against time, and a race of mankind against the sophisticated technology of the Martians. Will humans prevail and save their home planet?
If the synopsis appears a little pompous, don’t worry. That’s just how the movie is. "Plan 9 From Outer Space" is a rather dubious movie, as many of you may know. More than once it has been acclaimed as the worst movie of all times, an honor it does not deserve.
Many factors make "Plan 9 From Outer Space" the cult classic it has become over time. For one there is the film itself. In its attempt to be very serious it is so inept that it becomes a persiflage of itself. There is not a minute in the movie that won’t make you chuckle, because an actor forgot his lines, missed a mark, or because the hokey sets are moving. "Plan 9 From Outer Space" is practically the mother of all low budget films, making it a riotously entertaining experience.
Despite his hefty budget limitations however, director Ed Wood was never hesitant to make the best of what he had. Shooting without permission and using model kits of space ships dangling from strings, he brought an alien invasion to life. Using shower curtains and other everyday utensils to create a plane cockpit, and eventually casting his own friends to star in the movie, this film is oozing inspiration and inventiveness. Ed Wood must have been an incredibly enthusiastic filmmaker who captured people with his vivid imagination and his gung ho attitude. The fact that he was quite inept in the actual arts of making movies didn’t bother him a bit. It was the act itself that made him happy, as it quenched his thirst for creativity. Tim Burton’s tribute to this late and rather unique filmmaker in his movie "Ed Wood" is an intriguing look at what made this man tick and is highly recommended, although it is sadly not available on DVD yet.
Ed Wood was also a close friend of Bela Lugosi, the horror icon that became synonymous with his portrayal of "Dracula" during the early 30s. Almost forgotten at the time, he convinced Lugosi to star in a number of his movies to rekindle his career, and the added star-power enabled him to get the financing for his little movies in place. Sadly however, Lugosi died during the shoot of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and Ed Wood had to replace him with another actor in order to finish the picture. Paradoxically, the replacement – Wood’s chiropractor – did not look the least like Lugosi and as a result he is constantly covering his face with a Dracula cape in a vain attempt to create the illusion of being the late Lugosi. The most fascinating thing about all this is, that initially, Ed Wood had no idea what the movie should be about. He used footage of Lugosi that he had shot randomly much earlier without a script in place, and pieced it together with stock footage and other material he shot later to create "Plan 9 From Outer Space." As a result shot sequences in the movie are often inconsistent, incoherent and not continuous. A shot of Lugosi in broad daylight, intercut with shots of the replacement by night in a completely different environment, and the likes are very common in this film and add another level of entertainment to the film.
The Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson can also be seen in this film as a zombie, as can Vampira, a horror cult figure of the time, who Ed Wood was able to get interested in the project as her stardom began to fade.
Image Entertainment’s release of the film on this DVD is surprisingly good. The film material used for this transfer is in rather fine condition. Although it shows some signs of wear and tear, as well as some damage, the image quality is rather good. The film contains a bit of grain and occasional registration problems are evident, but if you have seen this film on video before, and compare it to this DVD you will agree that it looks much better than ever. The level of detail apparent in this transfer is unmatched by other versions and makes "Plan 9 From Outer Space" much better and sharper looking than ever before. The compression of the disc is also flawless. Not the least signs of compression artifacts are evident in the transfer, and the contrast of the black and white presentation is always balanced and natural looking. Blacks are always deep and solid and highlights are never too bright.
The disc contains a monaural audio track in <$DD,Dolby Digital>. Due to the nature and quality of the original audio track, the audio presented on this DVD is also rather thin-sounding without much of a bass extension. The high end is pronounced, giving the track a rather harsh sounding quality. This however, is completely in line with the movie’s original sound presentation and not a flaw of the DVD at all.
A great addition to this DVD is an extensive documentary called "Flying Saucers Over Hollywood." It is an in-depth exploration of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and the cult phenomenon that started building around it. Apart from offering valuable insight into Ed Wood’s way of working, it also offers rather new interviews with many cast members and affiliates of Ed Wood. It covers all these subjects quite exhaustively during its 110 minute running length, and touches upon many of the fascinating aspects of this truly unique movie. Not only does it reveal many mysteries and myth surrounding the production but it also creates an atmosphere of awe and respect for the director and the film alike, showing through personal accounts, just how enthusiastic and fanatic Ed Wood actually was.
"Plan 9 From Outer Space" is the ultimate in improvised filmmaking and despite its flaws, it has turned into a phenomenon that is highly entertaining. Despite its ineptitude on many levels, the film nonetheless captures a number of great images, and more importantly it inspires and captivates audiences. Ed Wood may have been a hack, but he was a hack with a vision, and it made all the difference. This DVD is a great tribute to the movie and the man behind it, and thanks to Image Entertainment we can now re-experience this unlikely masterpiece in all its glory. Get it! "Plan 9 From Outer Space" is a movie everyone has to experience at least once, and there’s no better opportunity than on this release.