Geek Speak

The worst movie ever? Plan 9 from Outer Space doesn't live up to its billing

Forget its reputation: There is no way that Plan 9 from Outer Space is the worst movie ever made. I know this for a fact, because I have seen dozens, maybe as many as a hundred, movies that are much, much worse. It's not even the worse movie in its genre (it's a hybrid zombie/alien invasion movie). It may not even be the worst movie that its director, the infamous Ed Wood, ever made.

That said, it is pretty bad.

See also: Dune: David Lynch's glorious mess

As far as B-movie premises go, aliens who invade Earth to stop us from unleashing doomsday weapons is pretty solid. (The Day the Earth Stood Still, which has the same plot, is an undisputed classic.) Throw in some zombies, raised from the dead by the aliens to do their bidding, and you've got the kind of loopy, over-the-top setup that's pretty hard to derail as long as the filmmakers have half a clue what they're doing. Of course, Ed Wood had no fucking idea what he was doing, so he managed to cock it up something fierce.

He started by casting a dead man. Well, he inserted some footage of his famous dead buddy Bela Lugosi, then cast his wife's chiropractor in the same role, despite the fact the two men looked nothing alike. While the effort to put the "actor" back in "chiropractor" was impressive, the results were not. In fact, the best acting in the movie comes from former pro wrestler Tor Johnson, who mostly kind of grunts and wheezes his way through the part. Still, he's a big, freaky-looking dude and he manages to get along on that alone.

The narration didn't help. Any movie that relies heavily on narration is working with one hand tied behind its back (show, not tell, remember?), but here, thanks to the quality of that narration, it's more like both hands tied behind its back, and a foot in its mouth. Delivered by phony psychic Criswell with a great deal more gravitas than it deserved, it starts off with the line, "Greetings my friends! We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives!" and gets worse from there.

Yes, seriously. It gets worse.

Apart from the terrible acting and brain-dead narration, there are some other issues. The plot is at once simplistic and convoluted. The action is non-existent. And the effects are... well, the best effects of the '50s looks pretty laughable these days. These effects looked pretty laughable in 1959. Like I said, it is bad. Really bad. Legendarily bad, even. But the worst movie ever made? No fucking way.

It was handed that title in the 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards, after a vote instigated by the authors' previous book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. And while I can't speak to the experience of the reported 3,000 people who voted, I can say, from watching more than half of all the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes ever made, dozens of Z-grade horror and science fiction movies on late night cable and more than fifty amateur zombie epics, Plan 9 from Outer Space isn't even fucking close to the worst movie ever made. I'll acknowledge that Plan 9 is clunky, boring and irredeemably stupid, but those are common crimes and cinematic misdemeanors. Something like Manos: Hands of Fate is capable of causing actual brain damage. Movies like Deadlands: The Rising, Zombie Night and Dead and Deader made me actually want to seek out the people responsible and make them pay for what they'd done. There is no contest and no comparison.

In fact, there's a certain charm to be found in Plan 9's plodding dullness and unintentional hilarity. Tim Burton was fascinated enough by its director, Ed Wood, to make a biopic about him years later, and I can all but promise no one will ever do the same for Harold P. Warren, the man behind Manos. When you see one of SyFy's intentionally bad and campy shlockfests like Sharknado, it's basically a tribute to the unintentional bad and campy work of Wood, exemplified by Plan 9, his most famous film. No one will ever make something as intentionally bad as Deadlands was unintentionally bad. (To be honest, I don't even think such a thing is possible.)

It's hard to recommend the movie to anyone but die-hard zombie movie completists (my excuse for seeing it), Tim Burton fans seeking his roots and lovers of truly bad cinema, but even if you fall into one of those camps, know that what you're seeing is not the worst movie ever made -- just a very, very bad one.

See the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space at 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 9 at the Sie FIlmCenter. Tickets are $12, or $10 for Denver Film Society members, and can be purchased at the film's event page.

Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.