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TTC: “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1958)

“I’ll bet my badge that we haven’t seen the last of those weirdies.” ~~Lt. John Harper

Ed Wood Jr.’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is it, discerning readers. This film is IT — Ground Zero, the Alpha and Omega, Baby!, the Place the Buck of Suck Stops. Whatever unspeakable depths you think you’ve seen directors sink to, Wood crawls underneath. He’s braiding friendship bracelets with the Earthworms and Slow Worms down in that dirt. That is where he belongs, where he can network freely, because this movie is an abomination. It is so bad it barely deserves to be called a motion picture.

But “Plan 9 from Outer Space” does deserve to be awarded the Holy Grail of Terrifically Terribleness. Consider the duty done (it’s just one of the many job perks that come with annointing myself the Grand Poobah of Pitiful Cinema). It couldn’t have happened to a worse movie.

So bad is “Plan 9 from Outer Space” that it’s tempting to craft a list of its faults. This temptation must be avoided, however, as a) making that list would take the rest of 2010, all of 2011 and part of 2012 and when de worl’ blows up I don’t want to be making a list and b) a movie this terrifically terrible deserves full review treatment. Where, then, shall the festivities begin? The Amazing Criswell, our shrewd narrator for this celebration of crap, is as good a preliminary target as any. He neatly sets the tone for “Plan 9 from Outer Space” with a grave and stately speech, admonishing viewers — whom he calls “my friend” approximately 80 times in 30 seconds — that “future events such as these will affect you in the future.” That’s a bumper sticker craze still waiting to happen. This is a story to confound even out wildest of wild imaginations: grave robbers, zombies, vampires (oh, yeah), aliens, flying saucers (made, most like, with cardboard and silver spray paint and string) and a bomb that explodes particles of sunlight. No, I didn’t make that up. Think about it: A sun bomb is just blockheaded and catastrophic enough to be invented someday. Ed Wood might have been a prognosticator himself.

All these careening, transient notions need a splash of context and, boy, I wish I could give you some. The plot of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is, in essence, a half-hearted corralling of gripplingly crappy characters dressed in crappy costumes — Vampira’s got a waist on her Audrey Hepburn would have to starve to emulate — spitting out crappy dialogue (here’s a teaser: “Visits? That would indicate visitors.”) while wandering around a crappy set. The deaths of an old man (Bela Lugosi, who died halfway through and was replaced by a double who should have worn a hat reading “Bela’s Left the Building”) and his wife (Vampira) cause strange things to happen in San Fernando, Calif. Local inspector Daniel Clay (Tor Johnson) is murdered, and then flying saucers — piloted by Eros (Dudley Manlove) and Tanna (Joanna Lee) — appear. At the behest of the aliens, the dead rise. And pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott), his wife Paula (Mona McKinnon) and Lt. Harper (Duke Moore) are witness to these mad sights though the army vows they don’t exist.

There is more to “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” so much more. This film is a study of what not to do in every possible way. The acting (petrified dog turds could give better performances), “stunts” and costuming warrant special mention, like Zombie Clay’s bumbling rise from the grave. He’s like a sedated Barney Fife clawing his way out from the Underworld. There’s no feeling in the characters; they are so leaden and totally inept as to be screamingly funny. (When people go around asking “A flying saucer? You mean the kind from up there?” it’s no wonder Eros fears the sun bomb doesn’t belong in our hands.) Really, they are no better than the risen dead, who seem, in Vampira and Lugosi’s case, to have inexplicably become vampires. Vampira is filmed so that her palms are larger than her waistline. Scenes go from day to night at will; entire vehicles magically change color, then change back. Nothing, not one thing, goes right in Wood’s magnum opus. And that is cause for celebration.