This past weekend Turner Classic Movies once again held their annual film festival virtually, with movies airing on the channel and on a special section of the string service HBO Max. The festival, which typically takes place in Hollywood every year, has been virtual for the last two years due to the pandemic. On Friday night, In May, they had an especially fun night of programming. The highlight of which was a table read, presented by The San Fransisco Sketchfest, of comedian Dana Gould’s adaptation of Ed Wood’s immortal B-picture masterpiece “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”
Recorded over zoom and featuring an amazing cast of the best comedians working today, the table read was both a parody and loving tribute to Wood’s best movie. This was followed by a showing of “Plan 9” proper, and then that was followed by “Grease 2.” In all, it was one of the most fun nights of movie watching I’ve had in quite some time. It’s been many years since I’ve seen “Plan 9 from Outer Space.” Though often marked as the worst movie ever made, “Plan 9” is definitely not that, looking at “The Room” and “Manos: The Hands of Fate.” It’s not “Citizen Kane” but that’s also precisely why it’s great.
The story of Edward D. Wood, Jr. is one of pure gusto with the desire to make a movie, and get it done, no matter what. You may know Wood’s story from the wonderful Tim Burton-directed 1994 biography film “Ed Wood,” which centers around the making of “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Though Wood died in 1978, he was soon on the cusp of being discovered and celebrated for his unique brand of movie “trash.” One can’t imagine what Wood would have thought about being branded the worst filmmaker of all time, but you would hope that he’d have enjoyed his movies finding a devoted audience.
“Plan 9” is about an alien plot to bring back the dead to convince mankind to stop making weapons of mass destruction. It’s the last movie to star Bela Lugosi, who died before the movie was made. Wood used some footage he had shot for an abandoned project with the actor and then had the rest of his part played by the chiropractor Wood was seeing, covering his face with a black cape. Wrestler and B-movie legend Tor Johnson appears in the movie, as does the original vamp horror host Vampira, both of whom play the two ghouls/zombies that create chaos.
I don’t think it’s fair to call a movie like “Plan 9 from Outer Space” so bad it’s good or the worst movie ever made. Why? Well, frankly, by the time the movie is over you’re entertained, you’ve had such a fun time watching the movie that it succeeds as a piece of entertainment. I think of a quote the great John Waters once said about the B movies that Vincent Price made throughout his career as a Horror icon, I’m paraphrasing here but it was words to the extent of “These movies are not beneath us, they elevate us.”
If you wanna think of movies as being a buffet — and maybe that’s a bad idea during this pandemic-laden times — “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is a hot fudge sundae. Nobody sets out to make a bad movie, but bad movies happen. I can think of plenty of other movies I’d rather not sit through, whereas “Plan 9” I’d gladly enjoy again and again. I remember when I was a kid the first time I ever heard of the term “cult movies.” It was with a video store’s display of Ed Wood movies on tape.
If you’ve never seen “Plan 9 From Outer Space” you owe it to yourself. The movie is such a joyful and delightful experience. It’s charming in how low-rent it is. More movies need to open with a narrator warning us to see if we can stand the “shocking facts” about what we are about to watch. Think of how much fun it would have been to see a movie with Tor Johnson as “The Incredible Hulk?” I’d love to see that, and I bet after watching “Plan 9” you would too. It’s a classic — a real, genuine classic — a fun time and the prototypical drive-in movie. I hope you’ll watch it soon, then follow it up with the great Tim Burton film about Wood.
Until next month, I’ll see you under the marquee.