Plan 9 from Outer Space (originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space, or simply known as Plan 9) is a 1959 American black-and-white science fiction thriller film released by Distributors Corporation of America (as Valiant Pictures). The film was written, produced, directed, and edited by Edward D. Wood, Jr. and stars Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Tor Johnson, Vampira, and posthumously bills Bela Lugosi as a star (silent footage of the actor had actually been shot by Wood for another, unfinished film just prior to Lugosi's death in 1956).
The film tells the story of extraterrestrials who are seeking to stop humanity from creating a doomsday weapon that could destroy the universe. The aliens implement "Plan 9", a scheme to resurrect the Earth's dead. (Modern audiences would call these undead creatures zombies, but Plan 9 refers to them as "ghouls".) By causing chaos, the aliens hope the crisis will force humanity to listen to them. If not, the aliens will then destroy mankind with armies of the undead.
Plan 9 from Outer Space played on television in relative obscurity until 1980, when authors Michael and Harry Medved dubbed the film "worst movie ever made". Both Wood and his film were posthumously awarded two of Medveds' Golden Turkey Awards, as the Worst Director Ever and Worst Film, respectively.
A flying saucer is seen flying over the cemetery. Plan 9 has been often criticized for the poor quality of its special effects.
At the funeral of an Old Man's wife, a small group of mourners are gathered by an open grave, among them her husband (Bela Lugosi). Two gravediggers stand nearby, waiting for the funeral to end. Overhead, an airliner is heading towards Burbank, California. The pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) and his co-pilot Danny (David De Mering) are blinded by a bright light and loud sound. They look outside and see a flying saucer. The pilots follow the saucer's flight until it lands at a graveyard. The gravediggers hear a strange noise and get spooked. They decide to leave, but are attacked and killed by a female zombie (Maila Nurmi).
At his modest home, the Old Man steps outside, lost in his thoughts of grief. Absentmindedly, he steps into the path of an oncoming car and is killed. Mourners at the Old Man's funeral later discover the corpses of the gravediggers. Inspector Daniel Clay (Tor Johnson) and his police officers arrive and investigate, but Clay distances himself from them to conduct his own search.
Jeff Trent and his wife Paula (Mona McKinnon), who live near the graveyard, hear the sirens, and Jeff tells Paula about his flying saucer encounter, stating that the Army has since sworn him to secrecy. A powerful wind then knocks everyone to the ground at both the Trent residence and the graveyard, as a saucer lands nearby. Inspector Clay then encounters the female zombie and the reanimated corpse of the Old Man. His fired bullets have no effect on either, and he is killed. Clay's police officers soon find his body.
Newspaper headlines continue to report other saucer sightings, including over Hollywood Boulevard. A trio of saucers flies over Los Angeles and the local headquarters of all the major television networks. In the Washington, D.C. area the military fire missiles at more saucers, while the Chief of Saucer Operations, Col. Thomas Edwards (Tom Keene), reveals that the government has been covering up attacks. He mentions that one small town has been annihilated, while hinting at a secret history of other previous encounters.
The aliens return to their Space Station 7. Commander Eros (Dudley Manlove) informs their Ruler (John Breckinridge) that he has been unsuccessful in contacting Earth's governments. To force the Earthmen to acknowledge his people, Eros is now implementing "Plan 9", which will resurrect recently human dead by stimulating their pituitary and pineal glands. Meanwhile, Trent is about to leave for another flight. Concerned for his wife's safety, he urges Paula to stay with her mother, but she insists on staying home. That night, the zombie Old Man rises nearby and sneaks into their house. He then pursues Paula outside and through the cemetery after being joined by his zombie wife and the zombie Inspector Clay. Paula escapes but then collapses, later being found by a passing motorist. All three zombies then return to Eros' saucer.
Eros is nearly strangled to death by the corpse of Inspector Clay.
At the Pentagon, Gen. Roberts (Lyle Talbot) informs Edwards that the government has been receiving messages from the aliens. In Eros' voice the message explains that the aliens are trying to prevent humanity from destroying the universe. The general dispatches Edwards to San Fernando, California, where most of the aliens' activities have occurred.
While the undead are under alien command, zombie Clay suddenly attacks Eros and nearly kills him. The Ruler closely examines Clay and decides to sacrifice the zombie Old Man to further frighten humanity. He now has plans of raising undead armies and marching them against the capitals of Earth.
In California the police and Edwards interview the Trents about their alien experiences. Unknown to them, the flying saucer has returned to the graveyard. While waiting by the police car, Officer Kelton (Paul Marc) encounters the zombie Old Man, who then chases Kelton to the Trents' yard, where the Old Man is shot, but with no apparent effect. The aliens, however, hit the zombie Old Man with a ray, causing his body to rapidly decompose, leaving only his skeleton. Not knowing what to make of this, the Trents, Edwards, and the police decide to drive to the nearby cemetery.
Pilot Jeff Trent confronts the aliens.
John Harper (Duke Moore insists on leaving Paula behind in the car, but Paula refuses to stay alone. As a concession Kelton stays behind, and this leaves Harper, Edwards, and Trent to go to the graveyard. Eros and fellow alien Tanna (Joanna Lee) send zombie Clay to kidnap Paula and lure the other three to the flying saucer. Seeing the saucer's glow in the distance, Trent and the police head in that direction. Kelton is easily dealt with at the car by zombie Clay. Upon awakening, he calls for help, and Patrolman Larry (Carl Anthony) comes to his aid.
Eros allows Trent and the police to enter with guns drawn. He then tells them human weapons development will inevitably lead to the discovery of solarbonite, a substance that has the effect of exploding "sunlight molecules". Such an explosion would set off a uncontrollable chain reaction, destroying the entire universe. Eros believes humans are too immature and stupid to use this power wisely, so he intends to destroy mankind. Outside, zombie Clay arrives with Paula. Eros threatens to kill her if they try to force him to go with them. Officers Kelton and Larry arrive, spotting Clay with Paula. Realizing their guns are useless, they approach zombie Clay from behind with a makeshift club. Eros sees this and shuts off Clay's controlling ray, allowing Paula to go free. A fight then breaks out between Eros and Jeff, but the saucer's equipment is damaged, starting a fire. The humans quickly exit and Tanna flies away. The now flaming saucer explodes, killing both aliens, and their zombies quickly decompose.
Gregory Walcott as Jeff Trent
Mona McKinnon as Paula Trent
Duke Moore as Lt. John Harper
Tom Keene as Col. Tom Edwards
Carl Anthony as Patrolman Larry
Paul Marco as Patrolman Kelton
Tor Johnson as Inspector Dan Clay
Dudley Manlove as Eros
Joanna Lee as Tanna
John Breckinridge as The Ruler
Lyle Talbot as General Roberts
David De Mering as Danny
Norma McCarty as Edith
Bill Ash as Captain
Rev. Lynn Lemon as Minister at Clay's funeral
Ben Frommer and Gloria Dea as Mourners
Conrad Brooks as Patrolman Jamie
Maila Nurmi as Vampire Girl
Bela Lugosi as Old Man/Ghoul Man
Criswell as Himself / Narrator
Donald A. Davis as Drunk
Karl Johnson as Farmer Calder
Tom Mason as Ghoul Man with Cape Over Face
Hugh Thomas Jr. as Gravedigger (also associate producer)
J. Edward Reynolds as Gravedigger (also executive producer)
Edward D. Wood, Jr. as Man holding newspaper
Marcus Hutton as Organ player
Background and genre
The film combines elements of science fiction films and Gothic fiction. Science fiction remained popular throughout the 1950s, though the genre had experienced significant changes in the post-war period. The Atomic Age, heralded by the development of nuclear weapons and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had inspired science fiction films which were dealing with the dangers of unrestricted science while spaceflight and the existence of extraterrestrial life and civilizations, more "traditional" elements of the genre, seemed to hold new fascination for audiences experiencing the start of the Space Race. On the other hand, Gothic fiction had enjoyed the height of its popularity in film during the 1930s and 1940s. It was experiencing a decline in the 1950s and was seen as old-fashioned. The combination of dated and modern elements, by 1950s standards, gives the film a rather anachronistic quality.
The film script seems to aim at making this an epic film, a "genre" which typically requires a big budget provided by a major film studio. That Ed Wood filmed the story with minimal financial resources underlines one of the qualities of his work: His ideas tended be too expensive to actually put on film, and yet the director would constantly go ahead and try. An overreach which, as Rob Craig argues, results in the peculiar charm of the film to audiences. Craig finds that the film has much in common with both epic theatre ("grand melodrama on a minuscule budget") and the Theatre of the Absurd (characters acting as buffoons, nonsense and verbosity in dialogue, dream-like and fantasy imagery, hints of allegory, and a narrative structure where continuity is consistently undermined).
The introduction and its origins
The film opens with an introduction by Criswell: "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! ...". Criswell was the star of Criswell Predicts on KLAC Channel 13 (now KCOP-13), and the introduction could be an allusion to the opening lines of his show. Since no episodes of the television show are known to survive, a full comparison between them seems impossible. Craig suggests that Criswell' public persona was based on the style of a charismatic preacher, perhaps influenced by early televangelists. Criswell addresses the viewers repeatedly as "my friends", as if attempting to establish a bond between the speaker and the audience. The line is likely to derive from his show, and would not be out of place in a segment where a televangelist addresses his congregation. Another phrase of the introduction "Future events such as these will affect you in the future", served as a signature line for Criswell. He used it repeatedly in his newspaper and magazine columns, and probably his show as well.
Another line ascertains that the audience is interested in "the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable", probably assuming that the film's audience will have a fascination with the paranormal. The narrator at some point starts claiming that "we" (the filmmakers) are bringing to light the full story and evidence of fateful events, based on the "secret testimony" of the survivors. The lines seem to emulate the style of sensational headlines in newspapers, and promise the audiences access to "lurid secrets" as if following the example of True Confessions and other similar magazines. The notion that a film or show could be based on true incidents and testimony would be familiar to a 1950s audience, because it was used in contemporary police procedurals such as Dragnet.
Changing the tone, the narrator delivers the sermon-like lines: "Let us punish the guilty! Let us reward the innocent!" Which again sound as if a preacher addresses his audience. The introduction concludes with the dramatic question: "Can your heart stand the shocking facts about graverobbers from outer space?" The latter phrase was simply the original title of the film, but the rest of the line seems again to emulate the sensationalist press.
Through Trent's initial conversation with his wife, the film introduces the notion of a government and military conspiracy to cover up information on documented UFO sightings. This notion was clearly influenced by the emergence and increased popularity of a UFO conspiracy theory. The implications concerning the public's distrust of the government were atypical for a 1950s American film. Anti-statist ideas would become more popular in the 1960s, which is when the subject became "safe" for mainstream cinema.
Message from the aliens
The film contains a cautionary message from the aliens. The earliest use of this concept in film was probably in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and it had since seen frequent use in science fiction films. The idea was that the self-destructive behavior of humanity was the real threat, not any external source of danger.
The "iconic" flying saucer of the film has been variously identified as a paper plate or a hubcap. According to the documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood- The Plan 9 Companion (1991) it was actually a recognizable model kit produced in 1956 by toy manufacturer Paul Lindberg. Lindberg Line model kits had introduced a flying saucer kit, roughly matching the popular image of UFOs of the time: "a silver disc-shaped craft with a clear dome on top." Inside the plastic dome was a little green man. Both a regular version of the assembled model and a modified version appear in the film.
The footage of Los Angeles is used to ground the otherworldly events to a realistic setting. As a resident, Wood was probably familiar with the locations. The scene where the military fires at the flying saucers is real military stock footage.
The Reverend Lynn Lemon, who plays an unnamed minister, was one of the Baptists variously involved in the production of the film. J. Edward Reynolds was a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention in Beverly Hills, California, and Hugh Thomas was one of his associates from the church; both play gravediggers, while Reynolds was also the producer of the film. At the time of the film's creation, David De Mering was the personal secretary and alleged lover of fellow cast member Bunny Breckinridge; his inclusion in the cast was probably a result of this association.
According to Maila Nurmi, she was recruited by Paul Marco to act as a vampire in the film. She was offered $200 for her part. She recalled insisting for her part to be silent, as she did not like the dialogue that Wood had scripted for her. This recollection might be inaccurate since the undead of this film are generally mute. What she contributed to the film was a "regal presence" and theatrical mannerisms. Her performance is reminiscent of a silent film actress; she credited Theda Bara as her main influence for the part.
The male alien Eros is apparently named after Eros, Greek god of love. Craig suggests that the name of the female alien, Tanna, might invoke the name of another Greek deity: Thanatos, god of death.
The Pentagon office depicted includes a map of the United States with the sign of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The same map appears in Baghdad After Midnight (1954), which was also filmed at Quality Studios; it was probably a standard prop used by the studio.
Bela Lugosi's last movie
Bela Lugosi, in silent footage for the abandoned Tomb of the Vampire, which was later recycled for Plan 9.
Shortly before Lugosi's death in August 1956, he had been working with Wood on numerous half-realized projects, variously titled Tomb of the Vampire or The Ghoul Goes West. Scenes unconnected to Plan 9, featuring Lugosi weeping at a funeral, walking in front of Tor Johnson's house at daytime, walking in and out of the side door of the Johnson home at nighttime, and a daylight scene on a patch of scrubland near a highway showing Lugosi stalking towards the camera and dramatically spreading his Dracula cape before furling it around himself and walking back the way he came, had been shot. Only the first two sequences had reached any level of completion. When Lugosi died, Wood shelved these projects. It is not certain for which projects the Lugosi footage was intended, and Wood's own account of the affair in his written memoirs seems to suggest that the director had something like Plan 9 in mind when the material was filmed. This claim stands in apparent contradiction to the Vampires' Tomb/Ghoul Goes West theory, backed up by a comment Lugosi made about Ghoul being his next project in a filmed interview upon his release from drug rehabilitation.
Shortly after Lugosi's death the story and screenplay for Grave Robbers from Outer Space were written and finalized, with Wood planning to use the unconnected, unrelated footage of Lugosi as a means of putting a credit for him on the picture. Though Wood's actions were driven in part by the desire to give his film a 'star name' and attract horror fans, the Lugosi cameo was also meant as a loving tribute and farewell to the actor, who had become fast friends with Wood in the last three years of Lugosi's life. Wood hired his wife's chiropractor, Tom Mason, as a stand-in for Lugosi, even though Mason was taller than Lugosi and bore no resemblance to him, making him one of the earliest "fake Shemps". Narration from Criswell was also employed in an attempt to better link Lugosi's footage with the rest of Plan 9.
Coincidentally, further Lugosi footage Wood had shot at an unspecified pre-1956 date was to have been the basis of a second posthumous movie for the horror legend, titled Ghouls of the Moon. The footage had, however, been shot on volatile nitrate stock, and had dissolved into toxic-smelling sludge by the time Wood's thoughts turned to the new venture in the summer of 1959. Ghouls of the Moon was abandoned entirely as a result. Mystery surrounds the content and nature of the lost material, described only as 'wild' by a friend of Wood's who had seen the raw footage shortly after it was shot.
Grave Robbers from Outer Space was shot in 1956, and finished the following year, when it had its preview in March at the Carlton Theatre in Los Angeles. Another year elapsed before Distributors Corporation of America (DCA) picked it up and copyrighted it, intending to distribute it during the spring of 1958, but the company folded and it was not released until July 1959 through Valiant Pictures, the receiver of DCA. By then the film had been re-titled Plan 9 from Outer Space. The original title gives the film the feel of a story from a pulp magazine. One story concerning the renaming is that that the film's financiers, two local Baptist ministers, objected to the "Grave Robbers" part of the title. They reportedly considered the direct reference to grave robbery to be sacrilegious in nature, so Wood changed the title to "Plan 9". The original title is mentioned at the end of Criswell's opening narration when he asks the audience, "Can your heart stand the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer space?" The new title is less indicative of the content and might have itself contributed to distribution problems for the film. Like many independent films of the period, Plan 9 was distributed under a states' rights basis [clarification needed].
Plan 9 was screened as part of a double feature at various times. In Chicago, it was first seen in January 1959, alongside the British thriller Time Lock (1957). A film which is mostly remembered as an early film credit for Sean Connery. Later that year, it was used as a "co-feature" (B movie) for double-feature screenings of The Trap (1959), a film noir with Richard Widmark as its star. In Texas, it was seen alongside Devil Girl From Mars (1954), a British science fiction film. Not long after, the picture was distributed through a television package.
File:Plan 9 from Outer Space - Criswell Predicts.ogvPlay media
Criswell's opening narration
Plan 9 from Outer Space gained notoriety through the Medveds' book because of its multiple continuity problems.
Critics say the absurdity of Plan 9 from Outer Space is found in the dialogue rather than on-screen action. Criswell's opening narration redundantly informs the viewer that "future events such as these will affect you in the future", while referring to viewers as "my friends" four times in the same minute. Criswell also begins the narration by referring to future events, only to later describe them in the past tense ("... the full story of what happened on that fateful day"), and inexplicably calling for "the guilty" to be punished.
Several exterior sets on sound-stages are interspersed with second-unit footage shot outdoors (for example, the old man's reanimated corpse chasing Paula Trent through the cemetery). In a number of these scenes the outdoor footage was intended to be shot day-for-night, but this is not apparent in video transfers of the film, making these scenes contrast harshly against the on-set footage.
A visible shadow of the boom microphone (center of photo's upper edge) in a cockpit scene.
During the first aircraft cockpit scene, the first officer is visibly reading from the script in his lap, and a flash of light from a flying saucer reveals the shadow of the boom microphone. The microphone and first officer's script are not visible in the film's original theatrical release, as they do not fit in the frame in its intended projection aspect ratio of 1.85:1. These mistakes are noticeable only in the film's open matte transfer on video.
The music for Plan 9 from Outer Space was compiled by Gordon Zahler. Zahler used stock recordings of works by about a dozen composers, which was a fairly common procedure in the 1950s for scoring low-budget films and television programs. However, Zahler apparently never provided a reliable accounting for the score. In 1996, Paul Mandell produced a CD that recreated the film's score by tracking down the stock recordings and the composers; Mandell subsequently wrote an article about the film's music for Film Score Monthly. Some websites give proper credit to these composers.
As an ode to Plan 9 being famously known as "the worst film of all time," pre-release copies of the colorized DVD included this limited edition air freshener.
Plan 9 is considered by some critics, including Michael Medved, to be the worst film in the history of cinema. However, other reviews have rated the film more positively. A report from the review site Rotten Tomatoes found that 66% of critics gave the film positive reviews; the consensus states: "The epitome of so-bad-it's-good cinema, Plan 9 From Outer Space is an unintentionally hilarious sci-fi "thriller" from anti-genius Ed Wood that is justly celebrated for its staggering ineptitude." Many of them stated that the film is simply too amusing to be considered the worst film ever made, claiming that its ineptitude added to its charm. There were also claims that the director managed to convey some interesting ideas. As of 2011, Plan 9 has failed to place in the IMDb Bottom 100, a list compiled using average scores given by Internet Movie Database users, though some of Wood's other movies have. In 1996, the film received a salute by author of the Cult Flicks and Trash Pics edition of VideoHound, in which it is stated that "The film has become so famous for its own badness that it's now beyond criticism."
The film's title was the inspiration for the name of Bell Labs' successor to the Unix operating system. Plan 9 from Bell Labs was developed over several years starting in the mid-1980s and released to the general public in 1995.
In 1996, Paul Mandell produced a Compact Disc (CD) that recreated the musical score from the film; the CD was released by the now-defunct Retrosonic Corp. In 1997, David G. Smith wrote and composed the music for Plan 9 from Outer Space: The Musical.
In 2006, a stage adaptation of the film, Plan LIVE from Outer Space!, was staged in the Toronto Fringe Festival. The play was written by James Gordon Taylor (based entirely on Wood's script). The play won a Canadian Comedy Award the following year.
In the Seinfeld episode titled "The Chinese Restaurant", the whole story line of the episode involves eating at a Chinese restaurant before going to the movies to see Plan 9 from Outer Space.
In 1991, Eternity Comics released a three-issue series titled Plan 9 from Outer Space: Thirty Years Later!, which served as an unofficial sequel to the film.
An adventure game of the same name was made in which the player must recover the film from Lugosi's double, who has stolen it.
The film was included in live performances at the SF Sketchfest by The Film Crew, composed of former Mystery Science Theater 3000 cast members Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. A commentary based on these performances was released by RiffTrax, advertised as a "Three Riffer Edition", due to the fact that Nelson's solo commentary for the film's colorized DVD release had already been sold as an audio file on the Rifftrax website. On August 20, 2009, the RiffTrax trio performed the commentary at a live event in Nashville, Tennessee, and the performance was broadcast to theaters across the United States.
The 1994 film Ed Wood is an American comedy-drama biopic, directed and produced by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, that depicts Ed Wood's creation of Plan 9 from Outer Space.
In 2006, Legend Films released a colorized version of Plan 9 from Outer Space on DVD. Though the colorization process was largely done straight, unlike the campy bright colors used in the studio's release of Reefer Madness, there were a few alterations. Legend had auctioned off the opportunity to insert new material into the film through two auctions on eBay. The first allowed the auction winner to provide a photograph that is digitally inserted into part of the scene between the Ghoul Man and Paula Trent. The second allowed the winner to have his or her name placed on a gravestone during a scene with Wood regular Tor Johnson. The third alteration is at a point where Eros gets punched and his skin briefly turns green.
The Legend Films colorized release was screened in Atlanta, Georgia at the Plaza Theatre on September 9, 2006, and was hosted live by Elvira impersonator Patterson Lundquist with a live running commentary. As a part of the promotion sets of the autographed Michael J. Nelson DVD were given away as prizes. The event was featured in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and served as the grand re-opening of the theatre, which had fallen on hard times under previous ownership.
Autographed pre-release copies of the DVD were made available in 2005, and the colorized version was also given special theatrical screenings at various theaters throughout the United States, including the Castro Theatre. The DVD featured an audio commentary track by comedian Michael J. Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame, in which he heckles, or "riffs" the film in a style similar to an episode of the series, a restored black-and-white version of Plan 9, a home video of Wood in drag performing a striptease (Wood, in real life, was a transvestite), a subtitled information track and a comedic feature narrated by Nelson detailing the "lost" Plans 1–8. The autographed edition also came with a limited edition air freshener. Nelson's commentary is also available through his company RiffTrax, where it can be downloaded as either an MP3 audio file or a DivX video file with the commentary embedded into the colorized version of the film.
The San Diego-based 3-D production/conversion studio PassmoreLab is currently working on a 3-D version of the original film.
In 1992, Plan 9 from Outer Space was the subject of a documentary called Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion, which is included on Image Entertainment's DVD edition of Plan 9. The documentary visits several locations related to the film, including the building with Ed Wood's former office (at 4477 Hollywood Blvd), and what was left of the small sound stage used for the film's interiors, which is down a small alley next to the Harvey Apartments at 5640 Santa Monica Boulevard. That same year, Rudolph Grey's book, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., was published, and contained anecdotes regarding the making of this film. Grey notes that participants in the original events sometimes contradict one another, but he relates each person's information for posterity regardless.
In 2006, another documentary by Kevin Sean Michaels, titled Vampira: The Movie, chronicled Maila Nurmi's work with Wood and her role as television's first horror host.
Filmmaker Ernie Fosselius (of Hardware Wars fame) created the 2009 short film, Plan 9.1 from Outer Space, which featured hand-carved wooden puppets of the characters from the film. The puppets acted out the scenes along with the edited soundtrack of the original film.
As of September 2009, there are two additional proposed remakes:
Grave Robbers from Outer Space was written and directed by Christopher Kahler for Drunkenflesh Films.
The remake being produced by Darkstone Entertainment is being written and directed by John Johnson. The teaser trailer was released on the movie's official website on September 9, 2009. Horror host Mr. Lobo, Brian Krause and Internet celebrities Matt Sloan, Aaron Yonda, James Rolfe, Monique Dupree and Ryan Higa have been slated to perform in the movie. This film will be released on February 19, 2015 over Monster Pictures.