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Plan 9 From Outer Space

Force Entertainment/Force Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 78 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Everybody has their own idea as to what is the worst film of all time, and many seem to believe Plan 9 From Outer Space is it - curiously even when they have never seen it (can you say "BAA"?)

The plot as such goes much like this. As their previous eight plans were thwarted, aliens have instigated their ninth, which involves raising the Earth's recently dead and controlling them via electronic doohickies, which somehow causes their charges to emanate a curious electronic beeping sound - so unfortunately you always know they're coming. So why the whole invasion thing then? They are trying to stop man discovering the solaranite bomb, which harnesses the power of the sun and in the wrong hands could see the end of life as we, or anybody else in the solar system for that matter, knows it.

So, UFOs terrorise airliners and cities, the army becomes involved, as do local police when strange things begin happening at the graveyard. Humans and aliens meet, whereby an impassioned, and not altogether untrue, discourse on the stupidity and arrogance of man's frightening gun-lust ensues. And that's pretty much it really.

"We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future."

There are many qualifiers for such an accolade as 'the worst film of all time'. Bad writing and acting, continuity problems, dodgy sets and props will usually be the main ones - and all these and more are here in spades. There's only a vague thread of plot, not helped in the least by Wood's desire to include completely irrelevant footage of Bela Lugosi, who after a tragic fall in fortunes passed away just before work on Plan 9 began, and some of the most preposterous and stilted dialogue you are ever likely to be confronted by. Anybody who has had the pleasure of viewing Tim Burton's film Ed Wood (hello, where's the DVD release?) will have more of an idea of what went on. Here was a man full of ideas, whose most driving passion was to make movies and entertain the masses. Ideas and talent aren’t always related, however, and Mr Wood is a classic example. Regardless he pushed on, and labouring under such minor hassles as next-to-no budget and a complete inability to attract attention from any possible combination of the words 'major' and 'Hollywood', it is testament to his drive that he managed to release one film, let alone the many that he in fact did. In the case of Plan 9 he managed to attract backing from the Baptist church of all people, necessitating a change in name of the film (it was originally Grave Robbers From Outer Space, however they deemed this sacrilegious), and this even required that all people involved with the film be baptised - something they readily did, as good an example as any of the loyalty and belief they had in Wood.

With Lugosi's demise a replacement actor was needed, so a non-actor chiropractor friend was brought in. The fact that he was about a foot taller than Lugosi, bears no resemblance to the man whatsoever and spends the entirety of his scenes traipsing about holding a cape over his face only adds to the ludicrous nature of all that's going on. But that's nothing! Sets that wobble, UFOs that also wobble (and they weren't hubcaps, ashtrays or anything else that has been suggested over the years, they were in fact UFO model kits), ensuing dialogue referring to them as cigar shaped, shadows appearing on the sky, an old man character inexplicably becoming a vampire, jumps between day and night and back again, recycled footage, people getting inadvertently stuck in graves and general slipshoddiness abounds throughout. Yet somehow Plan 9 is still compulsive and incredibly entertaining viewing.

  Video
Contract

What a pleasant surprise. Plan 9 has been digitally remastered from the original negative in all its black and white 'splendour', and considering the state it was obviously in, and the lack of love afforded it in the past, some pretty fabulous results have been achieved. Sure, there are speckles - but not nearly as many as other films that make their way to DVD of a similar vintage. Contrast and blacks are pretty impressive, and shadow detail whilst not stunning is still quite pleasing. The film was made in what essentially equates to full frame, and comes to as us such, without anamorphic enhancement.

  Audio
Contract

Understandably in mono, the soundtrack is pretty much what you'd expect from a no-budget film of the '50s. Regardless of quite the number of clicks and pops throughout, including an almost ear-slitting flatulent blast around the 68 minute that would have South Park's Terrance and Phillip in giggling fits for weeks, dialogue is remarkably clear most always. Realistically the bulk of criticism that can be levelled at the sound comes down to the original source, and once again the considerable budgetary constraints the film laboured under. Synch is pretty spot-on throughout, although one scene with a priest is rather curious…

The soundtrack is a fabulously melodramatic and seriously over the top affair, and curiously was the product of ten different musicians/composers. Wood's magpie-like nature at making do perhaps leading him to plunder so many sources?

  Extras
Contract

Some seriously funky animated menus abound throughout the extra features section, all with various subject matter and sound, and marred only in most cases by utterly horrendous looping. As far as extras go there is quite the smorgasbord - so let's bring on the cheese…

Documentary - Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: There's something to be said for a 110-minute documentary about a 78-minute film, and basically that's "bravo!". Made on an appropriately low budget by rabid fans Mark Patrick Carducci and Lee Harris, who produced, directed, wrote and also host this look behind the film, this is a wonderful insight into both the movie, and how seriously some fans take their objects of desire. Made in 1992, interviews with many involved with Plan 9 are featured here - from Vampira herself (with short, blonde hair!) to other actors such as Gregory Walcott and Paul Marco, a number of critics both for and against the film and even directors Joe Dante and Sam Raimi, who are rather silly. Visiting locations where the flick was made, presenting some fascinating script and background information and delving into the intriguing life of Ed Wood himself, anybody enamoured with Plan 9 should find this an absolute treat. Presented in full frame, video and audio are far from excellent, however the content does atone for these shortcomings immensely.

Saucer Vision: Able to be switched on or off, yet with no annotation whatsoever on what the hell it is supposed to do, the fact that this doesn't work at all posed quite the mystery at first. On further investigation, when activated it changes the subtitle stream on the film, and at various times a little flying saucer is *supposed* to come up on screen, whereby pressing the 'enter' button on your remote will branch off to a relevant section of the Flying Saucers Over Hollywood documentary. After testing on a number of machines and with various different copies of the disc, nobody could get this working, however. It is being investigated, so if and when we're notified of any outcome this review will be updated accordingly.

Biographies and filmographies: Wonderfully thorough looks at the careers of Bela Lugosi, Criswell, Vampira, Tor Johnson and Edward D Wood himself, only let down by the squished and quite infinitesimal font used to present the information. There is also much about other cast and crew, and curiously Vampira's bit has a jump to a section of the documentary where she speaks.

Edward D Wood trailers: Trailers in various states of incredible disrepair for Jailbait (1:16), Glen or Glenda (2:55), Bride of the Monster (1:31) and, of course, Plan 9 From Outer Space (1:56) - plus the opening from the unreleased to cinema (it sat in limbo as the lab bill wasn't paid until four years after Wood's death, hence no trailer) Night of the Ghouls (2:31).

Poster gallery: A collection of those glorious '50s-type B-grade advertisements for all of Wood's films (well, except Night of the Ghouls of course). There are also six lobby cards for Plan 9.

  Overall  
Contract

Who could believe such an effort would ever be made to preserve what has, perversely, become a truly classic movie? The mostly fabulous quality of the film's presentation, coupled with an often fascinating, incredibly well-researched documentary and quite thorough extras which should have fans drooling, marred only by the failure of the gimmicky 'Saucer Vision' feature to actually function (in itself kind of appropriate in the Woodian scheme of things) lend themselves to a DVD that offers great value to any fan of this film, Ed Wood, or b-grade films in general.

Love it or loathe it, Plan 9 From Outer Space is truly a terrific triumph of tenacity over talent.


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      And I quote...
    "Truly a terrific triumph of tenacity over talent..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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