Plan 9 from Outer Space may not be pure bliss to watch, but you certainly can feel the bliss that writer-director Edward D. Wood Jr. must have experienced while making it.
What distinguishes Plan 9 from the other contenders for worst film of all time is the movie’s brazen sense of confidence, as well as the gap between that confidence and what is actually up on the screen. We’re only six years removed from the fairly impressive flying saucers of The War of the Worlds, after all, and here Wood proudly displays countless insert shots of his flying frying pans as if they represent a quantum leap forward in special-effects technology.
The plot, meanwhile, is inspired nonsense. “Grave robbers from space” begin re-animating the recently deceased, so that the threat on a small town is two-fold: the aliens themselves (Dudley Manlove and Joanna Lee, so oddly calm it’s as if they’re hosting a PBS pledge drive) and a trio of zombie-like corpses (Bela Lugosi, Vampira and Tor Johnson).
The plot is inspired nonsense.
Among the campy delights this set-up allows: strained attempts at voiceover poetry (“It was the sundown of the day, but also the sundown of the old man’s heart”); inappropriate costuming (John Breckinridge’s alien commander sports a medieval tunic); and awkward moments in which cast members stand around in uncertainty. (The movie runs 78 minutes but could be cut by a third if all the dead air was taken out.)
To be fair, both Vampira and Johnson deliver moments of effectively eerie imagery. Her eyebrows alone – arched like a tarantula’s leg – are something to behold, while his emergence from the grave takes the special effect of holding a flashlight beneath your chin to a whole other level. In these instances and others, Plan 9 exhibits a sense of pride that’s so pure and joyous it makes watching the movie, if not blissful, an invigorating cinematic experience.