Sunday, June 12, 2011

Phil's recommendations for the National Film Registry: Part II: PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE-JUNE 11, 2011

Hello, and welcome to my series of film recommendations that I'm planning to submit to the National Film Registry. After viewing the amazing documentary THESE AMAZING SHADOWS a couple of months ago, I went to the Registry's website and noticed there were films that the Library of Congress should look into adding. As a result of this discovery, I decided to pick my own film recommendations that fulfills the criteria of the registry of being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant," while at the same time choosing films that might have been overlooked due to oversight, or of ignorance of the film's impact on culture and society.

For my second recommendation, the film I chose is a true cult classic, in every sense of the term. No other film has gained this much of a reputation, and is regarded as the worst film ever made in the history of cinema. However GLITTER is up there too, but it isn't as beloved as this film, made by the worst film director of all time as well. Yes my friends, can your heart stand the shocking facts about PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE?

Original Movie Poster (1959)
This film was the alpha and omega in the career of its director Edward D. Wood Jr. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York on October 10, 1924, he grew up watching movies, eventually moving out to Hollywood to become a famous director like his idol Orson Welles. In 1952, Wood got his break; writing, directing, and starring in his first film GLEN OR GLENDA. Two more films followed: Jail Bait and BRIDE OF THE ATOM. Both GLEN and MONSTER also starred his childhood hero Bela Lugosi, the man who created DRACULA and thus becoming a horror superstar. By the time Wood meet Lugosi in 1952, he was a washed up actor, addicted to methadone. However, the two became friends and Wood vowed to relaunch Lugosi's career. While shooting some silent film footage with Wood, Lugosi passed away on August 16, 1956. Shortly thereafter, Wood would use the footage of his late friend as the basis for his next film, a film that would garner him world wide attention decades later. Originally titled GRAVE ROBBERS FROM OUTER SPACE, the film was shot in 1956, but due to distribution problems, the film wasn't released until 1959.

What gives the film its charm is that it's really a bad film that was trying to be a good film. The camp factor for the film is off the charts. From the shoddy film sets, bewildering dialogue, overuse of stock footage, Lugosi's footage being used, then cut to his stand-in who covers up his face, Vampire and Tor Johnson walk around a really fake looking graveyard set that the tombstones keep falling over, numerous continuity errors that you can shake a stick at, and of course, the flying saucers being held on strings. However, give credit where credit's due. Ed Wood was able to make his films, albeit inept and unexplainable. You will never mistake his films for any other director. He is, what we call in the film world, a true film auteur. But unfortunately, Wood would never see how popular he and his films would become. Wood's life was a sad story that came to an end on December 10, 1978.

Edward D. Wood Jr.
Two years later, authors Michael and Harry Medved released their book THE GOLDEN TURKEY AWARDS. In it, they dubbed PLAN 9 "the worst movie ever made." Wood himself was given the Golden Turkey award as being the worst director ever. Out of this negativity grew a cult classic. Soon everybody in the world was in love with Wood and all his films, including PLAN 9. Film festivals were held in his honor, midnight shows popped up all over the country to screen his movies, his name itself become part of the lexicon of bad movies, ranking with other cult directors such as John Waters, Roger Corman, and Russ Myers.

But what makes this film so important is the enormous impact it's had on pop culture. There isn't one person on this planet that has not heard or seen PLAN 9. The film has been referenced on TV shows such as SEINFELD and THE X-FILES. The punk rock group The Misfits named their record label Plan 9 Records after the film.  Part of the film was lifted for the video game Destroy All Humans! The documentary film FLYING SAUCERS OVER HOLLYWOOD: THE PLAN 9 COMPANION is notable for running a half hour longer than the film itself. Author Rudolf Grey's book NIGHTMARE IN ECSTASY: THE LIFE AND ART OF EDWARD D. WOOD JR. was released in 1992. Two years later, director Tim Burton brought Wood's life story to the big screen. His film ED WOOD starred Johnny Deep as Wood, Martin Landau as Lugosi (who would win an Oscar for his role) , Sarah Jessica Parker as Wood's girlfriend Dolores Fuller, and Patricia Arquette as Wood's wife Kathy. Long after his death, Ed Wood finally became a Hollywood icon.

Though he never lived to see how much of an impact he made on the world, it is nice to know that somewhere out there in the world, someone is watching PLAN 9 right now and he or she is having a good time watching it. No other film can lay claim as being THE greatest cult classic film of all time. Before her death on June 26, 2006,  Kathy Wood once said of her late husband, "Despite all the sadness he went through in his life, Eddie was triumphant in the end." This is why PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE should be part of the National Film Registry.

PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE is available on DVD. To purchase a copy for yourself, or any other of Ed Wood's films, visit

To learn more about the National Film Registry, visit their website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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