[Disclaimer: I make no claims about the validity of the information contained in this article. It is based entirely on researches I did in books and on the internet, as well as my own humble opinion. All copyrights are retained by their respective owners.]
No blog about the infamous B-movies of the fabulous fifties would be complete minus an account of that 1959 classic of corn, Plan 9 from Outer-Space, the magnum opus of the much-derided schlockmeister, Edward D. Wood Jr.
By now, the plot of this exercise in absurdity is known by practically everyone in the civilized world. This quirky, uneven tale of aliens using re-animated corpses to menace a gaggle of z-grade actors in order to prevent the destruction of the universe has been told and re-told.
Anyone who has seen director Tim Burton's 1994 biopic, Ed Wood, knows a little of Plan 9's background, and has an at least romantic picture of the bizarre troupe of individuals responsible for it.
In fact, so much has been written about this film that I was hesitant to blog about it at all. Anything I can say about Plan 9 has already been said, and by individuals possessing far more impressive credentials than I.
Rudolph Grey's 1992 biography, Nightmare in Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr., recalls the sordid details of Wood's life, including Plan 9's creation, in vivid, often lurid detail. Noted film historian, Tom Weaver, has discussed the film and Wood's career. Conservative film critic and author, Michael Medved, awarded Plan 9 and it's director his contemptuous Golden Turkey Award, naming Wood and Plan 9 the worst director and movie of all time respectively.
Plan 9 has been turned into a musical by David G. Smith. A stage play, titled Plan Live from Outer-Space, was produced in Canada, where it received a distinguished comedy award. A video game based on Plan 9 was put out in the1990s. At least two comic books were created which carried on the story.
Two remakes were in the works as of 2009. One from Drunken Flesh Films, the other by Dark Stone Entertainment. The latter is based on a script by John Johnson and features horror-host, Mr. Lobo, as Criswell. Other notables slated to appear in the remake are Matt Sloan, Aaron Yonda, James Rolfe, Ryan Higa, and the beautiful former Tromette, Monique Dupree.
The documentory, Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: the Plan 9 Companion, chronicles the film and visits the various locations in Santa Monica where Plan 9 was made. It is notable for being 30 minutes longer than the film itself.
Although Plan 9 was never riffed on the famed TV series, Mystery Science Theater 3000 due to Plan 9's popularity, Mike Nelson and his cohorts did contribute to one of Plan 9's several DVD releases.
Obviously, the sheer volume of articles, blogs, retrospectives, and commentaries published about Plan 9 staggers the imagination. It took me two days and fifteen pages of notes just to assemble what little I have here! Incredibly, more seems to have been written about this fifty year old z-grade schlocker than just about any film you'd care to name! This includes truly classic films, with well-deserved reputations! I guess being named worst movie of all time has been a blessing for Plan 9, even if that moniker isn't entirely accurate. (More on that later.)
If you were hanging around a grind-house theater in late summer of 1959, you would likely have spied the best thing about Plan 9... its poster! With art by Tom Jung, Plan 9's impressive poster features speeding jets, flying saucers, a sinister-looking alien man, a Dracula-like ghoul, the sexy, buxom Vampira, and some darn catchy taglines. The poster, in fact, was a work of art all by itself! (Most likley because Ed Wood had nothing to do with it!)
It is interesting to note that despite its release date, Plan 9 was actually filmed three years earlier. In the 1950s, it was common for low-rent producers like Wood, Tom Graeff, or Coleman Francis to have to delay release of their films until lab processing fees could be paid, or, as in this case, a distributor could be found.
There are conflicting reports on just when Plan 9 was actually shot, and how much was spent making it. Some sources claim it was shot on week ends over a period of several months spanning 1956 and 1957 (likely to accommodate actor's scedules) at a cost of over $60,000 dollars.
Other sources insist the entire film was shot in five days in late November of 1956 for under $20,000 dollars. (Possibly so Wood could take advantage of the Thanksgiving Holiday to keep the rented camera equipment for an extended period at no cost.)
While the former scenario is similar to what other cash-poor producers have done, such as Robert Clarke with The Hideous Sun-Demon (1959), or George Romero with Night of the Living Dead (1968), the latter example is more in keeping with Wood's frenetic pace.
According to Maila Nurmi, the sexy Finnish actress who played Vampira, the latter example was true, and that her scenes were filmed in just two hours for a flat fee of two hundred dollars! (Since her scenes consist of her merely walking around the set with her arms out-sretched, $200 bucks was a fat pay-check, especially in 1956!)
Whichever story is true, the film's first public screening occured at the Castro theater in 1957, completed thanks to the finacial backing of the Southern Baptist Convention. Interestingly, Wood complained that the Baptist backers were a nuisance during filming, demanding he omit lines of dialogue they deemed offensive, and even changing the film's title. Wood's original screenplay was called Grave Robbers from Outer-Space. Some of the backers even demanded to be cast in the film. Two appeared as the grave diggers murdered early on by Vampira. (off screen, no less!) A third appeared as a Reverend at Tor Johnson's funeral.
After its initial screening, the film was picked up by DCA, a distribution company who intended to release Plan 9 in the spring of 1958. However, DCA went belly-up just months later, causing Plan 9 to be shelved for over a year. Valiant Pictures, DCA's successor, finally released the film on a limited regional basis on July 22, 1959. At the time, the already three-year-old movie was not a commercial success.
A patch-work production from the word go, Plan 9 was allegedly assembled around a tiny dab of footage Wood had shot with his biggest star, the aged, morphine-addicted horror icon, Bela Lugosi, sometime in 1955. This scant footage consists of Lugosi at a funeral, then entering and exiting Tor Johnson's small house, and then hamming it up in a wooded location while wearing his infamous Dracula regalia.
Reportedly this footage, along with some lost scenes of Lugosi, were to be used in two other films Wood was planning prior to the advent of Plan 9. One was called The Ghoul Goes West, a horror-western that would have starred Gene Autry! And a second straight-horror film titled Tomb of the Vampire. Sadly, Lugosi died in 1956 before either film had been financed.
This left Wood in a lurch. His #1 star was dead, and he had two screenplays sitting. His answer? To write yet another screenplay, of course! One in which the scant Lugosi footage could safely nestle without having to carry the whole story. Thus was born Grave Robbers from Outer-Space, the screenplay that would morph into Plan 9, the movie Wood would describe as his "pride and Joy." (Oh boy!)
The film opens with bombastic and rather confusing narration from 1950s mock psychic, The Amazing Criswell. (who, of course, wasn't so amazing.) Criswell asks the viewers in his stentorian tones if their hearts can stand "the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer-space!" After the boisterous title sequence, a gem in and of itself, the story opens, still narrated by Criswell, as he tries his best to integrate the images of Lugosi into the story. Lugosi attends the funeral of his wife (Vampira). As he mourns hammily, he is unaware that she is watching from the nearby bushes, not so dead after all! After the funeral, the distraught Lugosi returns home. Then, as Criswell narrates, just as suddenly departs again, only to be crushed flat by a passing motorist. (off screen, of course, and accompanied by a chuckle-inducing shriek!)
Vampira, meantime, has been busy murdering the grave diggers who buried her. (off screen, again) [The grave diggers were two of the film's Baptist backers!] Their bodies are soon discovered by the mourners at Lugosi's subsequent funeral. (That's two of the three funeral sequences shot for this morbid little movie!) The corny cemetary set with its obvious black back-drop and cardboard headstones is a tough sell, especially since it looks nothing like the day-for-night out door footage of a real cemetary cut in at various times during these sequences. The overall effect is uneven and frequently confusing. Still, that's half the charm of this movie. The graveyard is so unreal it seems surreal at times, like a world caught in a perpetual state of Halloween!
Meanwhile, the film's dubious 'hero', air line pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) is flying a passenger plane in the least convincing cockpit set ever put on film. Suddenly, the plane is buzzed by a wobbly flying saucer, startling Trent and his dim-witted co-pilot, Dan (David DeMurring). The two and their stewardess cohort decide not to 'panic the passenger' by telling them about the encounter.
After the flight, Jeff is at home, sitting around on the patio with his wife, Paula (Mona McKinnon). She is curious why her brooding hubby is so quiet. After some prodding, Jeff breaks down and tells Paula about the saucer encounter, despite being ordered not to do so by officials from the Army. It seems our rugged fly-boy has an anarchist streak in him, at least at this stage of the film. Just as he admits he's bucking the Brass by talking about the incident, Jeff and his better half are knocked to the ground by a low-flying UFO, which then lands in that conspicuous graveyard. (Right next door to the Trent's home, conveniently!)
Meantime, Colonel Tom Edwards (western actor Tom Keene in his last film role) and his men are taking pot-shots at a pair of gingerly wobbling flying saucers via stock footage of soldiers using ground-to-ground mortar launcers. Later, Col. Edwards is sommoned to the office of General Roberts (Lyle Talbot) who allows the colonel to listen to recordings from the alien visitors. It seems the aliens are demanding that the Earth's leaders cease their destructive ways. This, of course, does not go over well with the military. (Bad for business and all that.) General Roberts orders Col. Edwards to fly to Hollywood and get to the bottom of the flying saucer mystery.
Back in the graveyard, the police are busy with a mystery of their own... the mauled grave diggers. Hulking Inspector Daniel Clay (Swedish wrestler, Tor Johnson) is in charge of the investigation. After some unintelligable babble with his flat-foot comrades, Clay marches off into the cemetary alone to look for clues. Of course, Vampira and the newly 'risen' Lugosi are waiting for him, and despite his mammoth girth, Clay succumbs to the two ghoul's. (By this point, Lugosi is now played by a double, Dr. Tom Mason, Ed wood's future wife's chiropractor!) Clay is found mauled to death by his fellow cops, now led by Lt. Harper (Duke Moore). Incredibly, Clay's funeral (The 3rd one in this movie!) is held apparently at once! The Reverend presiding over the funeral is another of those pesky Baptist backers we keep hearing about.
Meantime, our hero, Jeff Trent, is preparing for more flight duty. He reluctantly leaves his wife home alone. No sooner than Trent leaves, the Dracula-like Lugosi ghoul comes strolling casually into Mrs. Trent's bedroom! Keeping his face covered with his cape the whole time (to hide the fact it isn't Lugosi), the ghoul chases the nightgown-clad Paula out of the house and right into that irksome graveyard where all the fuss has been going on. Paula narrowly dodges Vampira and the freshly 'risen' Inspector Clay and escapes into a field. There, she is rescued by a passing motorist - a fat farmer played by Tor Johnson's son! (The scene where Paula is running in the field is rumored to be Wood in drag. He claimed the 'stunt' was too dangerous for a woman to perform, thus giving him an excuse to don that ladie's nightgown. Oi...)
While all this hulabaloo is going on, the flying saucers take the time to return to their refueling station, a goofy-looking glass matte painting that resembles the planet Saturn. The alien mission commander, Eros ( radio announcer Dudley Manlove), and his thick-thighed assistant, Tanna (Joanna Lee) report to their planet's ruler (Played by flamboyantly gay drag-queen and wealthy socialite John "Bunny" Breckinridge in his one and only film role.).
Breckinridge demands a progress report in a wildly over-the-top Shakspearian manner. Eros explains what they've done and has Tanna bring in the dead Inspector Clay to offer as proof. It seems Plan 9 involves shooting long-distance electrodes into the pineal and pituitary glands of the recent dead in order to revive and control them, facts Breckinridge blithely prattles off in his hauty, foppish dialect as if he were reading them off a grocery list.. (In fact, he's reading them right out of the script while on camera!)
However, when Tanna's controling electrode gun malfunctions, Clay's corpse nearly throttles Eros. The Ruler tells Tanna to drop the gun to the metal floor to break the contact. It works and Eros is spared in the nick of time. (Sadly.)
The Ruler decides to send Eros back to Earth alone to complete Plan 9, as he needs Eros's other two ships elsewhere. (Where is never addressed.) Surprised but undaunted, Eros accepts the decision. The Ruler then orders him to spare the Lugosi ghoul in order to force the humans to accept the alien's terms. The plan is to send the Lugosi ghoul into a home, then hit it with the ship's 'decomposure ray', which will cause the body to reduce to bones instantly. This, the Ruler dictates, will convince the silly Earth men to believe in the alien's superior power and force them to accept their demands.
Back on Earth, Col. Edwards is having a pow-wow with Lt. Harper and Jeff and Paula Trent on the Trents' patio. They discuss the flying saucers and their connection to the queer goings on in the nearby cemetary. As they chat, Kelton the cop (Played by Wood cohort, Paul Marco, who played Kelton in two other Wood productions) stands guard. Suddenly, the Lugosi ghoul comes striding onto the patio. Kelton and Harper unleash a volley of gunfire, but to no avail. Kelton is pimp-slapped unconcious by the Lugosi ghoul, and all seems lost for the others! (In this scene, Dr. Mason's Dracula cape comes undone, and he deftly pulls it back on while cold-cocking Kelton in the same move! And yes... it's as funny as it sounds!) Luckily for our heroes, just as they are about to get it, a ray emerges from a grove of trees in the graveyard and causes the Dracula ghoul to drop like a stone, now nothing but a skeleten!
This cute series of events finally prompts our manly gaggle of 'heroes' to grow a set and head into the cemetary to put a stop to these ghoulish goings on. Unknown to our heroes, Eros and Tanna are expecting them to do exactly that. When the group arrives in the graveyard (via patrol car... odd since the Trents live only feet from the place!), the men, armed with revolvers, embark to hunt down the aliens, leaving Paula at the car with Kelton where she'll be 'safe'. (Oh boy!)
Of course, she isn't. The moment the men are out of sight, the corpse of Inspector Clay sneaks up on Kelton (?!) and literally swats him into la-la land. Paula is then easy pickings. She conveniently faints, and is dragged out of the car and carried back to the alien ship.
Col. Edwards, Jeff and Lt. Harper, meantime, have located the ship. Eros is ready for them, and lets the Earth men inside for a chat. He turns on a language translation device called a 'dictal robatary', which will allow them to converse unhampered. (This is a step forward for Wood. Most cheapola SF films of the period, and even today, have the aliens speaking perfect English right out of the gate.) After some gruff threats and tiresome displays of machismo on Jeff and Harper's part, the conversation finally turns to the purpose of the alien's visit.
It seems the aliens are concerned about mans' preoccupation with explosives, and their habit of using them to make things dead, including each other -- a reasonable concern, considering mankinds' violent history. (Though Eros might have been a bit less condescending when confronting the men about it.) The alien goes on to explain that man might soon develop the 'solarbonite' bomb. (Or Solarmanite, or even Solarnite, depending on which review one reads.) According to Eros, Solarbonite actually explodes individual particles of sunlight, causing a chain reaction that will spread to the sun itself, and all the places the sun's light touches. In other words... total destruction! Eros points out quite correctly that no race has the right to do this, regardless of their aims, and goes on to explain that he has been sent to make sure it never happens.
Of course, the he-men of Earth have no qualms about building such a bomb, as Jeff Trent brashly boasts: "It'll make us an even stronger nation than now!" In reply, an understandabley irritated Eros points out Jeff's colossal stupidity in a somewhat less than tactful manner. Jeff, unsurprisingly, retaliates with the back of his ball-mitt sized hand. Angry, Eros reminds Trent that the dead Inspector Clay is outside with Trent's unconcious wife, ready to throttle her at a single command from the aliens. This stems Jeff's assault, for the moment.
Kelton, meanwhile, has come to, and with the aid of another witless cop, manages to cold-cock the corpse of Inspector Clay from behind with a stick the size of a Louisville Slugger. With Paula no longer in peril, as it were, Jeff is free to unleash all his pent-up rage on the spindle-legged, pot-bellied, middle-aged Eros.
Despite his obvious disadvantages, Eros puts up a pretty respectable fight! He grabs one of the ship's computer consoles (a WWII surplus radio) and tries to brain Trent with it. But Jeff clubs the much smaller man senseless, causing Eros to fling the console into the other radio parts piled on a nearby wooden table. (And yes... this is supposed to be the interior of an alien space craft.) For some reason, the now junked radio parts...er...computer consoles, burst into flames, causing the whole ship to catch fire.
The humans escape out the 'hatch' just before Tanna manages to get the flaming saucer airborne. The female alien tries desperately to revive her fallen companion, but to no avail. As the ship's cabin fills with smoke and fire, Tanna screams!
From the cemetary below, the humans watch as the fiery flying saucer explodes in a shower of sparks, putting an end to Plan 9 from Outer-Space. Man was now safe to go on conducting nuclear and worse tests without fear of pesky aliens, or their zombie henchmen, poking their noses in.
Whew! quite a story! Or quite a mess, depending on your disposition. Before I add my own humble musings about the movie, I feel it's appropriate to discuss some of the players in this flawed opus. These people, after all, and their bizarre life-styles are, in my opinion, the single most interesting thing about Plan 9.
We'll begin with the beautiful Finnish-American actress Maila Nurmi (1922-2008), best known to the world as the sexy, black-clad Vampira. Born and raised in a largely Finnish community in Ohio, Maila moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940s to become a model. She worked as a pin-up girl in mens' magazines, and as a hat-check girl in a night club on the Sunset Strip. She was 'discovered' at a costume party in Santa Monica by exploiter Hunt Stromberg, who hired Maila to host his new horror show on KABC TV.
The Vampira Show premiered on May 1st, 1954 at midnight, and was an instant success. So much so that it was expanded and, over the next two seasons, given an earlier and earlier time slot, exposing it to millions of viewers. It marked Maila as the first-ever horror hostess.
During this time, Maila briefly dated Hollywood legend James Dean. However, Dean later spoke disparagingly of Maila to sharp-tongued, slanderizing gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper (Mother of William Hopper, who played Paul Drake, side-kick to TV's Perry Mason).
In June of 1955, Maila was held captive and terrorized in her apartment for four hours by a crazed stalker. Fortunately, she managed to escape unharmed and call police.
In the early 1960s, after her Hollywood career went south, the curvy actress took up the trades, working as a flooring installer, and a carpenter!
In 1965, Maila opened Vampira's Attic, a boutique where she sold hand-made clothes and jewlery to stars such as Frank Zappa.
By the late 1970s, producers persueded Maila to start up The Vampira Show again, but had secretly hired sexy young actress, Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), to play the role. Maila was furious when she found out and sued. The producers changed the name of the show to Elvira's Midnight Macabre, and a new horror hostess was born. Sadly, Maila was denied her claim of copyright infringement in court.
Next, let's take a peek at Swedish wrestler, Tor Johnson (1903-1971). Coming to America from his native Sweden, Tor entered profesional wrestling in the 1920s. Billed as the Super Swedish Angel, he was a hit right from the start. At 400 pounds and possessing a 60 inch waist, Tor was a powerful and imposing figure, alleged to be the strongest man in wrestling. To look more menacing in the ring, Tor shaved off his blonde locks and remained bald his whole life.
Contrary to what Tim Burton's biopic, Ed Wood, implies, it was not Wood who introduced Tor to the movies. Tor had been playing strong-men and bullies in movies as far back as the 1930s.
A nice fellow by all accounts, Tor went on to play in two more Ed Wood films: Bride of the Monster (1955), and Night of the Ghouls (*1958). He also played the hulking brute in Coleman Francis's Beast of Yucca Flats (1961).
Tor died in 1971. Some time later, his Plan 9 visage was turned into a best-selling Halloween mask.
Easily the most colorful of Wood's associates was John "Bunny" Breckinridge (1903-1996). Breckinridge was born in Paris to a distinguished, wealthy family. His anscestors included such lauded types as Attorney General John Breckinridge, and Lloyd Tevis, founder of Wells Fargo bank.
Educated at Eton and Oxford, Breckinridge went on to work as a drag-queen in Paris in the 1920s. There, he briefly married a French Royal and had a daughter, Solange.
Very openly gay at a time when it was dangerous to be so, 'Bunny', as he was usually known, moved to San Francisco in 1928. For years, he wanted a sex change, but was always stopped from getting one by a myriad of bizarre circumstances. Frequently in trouble with the law on 'perversion' charges, Breckinridge was able to escape prosecution thanks primarily to his wealth and family name. (Although he was once commited to the Atascadero Hospital for the Criminally Insane for a period of one year.)
After his turn as the Ruler in Plan 9, his only film role, Breckinridge returned to the stage, where he specialized in Shakespeare. He was a friend of the 'free-love' movement in the 1960s, and was generally highly regarded by many young people of that period. He died in 1996.
Paul Marco (1927-2006) was a constant presence in Ed Wood's films. He played Kelton the cop in three films, known now to Wood fans as the Kelton Trilogy. Bride of the Monster (1955), Plan 9 from Outer-Space (1956-59), and Night of the Ghouls (1958-83). A Navy vetran Of World War II, Marco was a friend of Bunny Breckinridge and Criswell, the latter of whom introduced Paul to Ed Wood in 1952. (Breckinridge was living with Marco at the time.) The assosiation with the Ed Wood legacy would continue for the rest of Marco's life, as it does to this day with fellow Wood cohort, Conrad Brooks. Both made a living in their latter years due to thier involvement with Wood's projects. Marco died in 2006. But, as of this writing, Brooks is still alive and still involved in corny, direct-to-video movies.
Jeron "Criswell" Konig (1907-1982), better known simply as Criswell, was the 'psychic' narrator of Plan 9, and a truly bizarre individual. Konig grew up in a troubled home in Indianna with relatives who owned a funeral home. Konig claimed he slept in a coffin as a kid. He worked as a radio announcer for many years, making friends along the way with Korla Pandit and the buxom Mae West. Eventually, he secured a syndicated TV show called Criswell Predicts, where he made wild 'psychic predictions', most of which never came true. He predicted, for example, mass cannibalism and the end of the world in August of 1999. However, he also predicted (in a way) the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, claiming that "something would keep Kennedy from running for re-election." (Maybe it was Criswell on the Grassy Knoll! XD) He died in 1982.
Actor Lyle Talbot (1902-1996), who played General Roberts, was quite a guy. He began his Hollywood career as a handsome leading man in matinees of the 1930s, and moved on to character roles as he grew older. He was the first actor to ever play Lex Luthor in a live action film, Atom Man vs. Super Man. He also played Commisioner Gordon in a Batman serial. After helping to found the Screen Actor's Guild, he was released from his contract at Warners as a 'traitor'. He acted steadily, however, both in B-movies and on television for many years. He played almost every role imaginable. He had roles on Leave it to Beaver, and played Joe Randolph on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet for over a decade. His son, Stephen Talbot, played Gilbert Gates on Leave it to Beaver, and went on to produce the award-winning PBS series, Frontline. His other son, David Talbot, founded Salon.com. His grand daughter, Caitlin Talbot, is currently a working actress. Lyle Talbot passed away in 1996 at the age of 94.
Dudley Devere Manlove (1914-1996) who played the bombastic alien mission commander, Eros, had been a well-known radio announcer in the post war years. His stentorian voice was a familiar fixture on both radio and TV commercials of the era. Aside from Plan 9, Manlove also starred in Creation of the Humanoids (1962), a nifty little SF film with a strong anti-racist message that was way ahead of its time. Manlove, like an eerie number of Plan 9 vetrens, died in 1996. Hmm...
And last, but certainly not least... the big cheese himself--- that master of misguided misanthropy, Mr. Edward D. Wood Jr. Born in Poughkeepsie New York in 1924, Wood was a character right from the start. His mother had wanted a girl and frequently dressed a young Eddie is girly clothing. This habit stuck, and Wood remained a cross-dresser for the rest of his life.
At age 17, he joined the U.S. Marines, and subsequently fought in the Battle of Gaudalcanal. (He later claimed he was wearing a bra and panties under his uniform the whole time!) Wood was wounded during the war, losing his front teeth and getting a disfigured leg.
After the war, Wood spent time as a carnival 'freak-show' performer. He was a 'geek' and a 'bearded lady'.
All his life, Wood was a man of habits. He used 'soft drugs', drank heavily, and was addicted to sex. Although Wood was a transvestite, he maintained adamantly that he was neither homosexual, nor bisexual. In fact, prior to meeting and becoming involved with actress Delores Fuller, Wood was an avid womanizer. Fuller helped Wood to settle into a steady relationship, if only for a while.
Wood began his Hollywood career by writing and directing TV shows and low-brow westerns. In 1947, he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Casual Company, a stage play based loosely on his experiences in the U.S. Marines. The play was generally panned by the critics as an awful production. (Surprise, surprise!)
In 1953, Wood was hired by smut-producer George Weiss to film I Changed My Sex, the story of Christine Jorgensen. But, when Jorgensen refused to cooperate with Weiss, Wood wrote a new story which chronicled his life-long obsession with cross-dressing and angora sweaters. Titled Glen or Glenda, the film was made like a documentory of Wood's own odd life, and featured fantasy scenes of whipping and sexual bondage (added by Weiss, not Wood) similar to the work of fetish photographer, Irving Klaw, and his model, Bettie Paige.
Shot in four days for less than $26,000 dollars, Glen or Glenda was the film Wood claimed was "his own story." It also marked the first time he worked with his friend and #1 star, Bela Lugosi. Although Lugosi was unaware of the movie's premise, and merely played a creepy, God-like narrator who presided over the whole story. Rather like the Crypt Keeper from Tales from the Crypt.
In 1954, Wood pitched a TV series called Dr. Acula to one of the major networks. It would have starred Lugosi as a scientist who investigated weird and supernatural events. Sadly, the network passed on the project. (A shame, too! That actually sounded cool and would have been years ahead of its time!)
In 1955, Wood co-wrote The Atomic Monster with room mate, Alex Gordon. (Who went on to help Samuel Z. Arkoff found American International Pictures that same year.) Actually, Gordon wrote most of the story, and Wood took the credit. Wood changed the title to Bride of the Atom while he pitched it around Hollywood, looking for finacial backers.
Eventually, he received backing from a wealthy rancher and meat-packer named Donald McCoy. McCoy's son, Tony McCoy, was subsequently cast in the leading role. (hrrm...) But, despite being portrayed as a moron in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, Tony McCoy was easily the most capable actor to appear in Bride, aside from character actor, Harvey B. Dunn. (And Tony had never acted before!)
The picture was finally released under the title Bride of the Monster in mid 1955. And although a cheap production more closely resembling a 1940s horror film than one from the nuclear decade, Bride was easily Ed Wood's finest film. (Likely because Alex Gordon actually wrote it!) It was the only Ed Wood film released on schedule, and the only one to make a profit at the time of its release.
Wood followed Bride up with that little gem we've been dicussing, Plan 9 from Outer-Space.
Wood wrote and directed The Violent Years, which was about a lusty female gang. The film is noted for having a female on male rape scene! (Off camera, of course.) A boy is raped by the gang, while his girlfriend is stripped, bound and gagged with her own dress! Jean Moorehead, Playboy magazines' Miss October of 1955, stars in this one.
In 1958, Wood filmed Night of the Ghouls, a sort of semi-sequal to Bride of the Monster that featured Paul Marco and Tor Johnson reprising their roles of Kelton and Lobo from the earlier film. Due to unpaid lab fees, the movie was never released in theaters, and for decades was considered a lost film. In 1983, millionare Wade Williams discovered the movie at a processing lab where it had sat all that time. He paid the outstanding fees and released the film briefly to theaters later that year. He then released it to VHS.
In 1960, Wood made The Sinister Urge, a film purported to be an 'anti-pornography' movie. In it, a porn-obsessed psycho lurks around Hollywood, murdering random women.
In 1965, Wood wrote a semi-biography called Hollywood Rat-Race, a serious, (mostly) non-fiction cautionary tale aimed at young actors and actresses who were looking to break into the business. Reportedly his finest work, it wasn't published until 1998!
After the 1960s, Wood descended more and more into alcoholism and soft-core pornography films. He earned a living writing more than eighty lurid pulp novels, mostly crime dramas and sex yarns focusing on cross-dressing and sexual bondage.
Wood died of a heart attack in 1978 at the apartment of his friend, actor Peter Coe (House of Frankenstein, The Mummy's Curse ( Both 1944)). Wood's long-suffering wife, Kathy O'Hara Wood, whom he wed in 1956 after finishing Plan 9, stuck with the eccentric odd-ball for over twenty years. After Wood died, she never re-married.
An unfilmed script of Wood's, I Woke Up Early on the Day I Died, surfaced in the late 1990s. It was filmed verbatum in 1998 and features actors Billy Zane and Christina Ricci. Sadly, it has never been released in the U.S.
Wow! What a chore! 0_0 Who knew writing an account of a half-century old B-movie would be such a daunting challenge?! But, no movie retrospective would be complete without the author's own impressions of the film in question.
I'll begin by saying that, in spite of Michael Medved's 1980 proclamation, the idea that Plan 9 was the worst movie ever made is highly debatable. While a bad film on all levels, Plan 9 did possess a certain sense of imagination lacking in many far more elaborate films. Also, there are several contenders for the title of worst movie of all time, some even more odious than Plan 9.
Coleman Francis's Beast of Yucca Flats (with Tor Johnson) is easily worse than Plan 9. 1964's The Creeping Terror certainly is! (Lord!) As is 1959's Cape Canaveral Monsters. Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965), which has nothing to do with Frankenstein, will melt a brain in under a minute! And speaking of melting, although it creeped me out to no end in 1978, The Incredible Melting Man was a pretty awful movie, as well.
In fact, despite its off-the-wall premise and horrid production values, Plan 9 from Outer-Space is a pretty darn creative motion picture! Its plot elements clearly inspired George Romero to create a zombie empire with his Night of the Living Dead (1968). If Plan 9 had been handled by anyone other than Wood, it might have even been a good movie with a socially conscious message. It has one at its core, but Wood's sloppy writing and uneven direction mires it right off the bat.
The aliens, for example, have good intentions--- keeping a younger, less disciplined race from possibly ending life in our galaxy with their destructive habits. Given the horrendous arms race going on between the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the time Plan 9 was made, this theme could have easily translated as a call to disarm, a message expressed very well in Ishiro Honda's Gojira (1954).
Early on, this seems to be what Wood had in mind. The hero, Jeff Trent, is initially presented as an independent man who bucks authority and tells his wife about the saucers, despite military orders to the contrary. Likewise, Tom Keene's Colonel Tom Edwards also bucks the Brass by insisting flying saucers exist, even when warned it could mean a Court Marshal.
Yet, by the end of the film, Jeff is practically salavating over the possibility of developing the Solarbonite bomb, and Edwards seems wholly unconcerned over its destructive capabilities. Not the attitudes one would expect from men who, earlier in the movie, had used reason to reach their decisions rather than militaristic machismo.
Eros, too, changes abruptly at the end of the film. Earlier in the movie, he describes humans as "too controled", implying that his people were wiser, more free and open-minded. But, by the end, he's boasting of being a "soldier of his planet" and engaging in chest-thumping macho-babble himself, even going so far as to slap Tanna around when she interrupts him, implying that sexism was the order-of-the-day on his world.
It could be that Wood, fearing Cold War censorship, scuttled his socially concious metaphor deliberately, thus ushering Plan 9 into the crowded realm of 'aliens as the Red Menace' pictures that were so common in that period.
While possibly true, it's equally likely that the largely clueless Wood merely botched up the dialogue. Given his infamous ineptitude, it's hard to swallow that he'd have had the fore-thought to even include a socially concious message in Plan 9. Whether he did or didn't is a matter for debate, and given Plan 9's dubious reputation as a cinematic disaster, probably meaningless anyway.
In the end, all that matters about Plan 9 from Outer-Space is that it is a quirky piece of Hollywood history, made by the oddest bunch of eccentrics tinsel-town ever produced. Born in a period of cimematic innocense, it provides a slightly warped window into the time it was created-- a portal to the kitsch, the bizarre, the unexplainable. And, if you turn your brain off for 75 minutes or so, it's not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.
Don't forget the popcorn!
Take Care. ;)