I suppose it’s debatable whether it can be considered a holiday treat to watch what is often called the worst movie ever made. Still, I did so over the Christmas break. Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space is a frequent nominee for worst film, and Wood himself an enigma. Disagreement over whether he really had such poor taste or whether he was hampered with budgets too small to achieve his goals seem to float around. Was he misunderstood or simply clueless? As many of us learn, breaking into big entertainment—whether it be film making, novel writing, or music performance—is a game of chance in which your chances are nearly nil. So we might have some appreciation for those like Wood who, perhaps lacking talent, press on anyway. Wood, who became an alcoholic, died in poverty, his work scorned.
Plan 9 from Outer Space is truly bad. Everything from the stilted writing to the wooden acting is risible. The idea that aliens are raising the dead to get world leaders to admit they’re there might give you a chuckle, but edit in previously shot footage of Bela Lugosi as a vampire, and confusion reigns. Lugosi, who also died in poverty, was no longer even alive when the movie was released. He and Wood had become friends. Despite all its obstacles, the film has a good message. The arrogance of humanity in assuming no higher beings could exist is still as much of a problem now as it was in the fifties. And interestingly enough, Wood throws God into the dialogue as well. There is even a Bible scene, if I ever get around to writing a sequel to Holy Horror.
At the end, the earthlings give a sigh of relief watching the flying saucer explode, even as they admit that the aliens are more intelligent and advanced than we are. There’s almost a parable here that still holds true in the United States, at least. We don’t like to listen to those who know more than we do, and after we defeat them we reflect on how they really were better equipped to handle things. It may not have been any consolation to Wood as he died at the age of 54, but his films would go on to gain substantial cult followings. I had been meaning to watch Plan 9 for many years, and now that I have my response is one of sympathy for a creative guy who simply didn’t have the means to do what he wanted to do. And yet he did it anyway. There’s almost a holiday feel to it.