On Plan 9 From Outer Space

Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space – a movie synonymous with “bad” filmmaking – turned 50 in 2009.  As a lover of bad movies, and as someone who lists the biopic Ed Wood as one of his favorite films of all time, I couldn’t believe this, er, rather notable anniversary barely received any notice.

With the rediscovery of Plan 9 in 1980, people understood the great hilarity of “bad” movies, paving the way for Mystery Science Theater down the road. 

Before the Razzies, there were the Golden Turkey Awards, founded by the Medved brothers, Harry and Michael, and they had a poll asking film fans to list the worst movies they’d ever seen. Plan 9 beat out Exorcist II: The Heretic by nine votes, and Ed Wood won for Worst Director, making him a household name, and again, synonymous with bad movies.

It’s too bad that Ed died in 1978, because like Van Gogh, he gained fame posthumously, and with a whole new audience checking out his work at the dawn of the VCR age. IMHO, I’m sure he would have loved it, even if people were laughing at his great masterpiece. 

And let’s face it, Plan 9 is really a hoot to watch.

As Michael Weldon wrote in the bad film bible The Psychotronic Encyclopedia, Plan 9 is “not actually the worst film ever made, but it’s the most entertaining bad one you’ll find.”

In 1994, Tim Burton directed Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp in the title role, and like the current documentary Corman’s World. Instead of making fun of these movies, it celebrates their ingenuity, and leaves you feeling inspired that these filmmakers were able to get their movies made, no matter how low the budget, or how difficult the odds.

Wood was written by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, who subsequently penned The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, and 1408. 

“We feel like we’re the bastard godfathers of Behind the Music and the E! Hollywood True Story,” says Karaszewski.

“Looking back on it, we sort of feel like we opened the floodgates and invented the genre of true life movies about freaky, marginal people,” says Alexander. “We wrote the script for Ed Wood in 1992. Back then, if you wanted to make a biopic, you made Gandhi. Going for the people who were in the cracks just was not being done, and those were the people that fascinated us the most.”

Working on low budget movies when they were starting out, and having written the first Problem Child screenplay, which turned into a horrendous mess out of their hands, Larry and Scott knew how tough it is to get any movie made at all, good or bad.

“When we wrote the Problem Child movies, we didn’t set out to write crap,” Alexander says. “We set out to write a clever black comedy about parenting, and a couple of years later, it turned into this piece of garbage that people really liked. Nobody sets out to make bad movies; everyone wants to make a great movie. 

“Once you get a hundred people together, and after years of work, it’s easy for people to lose the ball and forget why they’re making it. They’re just trying to survive the experience. Ed Wood directed half a dozen features. That’s pretty good for someone who came out to Hollywood to break into the movies. Most people who come out to be directors don’t direct anything.”