Last night, a film society in Philadelphia held an outdoor double feature amongst the graves of Laurel Hill Cemetery, one of the most hands-down impressive historic cemeteries outside of Père Lachaise. First up was a home movie from the 1930s that randomly had footage of an exhumation at the cemetery. (Sadly, this sounds more exciting than it was. Maybe you had to watch it where you could really see what was going on, and without annoying color commentary from random people.) The second movie? Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Oh, Plan 9. Is it even possible to rate? On what basis is it even reviewable? Zero stars for the epic failure in all elements belonging to a movie; five stars for the cult classic status and sheer whack-ass charm. This is not merely a bad movie. This is a movie that is so bad that it’s engaging in a way that escapes every schlock filmmaker currently in Hollywood. Uwe Boll would slit his wrists over a cheap Pier One chalice and offer up six pints of blood to the devil if his movies could keep a mob of people uncomfortably seated on tombstones enthralled right up until the fade to black like this.
For those of you who know the movie exists but don’t actually know what it’s about, the plot (so to speak) is this. An alien race decides that Earth has gotten too technologically advanced in their weaponry and is now at grave risk of destroying The! Entire! Universe!. The Tallest of this alien race sends Alien Dude and Alien Chick, resplendent in their silver lamé pajamas, to… well, do something. I can’t decide whether they want to destroy the Earth or convince every government official to be Facebook friends with them. I think they tried peaceful contact first but the governments annoyed them so now they’re buzzing Los Angeles with UFOs.
They also have Plan 9. No, we are not told what happened to plans 1 through 8. Plan 9, as far as I can tell, consists of raising the dead and eventually having them march on the White House in a sort of Million Zombie March For Peace. Fortunately, some woman has just died (Vampira, whose unfortunate turn here mostly makes you wonder who decided to bury her in that dress). Her husband (Bela Lugosi) is grief-stricken for about thirty seconds until he walks in front of a car.
His funeral, by the way, is a comic tour de force rendered all the more sublime by its clear influence on such later film moments as the clown car full of atheists in Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter and, I don’t know, probably something in The Godfather. I would tell you about it but I don’t want to spoil it. Ordinarily I don’t care much about spoilers, but Plan 9 is so full of awesome little gems like this that you really have to come to unawares for their full effect.
Anyway. The aliens try to control Vampira, Bela Lugosi, and some huge pro-wrestler dude. They are, um, not good at it. Eventually they are tracked back to their lair by a posse consisting of Police Lieutenant, Pilot Dude, Idiot Cop, Random Army Guy, and Pilot Dude’s Wife, who is constantly referred to as “the girl” despite the fact that she’s got to be in her 30s. In the expository scene to end all expository scenes, Alien Dude reveals that humanity is on the verge of building a super weapon that will somehow blow up the sun. Because of particles. Then that will destroy everything the sun’s light reaches, which is The! Entire! Universe!. There was a metaphor about a tennis ball. I don’t know, Alien Dude’s physics were kind of suspect. Then he has sort of a nervous breakdown and the UFO randomly catches on fire.
There is not a single moment of this movie that is not staggeringly incompetent, and you will be entranced anyway. I was genuinely invested in whether or not Idiot Cop was going to manage to get himself killed. And what was going to befall the adorable tinfoil UFOs. And whether Vampira would at any point have anything more to do than wandering around with her arms stuck out in front of her and “Do I need to pick up milk at the store?” written all over her face. And how many times the footage of Bela Lugosi walking through a graveyard would be reused.
This movie is something everyone should experience at least once. In a graveyard, if you can swing it, with gorgeous monuments towering against the sky all around and the threat of a storm overhead. That just adds to the ambience.
So what’s the verdict? Fuck it, I’m giving Plan 9 five stars. Yes, you heard me. It’s a jaw-droppingly atrocious movie but a rollicking good time, and I like to reserve the 0-star rating for movies that make me hate humanity. See it; you won’t be sorry.