Film Review: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Also known as: Grave Robbers From Outer Space, The Vampire’s Tomb (working titles)
Release Date: July 22nd, 1959
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: stock recordings compiled by Gordon Zahler
Cast: Criswell, Bela Lugosi, Gregory Walcott, Vampira, Lyle Talbot, Tor Johnson, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Tom Keene, Paul Marco, John “Bunny” Breckinridge, Conrad Brooks, Ed Wood (cameo)

Reynolds Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“But one thing’s sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.” – Lieutenant John Harper

I’ve reviewed several films by Ed Wood but I put off his most famous picture for quite awhile. I wanted to wait for a rainy day to revisit it. But then a friend and I got drunk and decided to watch the Rifftrax Live version of the film.

For those that don’t know, Ed Wood is widely considered to be the worst director of all-time. Frankly, that’s bullshit, as there are many directors who are much worse than Wood. He just got famous for being bad. And yes, his films aren’t good but Wood was able to get his enthusiasm and love across, even if his movies were cheap, terribly acted, terribly directed and had scenarios that were hardly believable even for 1950s science fiction.

There is a charm to Wood’s pictures and Plan 9 From Outer Space wears that charm on its sleeve. It’s a jumbled mess of a lot of ideas, crashing together and competing with one another but Wood’s ambition here is hard to deny.

I always felt like Wood was someone that just needed a good creative partner to help steer his projects and refine them. Ed Wood was the ultimate fanboy and everything he made was a sort of mashup of all the things he was a hardcore fan of. It all just lacks refinement and a budget… and sometimes common sense and continuity.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is Wood’s magnum opus and it has the best cast that he was ever able to assemble. Okay, maybe they weren’t talented from an acting standpoint but he got known icons in the movie like Tor Johnson, Criswell, Vampira and Bela Lugosi, who died before this was actually made but shot footage with Wood for a future project.

As bad of a film as Plan 9 is, it isn’t unwatchable. Okay, it may be unwatchable for a modern audience that doesn’t understand the context of what this is, how it came to be and the legend of the man behind it. But with that being said, you don’t try to push Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on an audience that happily paid to see Transformers 5. For those that understand and appreciate things like this, it’s a worthwhile motion picture to experience.

There are aliens, vampires, ghouls, UFOs and an airplane cockpit that looks like it’s from the set of an elementary school play. There are a lot of things to love about this picture, if you’re into cheesy ’50s sci-fi and horror.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is something special. It has stood the test of time because of its flaws and how its director has become a legend of sorts. But maybe its still talked about because it has a bit of magic in it too.

I would suggest watching the biopic Ed Wood to understand the context of the film and its backstory. Plus, Ed Wood is one of my favorite movies of all-time and is still Tim Burton’s best.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ed Wood films from the era: Bride of the MonsterNight of the Ghouls and Glen or Glenda? Also, the biopic Ed Wood, which was directed by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp as Wood.

Film Review: The Sinister Urge (1960)

Release Date: December 8th, 1960
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: Manuel Francisco
Cast: Kenne Duncan, James “Duke” Moore, Jean Fontaine, Carl Anthony, Dino Fantini, Jeanne Willardson, Harvey B. Dunn, Reed Howes, Fred Mason, Conrad Brooks

Headliner Productions, 71 Minutes

Review:

“Are gangster and horror films all you produce?” – Mary Smith

Ed Wood is considered one of the worst directors of all-time. However, with that title, came a certain kind of recognition and a strange appreciation for some of his work. His unique story also led to a great biopic, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and a slew of other great actors.

But for as much as Plan 9 From Outer Space is beloved for its faults and strangeness, The Sinister Urge should be shunned for its utter awfulness and complete lack of anything endearing or exciting.

I’ve seen several of Wood’s films and I am a fan of his work, when it is at its most creative and quirky. Unfortunately, The Sinister Urge lacks those things that make other Wood films palatable.

Wood’s script is one of his worst and that says a lot.

The plot is about a serial killer that is picking off actresses from smut films. The killer works for a porno ring that uses him to murder actresses that threaten the business. Jean Fontaine plays Gloria Henderson, the woman who runs the business and has ties to the mob. She takes advantage of young wannabe starlets and pushes them into smut pictures. While this could be a decent setup, the script is so dull and uneventful that the only way you can remotely sit through this thing is by watching the version featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

There are some people that think that Ed Wood was some sort of mastermind that knew what he was doing. They think that his movies were made to be bad, deliberately. As if he could foresee the legend he would become posthumously. The Sinister Urge is a pretty strong counterargument to that theory. It is the worst kind of schlock imaginable and doesn’t even come close to his more endearing work.

I like Ed Wood and I actually respect some of his films for what they are but this is not one of the films worth respecting. There is nothing enjoyable or entertaining about it. For those who have seen his more famous movies before this, this one is a damn disappointment and starts to make things clearer as to why he couldn’t really get good work in Hollywood.

So, yes, this does need to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read that this is a “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Book Review: ‘Ed Wood: Nightmare of Ecstasy (The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr.)’ by Rudolph Grey

Nightmare of Ecstasy is the book that inspired the great Tim Burton film Ed Wood. If you are a fan of that film or just an aficionado of Edward D. Wood Jr.’s work, this is certainly a must read.

The book obviously goes more in depth with the life and work of Ed Wood. While the film covers the time from when Wood made Glen or Glenda?Bride of the Monster and his most famous work Plan 9 From Outer Space, the book takes a look at his entire life. It nicely bookends the film with Wood’s backstory as well as everything that happened after Plan 9.

The book isn’t written like a typical biography. It is comprised of quotes from Wood’s friends, colleagues and family. The quotes are organized into chapters specific to certain points or projects in Wood’s life.

Nightmare of Ecstasy isn’t just Ed Wood’s story, however. The book is the tale of all of those interesting characters he had around him. It shines a light on his collaborators and really gives them life and something more intimate to connect to than the Ed Wood biopic. It gives intimate looks into the lives of Bela Lugosi, Criswell and a slew of others.

Most importantly, it gives personal accounts of Wood’s passion and what he was like behind the scenes. It talks about the creation of his movies, more in depth than the Burton film and it also showcases letters written by Wood to several of his friends and professional colleagues.

Nightmare of Ecstasy is a fun and entertaining read, especially for fans of Ed Wood or filmmaking in general.

Film Review: Ed Wood (1994)

Release Date: September 23rd, 1994 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Based on: Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, Max Casella, George “The Animal” Steele, Juliet Landau, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Korla Pandit, G.D. Spradlin

Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?” – Orson Welles

Ed Wood is a magnificent film. It is also the greatest thing Tim Burton has ever directed, which says a lot considering his massive body of work. I have also never enjoyed Johnny Depp and Martin Landau more. Additionally, the film features one of the best roles of Bill Murray’s career.

Shot in black and white, to mimic the time that Edward D. Wood Jr. lived in and the films he made, Ed Wood boasts some fantastic cinematography. It doesn’t just feel like a period piece shot in black and white as a gimmick, it actually has warmth, depth and is a character itself, within the film. It gives the movie a perfect tone and it is also matches up to the actual filmmaking work of Ed Wood, the director. When we see scenes being filmed for Plan 9 From Outer SpaceBride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda?, Tim Burton’s sets and visual tone match those films pretty flawlessly.

Martin Landau won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Ed Wood, as horror legend Bela Lugosi. It was a fantastic performance and the best of Landau’s storied career. While it was great seeing him recognized and this film as well, I feel like it was deserving of other nominations. It did also win for makeup, the only other category it was nominated for.

Everyone in the cast, top to bottom, gave some of the best performances of their careers. Johnny Depp was absolutely captivating and charismatic as the title character. He brought real life to the legendary persona of Wood. He connected with the audience, as well as long-time Wood fans and gave an exciting identity and character to the maestro of bad cinema. He was sympathetic and you wanted nothing more than for Wood to succeed, despite the odds being stacked against him and the limitations of his abilities. Depp’s Wood had passion and heart.

Bill Murray plays Wood’s friend, a transvestite wanting to be transsexual named Bunny Breckinridge. Breckinridge was a collaborator with Wood and played a role in his most famous film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Murray did a fine job with the part, committed to Bunny’s flamboyant personality and strong desire to become a woman. This is my favorite of Murray’s more serious roles. Granted, he still brings an element of comedy but this is the first real dramatic role I remember seeing him play. He had panache and delivered his dialogue brilliantly.

Jeffrey Jones was a perfect casting choice for the psychic conman Criswell. He looked the part, acted the part and conveyed him as a real showman. Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette both did good as the leading ladies: Parker for the first half of the film, Arquette for the latter. For the role of Tor Johnson, there really was no better choice than George “The Animal” Steele. Lisa Marie was a good Vampira and Max Casella was a nice addition to the cast, as he is a really good actor that I feel is still underutilized. Lastly, Juliet Landau plays a small role but she really nails it. She was quirky, smart and pretty mesmerizing.

Ed Wood is a film about imagination and creation. It is also about passion. While this is a very romanticized version of the director’s life and work, it makes one want to be a dreamer and to follow those dreams, despite the world standing in the way. It also shows Wood’s struggles with his identity and who he is and how it should be okay to embrace who you are and not be scrutinized for it. While Wood wasn’t a great filmmaker, he was still a man ahead of his time. Ed Wood, the man, shows that you can have artistic and creative brilliance, even if it isn’t executed in the best way. He is a hero for those with a creative intelligence that have a hard time cultivating it into something spectacular.

This is a great period piece and a stupendous showbiz biopic. It was some of the best work of every talented person involved in the picture. Ed Wood is a true classic and a perfect homage to the man, his life and his work. And frankly, it is one of my favorite films of all-time.

Film Review: The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

Release Date: May 2nd, 1961
Directed by: Coleman Francis
Written by: Coleman Francis
Music by: Gene Kauer, Irwin Nafshun, Al Remington
Cast: Tor Johnson, Douglas Mellor, Barbara Francis, Bing Stafford, Conrad Brooks

Cinema Associates, 54 Minutes

beastyuccaflatsReview:

Say what you will about Ed Wood but Coleman Francis makes him look like Peter Jackson. Luckily, for the sake of humanity, Francis only directed three films. The Beast of Yucca Flats is the first in his trilogy of cinematic diarrhea.

The film stars Tor Johnson, most famous for being a professional wrestler and the favorite monster brute of Ed Wood. He is just as lifeless and uncharismatic as he has ever been in Wood’s pictures. The rest of the cast is made up of people you will hope to never see again with a cameo and narration by director Coleman Francis.

The story is about a defecting Soviet scientist with a briefcase full of secrets. His American contacts are murdered by KGB agents, causing the scientist to flee into the Nevada desert. While wandering for a great distance, he is exposed to radiation on a nuclear test sight. The exposure turns him into a mindless killer brute with a skin condition that looks like a cosmetic facial mask that has been left on for far too long. And then he just grunts a lot, carries a big stick and moves with the speed of a slug caught in tree sap.

This is one of the dullest and least exciting movies I have ever seen. It is literally terrible in every way. The editing is probably the worst thing about the picture. The Beast of Yucca Flats transitions from scene-to-scene like a brick to the face. The sound is almost as bad as the editing. Honestly, you could write every aspect of a film down on a piece of paper, throw them in a hat and pull one out randomly and it could make an argument for worst thing about this movie.

In an effort to be objective, I guess I should point out a positive. So the one positive is that The Beast of Yucca Flats is only 54 minutes long. If I have to come up with a second positive, I should mention that it was featured in a really good episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Bride of the Monster (1955)

Release Date: May 11th, 1955 (USA)
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Alex Gordon, Ed Wood
Music by: Frank Worth
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Loretta King, Tony McCoy, Conrad Brooks (uncredited), Paul Marco

Banner Pictures, 75 Minutes

bride-of-the-monsterReview:

Ed Wood isn’t famous for making great films. In fact, he is famous because of how bad they are. However, Wood’s filmography has a certain charm to it. Their flaws are what defines them and regardless of the fruits of Ed Wood’s labor being somewhat rotten, his heart and his creativity are still at the forefront. Ed Wood was kind of like Rudy, the normal guy with big aspirations but without the necessary tools to fulfill his dream. And like Rudy, he always capitalized, as best as he could, on the opportunities given to him. Opportunities that presented themselves due to his unrelenting passion and drive.

Bride of the Monster is wedged between Wood’s better known films, Glen Or Glenda? and Plan 9 From Outer Space. It is also my favorite of Wood’s work.

This picture features Bela Lugosi more than the other Wood movies. It was also his last speaking role. He is the main villain, an evil scientist named Dr. Eric Vornoff. His scheme is to create a race of super humans and thus, abducts and then kills many men with his experiments. He is aided by a hulking mute named Lobo, who is played by professional wrestler Tor Johnson.

Bride of the Monster also features unnatural thunderstorms, swamp creatures like a snake and a stock footage crocodile. But the biggest monster of all is a huge octopus that the actors had to maneuver convincingly, as it attacked them. The octopus couldn’t move on its own due to it not having a motor to power its movements. All of this was covered pretty well in the 1994 Tim Burton biopic Ed Wood.

As can be expected from a Wood movie, the dialogue is bad, the acting is pretty atrocious, the editing is sloppy and there are more flaws than strengths. Despite all that, it still has great imagination behind it. The plot is layered and it has a lot of depth. However, it may have too many ideas competing against one another and thus, it is kind of a mess.

This certainly isn’t a film for everyone and honestly, it can probably only be enjoyed by those who know Ed Wood’s story. It’s not unwatchable but it isn’t as exciting as it could have been.

I’ve always felt that Wood could’ve turned out better films had he worked under better producers that could steer his vision and help him refine it. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t get that sort of gig, so he went out and made films anyway because it was his passion. While Plan 9 From Outer Space was his most ambitious picture, Bride of the Monster felt like it was closest to his heart.

The majority of the profits from this film went to Samuel Z. Arkoff, who Wood made a deal with in order to get distribution. Arkoff put those profits into the founding of American International Pictures, who were responsible for a ton of great horror, science fiction and blaxploitation films in the 50s, 60s and 70s. So, in some way, this film is historically significant.