Plan 9 from Outer Space – A Science Fiction Movie Review

War Pig has staked out the schlock sci-fi movie review corner but I hope he won’t mind if I try my hand at the grand daddy of all bad sci fi movies.

Summarizing the plot of Plan 9 is absurd.  Aliens have become alarmed by Earth’s increasingly powerful weapons and try to contact us to warn us of our danger.  But allegedly, we refuse to acknowledge they are even there so they proceeded to attack us.  But the first eight plans are ineffective so that leads to “Plan 9,” namely, resurrecting the dead.  Now the resurrected dead are murdering the citizenry and generally causing trouble.  Finally, the police, an army officer and an airline pilot join forces to find the alien space craft and destroy it.

Yes, the plot is idiotic but that is the least ridiculous aspect of this movie.  Everything about this movie fairly screams mental illness.  The movie begins with an invocation by the Narrator, Criswell.  Criswell appears to be a lunatic with his bizarre vocal delivery, oddly jelled hair and bedazzled tuxedo.  He tells us this is based on a true story and the guilty will be punished and the innocent rewarded, whatever that means.

In the next scene we see what looks like amateur footage of a frail looking Bela Lugosi attending a burial.  Then he is killed (off camera by a car crash sound effect).  This was necessary because this was all the footage of Lugosi they had.  He died before the movie was made and the producer/director/writer/editor, Ed Wood used this existing footage to allow Lugosi’s name to be tacked on the film.  Now Lugosi and his pre-deceased wife (Vampira) rise from the dead and start attacking the living.  But the fact that Lugosi was really dead meant that someone else had to portray “the Old Man.”  Luckily Ed Wood’s wife’s chiropractor, Tom Mason was available.  The fact that he was a foot taller, years younger and looked nothing like Lugosi was easily overcome by having Mason stoop over, and hold his Dracula cape in front of his face during all his scenes.

Vampira is a hoot with her wide-eyed stare, stiff armed zombie shamble and divided cleavage get-up.  Eventually when gigantic wrestler Tor Johnson is killed by Vampira and zombified he joins the other two ghouls as they stalk the living and stumble around the set.

One of my favorite scenes is where the flying saucers make their appearance.  Jeff Trent is an airline pilot.  He and his copilot are in the cockpit (or actually in a room with a curtain over the door).  They’re sitting on folding chairs and instead of the control yoke in front of him, each man has a piece of wood shaped like nothing in particular sticking out of the floor.  When they look out the window, we see three flying saucers that are pretty obviously wobbling on strings.

When the army counter attacks against these alien craft, we get to see a man in a military uniform, standing in a room, looking through binoculars as stock WW II footage of a rocket launcher unloads on something.  Now the flying saucers head back to their space station where the aliens provide an update to their leader.  And we find out about the earthlings’ bad manners in not acknowledging that the aliens even exist.

I won’t go into all the absurdities that crowd the whole length of this dopey masterpiece of schlock but I’ll cut to the climax.  The heroes enter the flying saucer and interrogate the saucer captain Eros and he tells them that the reason that he is killing earthlings is because “you’re stupid, stupid!”  So, he gets in a shouting match with Jeff Trent and eventually a fist fight.  And when Trent punches Eros and he bumps into a table with what looks like the guts of a 1930s vacuum tube radio on it, the radio bursts into flames and eventually burns the saucer and causes it to explode.  Now we return to Criswell who tells us what we’ve seen is based on fact but follows up by saying, “Can you prove it didn’t happen?”

Ed Wood must have known how awful this movie was but you can see that he lavished loving attention on some of the details like the credits.  The acting is abysmal when it isn’t non-existent.  The special effects are what you’d expect from a grammar school film maker.  Basically, this is a freak show.  But I have to confess that I can watch this about once every five years and enjoy it.  I recommend that every fan of 1950s science fiction movies watch it at least once in his life.

Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 2 – Dracula

Re-posted from October 2017

 

Dracula is the King of Monsters.  He is obviously royalty.  He has all the trappings.  His castle, his formal evening attire, even his diction and good manners.  He is called Count Dracula in the Universal film but his legend descends from a real prince.  Vlad III (the Impaler) was ruler of Wallachia in present day Romania.  He was called Dracul (Dragon) for his defense of Christians against the Turks but his cruelty against just about anyone he came in contact with was legendary.  The legend of the vampire (nosferatu) is central European in origin and goes back very far into the imagination of primitive people huddling in the dimly lit hovels and fearing the long winter nights for all the real and imagined terrors that lurked right at their doorsteps.

Bram Stoker took this legacy and created a gothic novel that followed the conventions of his time and populated it with upper class British characters right down to the damsel in distress and the square jawed leading man ready to save her from a fate literally worse than death.  It cried out for a stage adaption and of course it got it.  And then some.  Several productions were launched and in 1927 a company opened the play in the United States.  And interestingly enough three of the lead male parts reprised their roles in the Universal film, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Edward van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing and Herbert Bunston as Dr. Seward.

Let’s now look at the film.  What are its chief characteristics?  It’s an early talkie.  The sound is not perfect.  Whether an artifact of the age of the prints used or of the original production there is considerable background noise.  The sets for the most part are the studio versions of city streets and upper class drawing rooms.  The sets used for the village and castle in Transylvania are unconvincing but highly evocative.  My one pet peeve with Castle Dracula is that while showing all the creatures crawling around in the cellar we are given a good look at some armadillos.  These are New World creatures and what they would be doing in central Europe is very hard to imagine.  The set for Carfax Abbey is equally entertaining and in fact is probably built on the set for Castle Dracula used earlier.

With respect to the actors, they are exaggeratedly and understandably stagey.  After all, most of them were stage actors.  They exaggerate their words and gestures to such an extent that sometimes it appears to a modern audience as parody.  This is probably the result of both the stage and silent film legacy of most of the cast.  Probably the most entertaining performance is given by the Cockney Orderly who watches over the madman Renfield.  He is an exaggerated lower-class everyman who adds comic relief and a really terrible accent to the film.

And finally the special effects.  At one point, Renfield looks out the window of the stage coach he is travelling in to Castle Dracula and sees a bat flying above the horses.  It is hard to minimize how laughably pathetic it looks to anyone used to the magic that CGI can perform today.  I think the strings are actually visible, but maybe it was just my scornful imagination.  There is at least one more bat flyby in the film and it doesn’t improve over the first.  ‘Nuff said.

Okay, now I’ve run down everything about the film.  It sounds like a hot steaming mess.

 

Well, it is and it isn’t.  All that I’ve said is true.  But it still remains an entertaining experience.  It is a time capsule of what our great grandparents looked on as theater.  The British basis of what was considered civilized and urbane is on display.  And you can see the tension between reason and science on the one hand and the instinctual and irrational forces at work in the universe.  And it’s interesting to note how young women are the weak point in the rational structure being undermined by the powers of darkness.  Really the story isn’t that different from our own morality tales about the dissolution of the world of light into the abyss.  It’s only different in that it has a happy ending.  Today the forces of darkness would win and we would cheer them because of how cool they dress.  And the characters get to mouth some very entertaining lines.  In one exchange between the main protagonists Dracula declares in his best Transylvanian English, “You are wise for one who has not lived even one lifetime, Van Helsing.”  For me that’s worth the price of admittance right there.