Intergalactic aliens have tried and failed to destroy planet Earth eight times previously - now they launch Plan 9, which involves bringing the dead back to life. Flying saucers are sent into Earth's atmosphere and despite the might of the military, the aliens manage to resurrect three corpses - can nothing stop these grave robbers from outer space?
Here we have an instance of the story behind the film being just as interesting as the results up on the screen. Writer-producer-director Edward D. Wood Jr earned the crown of "Worst Director of All Time" due to his output, with Plan 9 regarded as his greatest achievement. Although it had had a minor cult following before, it wasn't until the late seventies and the Medved Brothers' Golden Turkey Awards that this would-be science fiction epic received the attention it really deserved.
Ed Wood had a couple of minutes of home movie footage of his late friend Bela Lugosi posing in his Dracula cape and built Plan 9 around it. The amateur nature of this enterprise didn't stop there: Lugosi's double covered up the fact he looked nothing like him by covering his face with his cloak - nobody was convinced. Wood's special way with dialogue ensured that even a talented cast would have had trouble with lines like "Inspector Clay's dead. Murdered. And somebody's responsible" or "Visits? That would indicate visitors!" Fortunately, a talented cast was not available.
The tiny budget means that sets are risibly minimal (an aeroplane cockpit is just two seats and a steering wheel) and when actors make mistakes they're kept in (knocking over a tombstone, for example). Night turns to day and back again in the space of single scenes, the flying saucers are obviously hubcaps on wires and there are many absurd details to relish, such as an undead Tor Johnson struggling to get out of his grave or self-styled psychic Criswell's overblown narration. Also, if the wife of the "old man" looks like Vampira now that she's a zombie, what the hell did she look like when she was alive?!
There's an element of sadness, too, seeing as how this was the level to which Lugosi had fallen in his final years; and also because Wood died just before his best-known film really took off in pop culure. Plan 9 has similar anti-"misuse of technology" concerns to sci-fi movies of its time, with the aliens out to stop Earth from creating bigger and more destructive weapons, but this message gets understandably lost - especially when delivered by one of the most patronising aliens of all time. "You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!"
It seems unfair to call Plan 9 the worst movie ever made, because, although it's inept in every department, it does what it sets out to do - entertain. It may look like a filmed play intercut with as much stock footage as Wood could get his hands on, but it's sheer incompetence makes it oddly lovable and it's packed with incident. At least they tried, eh? Watch for: my favourite character, "His Excellency" the alien leader, surely the most half-hearted villain in sci-fi movies, reading his lines off cue cards and gesturing effeminately as he sends out one - count it, one - spaceship to destroy the Earth. What distinguishes Plan 9 is that now it seems like most people's impression of what fifties science fiction was like on the big screen: low budget, ludicrous, ripe for lampooning, which does a lot of its contemporaries a disservice. But you'll forgive it anyway.
Wood's career opportunities got worse as he drifted into writing softcore porn like Orgy of the Dead, and he eventually became an alcoholic. Sadly, he died just before receiving the peculiar adulation his eccentric movies deserved. Also the author of many pulp novels.