By Claude Tate
I devoted one of my blog entries last fall to a movie, Raise the Red Lantern, which I felt was not only an excellent movie in and of itself, but a movie of educational value in that it provided a window onto traditional Confucian society in early 20th century China. In fact, I liked it so much I’ve used it a number of times in classes and recommended it on numerous occasions to my BLS students.
This blog is also devoted to a movie, but a very different kind of movie. This movie is far removed from an excellent movie. It’s a bad movie. A very bad movie. The general consensus is that it is the worst movie ever made. In fact, it is so bad that even some critics see it as good. For example, Phil Hall on his film review site, Rotten Tomatoes, said the exceptionally poor quality of the movie made him laugh so much, he could not put it at the top of his ‘worst of’ list. Another source, Videohound’s Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics, states that, “In fact, the film has become so famous for its own badness that it’s now beyond criticism.”
Also, this movie does not have the clear educational value that “Lantern” has. But if one defines educational value somewhat loosely—strike that, very loosely—it is not without some value. In fact, I used it on several occasions in a face to face class I used to teach entitled “US History Since 1945”. Since we had time in that class to go beyond the high points that one is limited to in the broad surveys, I tried to include things that would allow students to re-imagine what everyday life was like. Toward that end, when I covered the 1950s, among other things, I brought in clips of some of the old classic TV shows as well as some movies. The atomic bomb and the possibility of nuclear annihilation became a part of our lives during the ’50s, so there were a number of movies made that were built around that theme. Some were good, while others were not so good. We also really became very much aware of space during this ’50s, so a number of movies were made devoted to that theme. Again, some were good, while others were bad. While I mainly used clips, when there was time, I would try to work in an entire movie using one or both of those themes. I tried a couple of the really good ones, but film-making has changed quite a bit since then, so students didn’t seem to appreciate the quality of what they were seeing. So I decided to look for stinkers. Luckily, I not only found a stinker, the stench from this ‘masterpiece’ could encircle the earth several times over. Students generally really liked the movie, so I thought I would suggest it here.
It is (music please) Plan 9 From Outer Space (made in 1956, released in 1959). It is a horror movie that incorporated an invasion from outer space theme as aliens planned to conquer the earth by raising the dead against us. It was conceived, produced, written, and directed by the infamous Edward D. Wood, Jr. After years of criticism, in 1980 Michael Medved and Harry Medved named it the “worst movie ever made” and awarded it their Golden Turkey Award. That same year Ed Wood (who died in 1978) was also posthumously awarded the Golden Turkey Award as the worst director ever. I don’t know whether any of the actors in the movie received any ‘worst’ awards for their performances, but a number of them should have. It also played at a Worst Films Festival in New Orleans, figured prominently in an episode of Seinfeld, and was the centerpiece of the movie, Ed Wood, (1994) which was directed and produced by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, I don’t want to spoil the beauty of it by saying too much about the number of ‘gems’ it contains. But a few hints will not hurt. Bela Lugosi was going to make a comeback with this movie, but died after only a few test shots. Ed, ‘ingeniously’ included those few shots on a number of occasions in the movie. For other shots, his wife’s chiropractor, who looked nothing like Lugosi, was the stand in. That is why the DVD released through Image Entertainment, states “Almost Starring Bela Lugosi” on the cover. The special effects are also a thing of beauty as the flying saucers are campy even for the ’50s. And one just has to love how night turns to day and back to night in back to back scenes. But if you wish to know more, a plot summary can be found on “The Movie Club Annuals…” website.
I own the DVD. I just had to have a physical copy. But it is in the public domain, and can be accessed on YouTube here. You should also be able to download it from other sources.
By the way, Ed Wood made movies before and after this one. I have not seen them so I cannot attest to their quality, but given his talent for movie making he showed in Plan 9 and the titles, I would assume they are bad also. But movies evidently weren’t his only passion. He wrote a large number of books, which I have not read nor intend to, but from the sampling of titles I’ve seen, he seems to have been just as good at writing books as making movies. Ed also led an interesting personal life which you get some hint of in the movie, Ed Wood. If you want to find out more about Ed or his other “artistic” endeavors, you’re on your own. I’m only recommending Plan 9 From Outer Space.
If you plan to watch Plan 9, I would suggest you watch Ed Wood first. I think it will help you understand and appreciate both Ed and Plan 9 since it focuses on Ed’s early career and the making of this ‘masterpiece’. By the way, Ed Wood is a very good movie. It won two Academy Award, one for Best Supporting Actor (Martin Landau), and one for Best Makeup (Rick Baker, Ve Neill, and Yonlanda Tousseing). Unfortunately, this movie is not in the public domain so you will need to rent it.
I would also suggest you watch it with friends. It’s always more fun to see an awful flick with friends as they may see things to make fun of you may miss. So I guess it has value beyond just its dubious educational value. It’s a great excuse for friends to get together.