Cult Movies

Cult Movie Essentials: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Plan 9 from Outer Space (originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space, or simply known as Plan 9) is a 1959 American science fiction thriller film written and directed by Ed Wood and released by Distributors Corporation of America (as Valiant Pictures). The film stars Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Tor Johnson and Maila “Vampira” Nurmi. The film bills Bela Lugosi posthumously as a star, although silent footage of the actor had been shot by Wood for another, unfinished project just before Lugosi’s death in 1956.

The plot of the film involves extra-terrestrial beings who are seeking to stop humanity from creating a doomsday weapon that would destroy the universe. In the course of doing so, the aliens implement “Plan 9.” It’s a scheme to resurrect the Earth’s dead as what modern audiences would call zombies (but called “ghouls” in the film itself) causing chaos in order to get the planet’s attention.

The film opens with an introduction by Criswell: “Greetings my friends! We are all interested in the future, For that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives! …”. Criswell was the star of Criswell Predicts on KLAC Channel 13 (now KCOP-13), and the introduction could be an allusion to the opening lines of his show. Since no episodes of the television show are known to survive, a full comparison between them seems impossible. Craig suggests that Criswell’ public persona was based on the style of a charismatic preacher, perhaps influenced by early televangelists. Criswell addresses the viewers repeatedly as “my friends”, as if attempting to establish a bond between the speaker and the audience. The line is likely to derive from his show, and would not be out of place in a segment where a televangelist addresses his congregation.

Another phrase of the introduction “Future events such as these will affect you in the future“, served as a signature line for Criswell. He used it repeatedly in his newspaper and magazine columns, and probably his show as well.

Another line ascertains that the audience is interested in “the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable”, probably assuming that the film’s audience will have a fascination with the paranormal. The narrator at some point starts claiming that “we” (the filmmakers) are bringing to light the full story and evidence of fateful events, based on the “secret testimony” of the survivors. The lines seem to emulate the style of sensational headlines in newspapers, and promise the audiences access to “lurid secrets” as if following the example of True Confessions and other similar magazines. The notion that a film or show could be based on true incidents and testimony would be familiar to a 1950s audience, because it was used in contemporary police procedurals such as Dragnet.

Changing the tone, the narrator delivers the sermon-like lines: “Let us punish the guilty! Let us reward the innocent!”. Which again sound as if a preacher addresses his audience. The introduction concludes with the dramatic question: “Can your heart stand the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer space”. The latter phrase was simply the original title of the film, but the rest of the line seems again to emulate the sensationalist press.

Following the introduction, the narrative begins with a funeral in San Fernando Valley. A small group of mourners are gathered by an open grave, chief among them being an unnamed old man (Bela Lugosi). The narrator explains that this is the funeral of the old man’s wife. Two gravediggers stand nearby, waiting for the funeral to end and for their work in closing the grave to begin. The scene shifts from the graveyard to a Douglas DC-7 which is flying over the Valley, heading towards Burbank, California. The narrative introduces a pilot named Jeff Trent and his co-pilot Danny. Their seemingly routine flight takes a strange turn, when they are affected by a blinding light and accompanying loud sound. They look outside their plane and encounter a flying saucer. The stewardess Edie joins them in the cockpit and also sees the saucer. The camera leaves the plane and follows the saucer in its flight, until it lands at the graveyard. The gravediggers hear a strange noise and are spooked. They decide to leave the graveyard, but are attacked and killed by the resurrected corpse of the young woman. The scene fades out with the Vampire Girl, as she is called in the credits, moving towards them and the men screaming. The deaths are implied but remain unseen.

The following scene opens at the modest home of the old man. The old man steps outside and is seen lost in his thoughts of grief. He absent-mindedly steps into the path of an oncoming automobile and dies. At his funeral, mourners discover the corpses of the gravediggers. Inspector Daniel Clay and other police officers come to the cemetery to investigate. Clay distances himself from the others to conduct his own search.

The narrative shifts briefly to Jeff Trent and his wife Paula, who live near the graveyard. He listens to the sirens and then tells Paula about his flying saucer encounter, stating that the Army has sworn him to secrecy. At this point, a powerful wind knocks everyone at the Trent residence and the graveyard to the ground, and a spaceship lands nearby. At the graveyard, the old man rises from his grave. The isolated Clay encounters the Vampire Girl and the reanimated corpse of the old man. His bullets apparently have no effect on either of the two undead and he is killed. The police crew soon discovers his body and one of them delivers one of the best-remembered lines of the film “Inspector Clay’s dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible!”

In the weeks that follow, newspaper headlines report other flying saucer sightings. Including reports of them flying over Hollywood Boulevard. The camera depicts a trio of saucers flying over Los Angeles, including over the local headquarters of CBS, NBC, and ABC, the Mocambo (where a neon sign informs viewers that Eartha Kitt is performing), and over a restaurant owned by Larry Finley.

The scene shifts from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. and its vicinity, where the military fires missiles against the flying saucers. The narrative introduces the Chief of Saucer Operations, Col. Thomas Edwards. The saucers seem untouched by any of the weapons used against them, but still retreat. Edwards reveals that the government has been covering up the flying saucers, and wonders if the aliens are connected to other disasters on Earth. He mentions that one small town has already been annihilated, hinting at a secret history of previous encounters.

The aliens return to Space Station 7 for regeneration. Their commander, Eros, informs their ruler that he has attempted, unsuccessfully, to contact the governments of Earth. He says that to force the people of Earth to acknowledge his people’s existence, he is implementing Plan 9, which involves resurrecting the recently dead by stimulating their pituitary and pineal glands. The three alien ships return to Earth. Trent is about to leave home for another flight. Concerned for Paula’s safety, he urges her to stay with her mother while he’s gone, but she insists on staying home. While the film barely examines the married life of the Trents, there is one line of Paula which Craig finds suggestive and worthy of examination. In their parting scene, Paula explains that at nights she finds comfort in her absent husband’s pillow:”Sometimes at night, when it does get a little lonely, I reach over and touch it. ” Which underlines the absence of a living sexual partner for her, and her frequent loneliness while married. That night, the corpse of the old man rises from his crypt and sneaks into their house. Joined by the corpse of his wife and the newly resurrected Daniel Clay, he chases Paula through the cemetery. Paula collapses and is found by a passing motorist. All three zombies return to Eros’ ship, which lifts off.

 At the Pentagon, Gen. Roberts informs Edwards that the government has been receiving messages from the aliens. Roberts plays the last message, which has been translated into English by a recently invented “language computer”. In Eros’ voice it explains that the aliens are trying to prevent humanity from destroying the universe. The general sends Edwards to San Fernando, California, where most of the aliens’ activities have occurred. The next scene covers the introduction of the Ruler to one of the undead under alien command. The undead Clay attacks Eros and nearly kills him. The Ruler closer examines Clay and decides to sacrifice one of the undead, the old man, to further scare humanity. He has further plans of raising undead armies and marching them against the capitals of Earth.

In California, the police and Edwards interview the Trents about their experiences with the aliens. Unbeknownst to them, the alien saucer has returned to the graveyard. While waiting by the police car, Officer Kelton encounters the old man. The old man chases the officer to the Trents’ yard, where they shoot him, with no effect. The nearby aliens strike the old man with a ray, causing his body to decompose, leaving only his skeleton. Not knowing what to make of this, the Trents, Edwards, and the police decide to drive to the cemetery.

John Harper, nominally in charge, insists on leaving Paula behind in the car. There is a brief confrontation between the men and with Paula, as the woman refuses to stay alone. As a concession, Kelton is left behind to guard her. Paula still is unhappy with the decision of the group. This leaves Harper, Edwards and Jeff Trent to walk in the graveyard. Trent reveals himself capable of handling a gun, due to his four-years service at the United States Marine Corps.
Eros and fellow alien Tanna send Clay to kidnap Paula in order to lure the other three to their spaceship. Meanwhile, seeing a glow in the distance, Trent and the police head toward the ship. Kelton is easily incapacitated by Clay. Upon awakening, he calls for help, and Officer Larry comes to aid him.

Eros allows Trent and the police to enter, and they board with guns drawn. Eros tells them that human weapons development will inevitably lead to the discovery of solarbonite, a substance that has the effect of exploding “sunlight molecules”. A solarbonite explosion would set off a chain reaction that would destroy the entire universe. Eros believes humans are too immature to use this power, and intends to destroy mankind to prevent this.

Outside the ship, Clay arrives with Paula. Eros threatens to have her killed if they try to force him to go with them. Officers Kelton and Larry arrive and spot Clay with Paula. Realizing their guns are useless, they approach Clay from behind with a stick. Eros sees this and shuts off the ray controlling Clay, allowing Paula to go free. A fight ensues between Eros and Jeff, during which the ship’s delicate equipment is damaged, setting off a fire. The humans flee the ship, and Tanna flies it into the atmosphere. The flaming ship explodes, killing both aliens. As a consequence of the explosion, Clay and the female zombie are decomposed in the same manner as the old man.

Categories: Cult Movies

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