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Plan Nine From Outer Space (1957) – What Makes a Movie “So Bad It’s Good”?

(Plan 9 From Outer Space movie poster)

Media enthusiasts engaged with online communities are certainly familiar with the concept of “so bad it’s good”- a movie, book, album, or otherwise that attempts sincerity, but lacks talent and quality to the point where it ends up being unintentionally hilarious to watch.

Quite a few films are famous among enthusiasts of this sort of comedy “genre” in media. One big example includes The Room, the romantic drama directed by Tommy Wiseau with such bad acting and inexplicable writing you’ll be confused at every turn. Another notorious one is Troll 2, a film that suffers from its severe production difficulties (and wasn’t even created to be a sequel, being marketed as a successor to the 1986 film Troll at the very last second to boost ratings).

The film Plan Nine From Outer Space, directed by the infamous Ed Wood, is an older classic among this collectively ascribed category. Released in 1957 with cobbled-together money and props, the film, intended to be a science fiction horror story, ends up more like a comedy. It focuses on the people in San Fernando Valley, California being attacked by flying saucers, run by aliens who intend to take over the Earth by reviving the dead to attack (who are also bizarrely revived into vampires and ghouls in capes and dresses. Why not?)

It has all of the aspects typical of films with the “so bad it’s good” label; the acting is abominable, the special effects are distractingly fake and poorly put together, the writing is confusing and awkward, and the production history is bizarre. The flying saucers appear to be toys flown around the screen using a string; in fact, the string is visible in many of the shots. There’s narration at several points that feels like an attempt to be grand and fantastical, but instead falls into a state of being unreliable and confusingly misaligned with the plot.

In my honest opinion, as someone who has experienced plenty of so-bad-it’s-good media before, the movie itself did not catch my attention very much. However, the film, as well as Ed Wood’s movies in general, has garnered a cult following. I can understand why this is. My biggest takeaway from the film is that it makes you wonder how and why something like it gets made in the first place; it feels like something that would get halted before it would ever reach the big screen. This, in fact, is something that could be said for Ed Wood’s entire filmmaking career, which is a story that has captivated me very much.

Ed Wood was not well-known in life; his movies and scripts consistently failed to sell, and his movies were always laughingstocks to those who watched them. He only gained notoriety and a cult following long after his death in 1978, where it was found that just about every movie he made was about Plan Nine’s caliber. He would fund his films with random sources and execute grand ideas, usually only made by the biggest studios, with extremely low budgets. He wrote the scripts and often acted in his movies himself.

After learning about Ed Wood, you kind of gain a form of respect for him. His movies do have a charm to them that surpasses the objective quality; while most movie-makers wouldn’t dare try to do the things Wood did, I don’t believe you can dismiss him as a foolish, talentless nobody. Under the conditions he worked with, pushing through to see his ideas on the big screen anyway takes an extreme amount of bravery, even though they didn’t work out in the end.

Available for free watching on Tubi, Pluto TV, Roku, Sling TV, and YouTube, among others, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the fascinating result of Ed Wood’s oddness as a filmmaker and a good exemplar of what makes something “so bad it’s good”. Though it isn’t anything you could call “well-made” by any stretch of the imagination, you have to admire the dedication it takes to push through the creation of something that any ordinary person would see as a lost cause.

I have experience with sharing “so bad it’s good” content with a friend of mine, Caitlin Hainje. In this podcast-style interview, we discuss the extra history of the making of Plan Nine that I didn’t mention here. We also talk about connecting threads in what makes a movie hilarious to watch in all the wrong ways- mostly using the film Birdemic: Shock and Terror by James Nguyen, another notorious “so bad it’s good” film that we are both big fans of.

(*Correction for information stated in the podcast: In it, I stated the detail that “all of the cast and crew were strongly encouraged to get baptized” during the making. “All” is not accurate; it was just Wood and several other cast members.)

Link to podcast:

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About the Contributor
Charlotte Dykes
Charlotte Dykes, Writer
Charlotte Dykes is a 17-year-old senior at Bonner Springs High School. She is involved in the school's Scholars Bowl and is a member of the local orchestra. She enjoys analyzing media as well as writing her own stories. In her free time, other than writing, she enjoys playing video games, drawing, and hanging out with her friends.

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    Emily DykesApr 6, 2024 at 10:06 am

    I love this. I have to admire Ed Wood. Look up the narrator. The Amazing Crisswell. Interesting guy!