Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

This year has been a challenging one. My schedule, both at home, and at work, changed in a lot of ways, sometimes making watching films for this series (and in general) difficult. I was behind much of the time.

Yet, I persevered, mainly because I just enjoy doing this series too much. This year, I decided to do a couple of things different, first in my selection of filmmaker, then in my selection of films themselves. On the first front, I decided to go to the other end of the spectrum from Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, and Bergman to one of the least acclaimed of all directors, a choice I will duplicate in the future. On the second front, I culled many of my selections to review this year from suggestions by friends; not as many as I would have liked, but I still have a lot of good, interesting choices for the coming years.

In 2013, I’ll be focusing on a couple of things: 1) reviewing films I’ve wanted to for a while, and 2) reviewing them in a timely manner. For now, though, I will close out 2012 with my review of Ed Wood’s most famous movie, “Plan 9 From Outer Space”. I hope everyone has continued to enjoy this series, because it’s here to stay. Have a safe New Year ahead!

Brian Skutle

“Plan 9 From Outer Space”– F
Just as “Citizen Kane” has found a reputation as the “official” greatest film of all-time, Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is the “official” worst film of all-time. Of course, anyone with even a general knowledge of film history, let alone many years of watching “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” can tell you that Wood’s most famous film is hardly the worst movie ever made.

A big part of that is the fact that, simply, Wood’s films, and “Plan 9” in particular, are just too entertaining on a “so bad its good” level. (The exception being “Glen or Glenda?”, which is truly hideous by any standard.) Make no mistake– “Plan 9” is an inept piece of moviemaking by even the most lax standards of film critique, but Wood’s lack of ability as a filmmaker reach such absurd levels that it’s almost impossible not to enjoy watching his films.

How to describe the plot of “Plan 9?” Well, it involves a race of aliens who hope to enslave humanity by raising the dead, and turning them into an army against the living. Actually, that’s a pretty good summary of Wood’s story, which includes: a pilot and his wife, whose house is next to the graveyard where the events happen; a police force that seems as ineffectual as Stormtroppers; and a husband and wife (Bela Lugosi, who died shortly before filming began, and Vampira) who are among the first to be resurrected, along with a police inspector (Tor Johnson). I’d try to explain how all of these people and events fit into the overall puzzle, but it’s better to just see the film for yourself.

How to describe the film itself? It’s a hodgepodge of stock footage, set shooting, cheesy special effects, and sometimes-inappropriate stock music cues that, for the first 20-30 minutes, has breathless voiceover by Wood himself describing the events we’re seeing like an old newsreel like the ones Wood watched in the ’40s. The performances are all pretty bad on even the most basic level of acting, but there’s a crazy, almost surreal, disparity in tone from one actor to another that it’s impossible not to have a stupid smile on your face all the way through.

In the end, few bad movies– and yes, “Plan 9” is genuinely bad –are this entertaining. (I think “Troll 2,” another “official” non-masterpiece, might be the only one that surpasses it.) Fewer still give the viewer so many moments to justify being called “favorites.” Among mine include: the policeman who has little regard for waving his gun around; the opening scene with Lugosi smelling a flower; the aliens, in all their eccentricities; the adorable flying saucers on strings, and so many more. The fact that this film is so entertaining, even in its ineptness, is a credit to Wood himself, who probably wouldn’t have done much better even with more money and freedom, but his enthusiasm for the material drives the narrative (as slipshod as it is), and keeps us watching every step of the way. For that, I have nothing but respect for even this most infamous of filmmakers.

2012 “Movie a Week” Reviews
“Night of the Ghouls” (1958)
“Killer Klowns from Outer Space” (1988)
“Young Frankenstein” (1974)
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001)
“Frenzy” (1972)
“Star Wars: Episode VI- Return of the Jedi” (1983)
“Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” (2011)
“Sunset Blvd.” (1950)
“M*A*S*H” (1970)
“A Trip to the Moon” (1902)
“American Graffiti” (1973)
“The Running Man” (1987)
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937)
“Before Sunrise” (1995)
“Alien: Resurrection” (1997)
“City Lights” (1931)
“The Cameraman” (1928)
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1992)
“Batman Returns” (1992)
“The Fisher King” (1991)
“Men in Black” (1997)
“The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985)
“Alien” (1979)
“Showdown in Little Tokyo” (1991)
“A Better Tomorrow I & II” (1986 & 1988)
“The Million Dollar Hotel” (2000)
“Charade” (1963)
“An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn” (1998)
“Following” (1998)
“Repo! The Genetic Opera” (2008)
“Intolerance” (1916)
“The Bourne Identity” (2002)
“The Sacrifice” (1986)
“The Lady From Shanghai” (1948)
“Paprika” (2006)
“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984)
“A Clockwork Orange” (1971)
“The Seventh Seal” (1957)
“The Princess Bride” (1987)
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920)
“Friday the 13th” & “Friday the 13th: Part 2” (1980 & 1981)
“The Masque of the Red Death” (1964)
“The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
“Evil Dead II” (1987)
“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969)
“Amistad” (1997)
“The African Queen” (1951)
“Boxcar Bertha” (1972)
“Rashomon” (1950)
“The Lord of the Rings” (1978)
“A Few Good Men” (1992)
“Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1959)

See Brian’s list of 2009 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2010 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2011 “Movies a Week” here.

Categories: News, News - Movie A Week

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