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Plan 9 From Outer Space (Blu-ray Review)

28 Mar, 2012 By: John Latchem

Legend Films
$16.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Vampira, Gregory Walcott, Tom Keene, Dudley Manlove.

Written, directed and produced by the infamous Edward D. Wood, Plan 9 From Outer Space is so bad it’s sublime. It could almost pass as a parody of a bad movie if it didn’t take itself so seriously.

One need only compare the actual Plan 9 with Tim Burton’s attempts to re-create the film in his Ed Wood biopic. Burton does a good job conveying the cheapness of it all, but with a knowing smirk that underlines its cheesiness. The original is driven by an earnestness that suggests an intent far removed from the final result

Though released in 1959, the film was actually shot three years earlier and marks the final appearance of Bela Lugosi. The story involves aliens who reanimate the recent dead to terrorize a small town, hoping to prevent humanity from developing a weapon that will destroy the universe.

Wood crafted the script around using some test footage he had filmed with Lugosi for other projects that were shelved when the legendary actor died. This is the source of the most-derided aspect of the film, as Wood hired his wife’s chiropractor, who looked nothing like Lugosi, to pose as a stand-in with a cape covering his face, Dracula-style (a call-back to Lugosi’s most-famous role), wandering about a cemetery as one of the aliens’ reanimated corpses.

But there’s plenty more ineptness to love about Plan 9, such as dialogue that sounds like it was written by a fourth-grader, half-built sets, cheesy special effects involving flying saucers attached to strings, and the bizarre sight of wrestler Tor Johnson lurching around as a zombie.

And don’t forget the laughable introduction by Criswell, a semi-popular psychic at the time known for his bizarre predictions that almost never came true.

The film may have toiled in relative obscurity if not for being named the worst film of all time in the 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards by film critic Michael Medved and his brother Harry Medved, giving it a cult following. It later received further attention through a call out in several episodes of “Seinfeld.”

With all that working against it, the Blu-ray restoration actually looks pretty good for a 50-year-old public domain movie. The picture still shows signs of wear on the film, but a lot of the scratches and dirt from older prints has been cleaned up considerably. Legend Films originally restored the film when they colorized it for a 2006 DVD release, and both the colorized and black-and-white versions are included on the Blu-ray as well. The color isn’t too garish in presentation, though flesh tones are sometimes a bit pale and the palette fades in and out from time to time.

Is the upgraded picture enough to qualify the Blu-ray as the ultimate edition of Plan 9? Alas, it falls into the realm of being just different enough to be annoying.

The centerpiece of the extras, carried over from Legend’s DVD version, is a commentary from “Mystery Science Theater 3000” star Mike Nelson in which he thoroughly eviscerates the film. Nelson commentaries are standard for Legend horror releases, but here a lot of the material is lifted directly from his RiffTrax commentary for the movie, just without his two buddies along for the ride.

Other extras brought over from the Legend DVD are the Ed Wood home movies and some of his early commercials, as well as the informative pop-up trivia track that plays during the movie.

But, the Blu-ray leaves out the colorized trailer, Nelson’s “The Lost Plans 1-8” sketch and the fake deleted scenes crafted for the DVD (though, these were ill-received in some fan circles so maybe it’s not surprising they weren’t ported over).

Nor does the Blu-ray include the 1992 documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion that was included with the Image DVD all the way back in 2000.

So if you want all the content associated with the film you might want to hold onto those other versions as well. Plus there’s Burton’s movie, which hits Blu-ray later this year.

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