Apparently our weapons-building and warmongering is pissing off inhabitants of other planets, worried that one day we might turn our war machines against them. In order to stop this from happening, these aliens (headed by The Ruler, played by the flamboyant ‘Bunny’ Breckinridge) enact Plan 9, resurrecting our dead to conquer the Earth. Gregory Walcott is our hero, pilot Jeff Trent, who teams up with army Colonel Tom Edwards (Tom Keene) and a police inspector (Duke Moore) to thwart the pompous aliens’ plans. Tor Johnson and Vampira turn up as the resurrected Inspector Clay and ‘Ghoul Woman’ respectively. Meanwhile, Bela Lugosi (who died during filming) stumbles about in his cape as another zombified corpse, credited as ‘Ghoul Man’. He was replaced in some scenes by Dr. Tom Mason, the chiropractor of Wood’s wife at the time!
Being that this 1959 Edward D. Wood Jr (“Glen or Glenda?”, “Bride of the Monster”) accidental classic is a one-of-a-kind film experience, rather than give you a traditional film review, I figured instead I’d give you essentially a copy of my notes as I watched this film. It’s an updated and in my entirely not humble opinion, refined version of something I attempted during my stint at the now defunct Film Asylum. Hopefully it’ll give you an idea of what it’s actually like to watch this film, but in a more unique way than a simple review. Everyone knows what this film is, and whether they want to see it or not by now.
I may or may not be using sarcasm in what is to follow….
- We start off with shonky psychic Criswell struggling valiantly to read from an autocue. What a truly moving depiction of dyslexia this is, the likes of which I’ve never seen before nor since.
- Realising the senseless waste of money on unnecessary expensive special FX when children are starving in Africa, Ed Wood heroically and selflessly torpedoes his own artistic merit in order to do his bit for those less fortunate by giving us paper plates on a string to represent flying saucers. I applaud this act of selflessness and economy.
- This alien invasion also serves as Mr. Wood’s tribute to Orson Welles, who didn’t need expensive special FX to scare the shit out of people with his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. Wood, like Welles wants us to use our imaginations to make the FX look better in our own minds. What a novel and forward-thinking concept. Wood meet Welles once, y’know. I’ve seen footage of it!
- Not only has Mr. Wood helped out his financially struggling chiropractor by giving him a cameo in his film, but look, he has cast two of the man’s patients in roles too, Tor Johnson and Vampira. Their performances as reanimated corpses are enhanced by their obviously very real spinal issues. I never said he was a good chiropractor.
- When the planned documentary about Lugosi was interrupted by the star’s death, enterprising Mr. Wood decided to film a fictional film around it that allowed him to not only pay for Mr. Lugosi’s funeral expenses through making a film, but also promote the local cemetery so that the fans would know where to go to pay their own tribute. The film itself could also serve as a shrine to the great man (Bela Lugosi Jr. doesn’t surf the web, right?)
- The seamless splicing of fictional film footage and documentary footage of a confused and drug-addled Bela Lugosi is a wonderful comment on art imitating life or crossing over into life and the cheap exploitation of aging horror stars dependant on drugs, which could only be achieved by cheaply exploiting an aging, drug dependant star.
- Bravo to Mr. Wood, for managing to give this chiropractor a way to earn more money by not only acting, but sharing a character with Mr. Lugosi. Some would simply write an extra character for the two actors, but Mr. Wood, being ingenious finds a unique way to employ both actors without using up extra running time that an additional character would require (Yes, I really am going to go all the way with this!).
- Ed Wood does his bit for the betterment of society by giving a Swedish immigrant a major role in his film, showing that no matter where you come from, you can contribute to America and make it great! What a patriot!
- You might say that the performances in this film are terrible. However, unlike the cruel and wasteful Stanley Kubrick, Ed Wood understands not to waste precious film, time, and talent on the needless pursuit of perfection. I for one think it’s truly moving watching these people even try to give competent performances. Their constant failure (and that of the director himself) is a still relevant lesson for us to always have a backup career plan.
- When the flying saucer seems to propel people to hit the deck, that is Mr. Wood’s timely reminder that in the event of a fire or nuclear blast, you need to get down low! A film and a public service announcement? Is there nothing this great man can’t do?
- Does Bela Lugosi look anything like the chiropractor? Through brilliant costuming Wood has created a startlingly effective trick whereby you are so mesmerised by his fetching cloak that you don’t notice it’s a completely different guy who is a different size to Lugosi. That’s thinking on your feet, and trend-setting fashion too! (Disclaimer: I may have taken off my glasses at this point to clean them).
- Decades before Fox Mulder told us the truth was out there, Ed Wood was hot on the case of military cover-up of alien invasion.
- Ed Wood was also a pioneer of LGBT rights, giving a prominent role to transvestite Bunny Breckinridge, while one of his other actors was also such a champion of the love that dare not speak its name that it’s actually in his name: Dudley Manlove.
- Brilliant editing as day and night intermingle in order to represent both the living and the dead, reinforcing the film’s central concept. That’s some seriously deep subtextual thought right there! It’s also used in a masterstroke of filmmaking genius to keep the audience on edge. If day can suddenly turn into night and back again in the blink of an eye, what else could happen in this film?!
- I believe what this film is truly about is a cautionary tale meant to inspire us to cremate the dead, rather than bury. It’ll take up less space, too!
- ‘Your stupid minds! Stupid! STUPID!’, quite clearly this line is Wood’s heartbreaking plea to be understood as a cross-dresser. This poor man ripped his own heart out and presented himself to the world in “Glen or Glenda?” and what happened? We either ignored the film or laughed at him. For shame!
- ‘After all we’ve seen tonight, guns won’t do any good’- Actor Paul Marco (who plays a dopey cop), with what I believe is a truly profound statement that, decades ahead of its time, tried to show us the error of our gun-loving ways as human beings. Have we listened? Of course not.
- There’s a very important lesson to be learned near the end of this film: If you’re unconscious or in some way infirmed during a fire, and your only hope is a woman…Well, you’re shit out of luck. Instead of putting out the fire, she’s gonna sit there and scream ‘Wake up!’ and get all in a tizzy. Thank you for teaching me this most valuable lesson, oh great one.
Thank you, thank you. You’re a wonderful audience. Try the lobster, it’s delicious!