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(Credit: TCM)

'Plan 9 from Outer Space', the worst film of all time?

“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!” – Jeron Criswell King, Plan 9 from Outer Space

In the internet age, opinions are polarising, with the latest blockbuster release either being ‘the best’ or ‘the worst’ film ever made with little middle-ground. Though, this of course, this isn’t the case. Avengers: Endgame is far from one of cinema’s best, and even Bad Grandpa, though close, isn’t the worst. These titles are reserved for films that are particularly uninspiring or downright offensive, discounting cult classics The Room or Troll 2, which, whilst typically bad, carry an endearing charm that makes them endlessly watchable.  

Long-remembered as the “worst film ever made” following a review from Harry Medved and Michael Medved in their book The Golden Turkey Awards, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space has since retained a cult following of adoring fans, fixated on the film’s sci-fi obscurities. The black-and-white genre film follows a group of aliens who come to earth and enact ‘Plan 9’, resurrecting the dead of the earth to attack the living. 

Often made within the constraints of genre, the typical cult film looks to blur and mix its respective genre’s conventions, much like how Plan 9 from Outer Space merges elements of science fiction, Atompunk and gothic horror. Science fiction experienced significant changes in the post-war period throughout the 1950s, with the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki inspiring stories that dealt with existential issues. Plan 9 from Outer Space is a film that typifies this transition from typical science-fiction, accelerating the genre forward to embrace a new fascination with outer space and the folly of humanity.

So, is Plan 9 from Outer Space the “worst film ever made”? Far from it. Whilst it may technically behave like one of the medium’s worst efforts with shoddy camera work and a cast of ‘actors’ who are not in the least convincing, it’s a cult film for a reason, with its flaws providing fingerprints of human identity and creativity.

Such is illustrated in the opening scene where American psychic Jeron Criswell King announces, “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!”, a line so absurd yet so theatrically spectacular that it evokes the feeling of a classic carnival attraction. 

The rudimentary costumes of the alien race in the film, along with their circular-disc spacecraft, only add to this handmade, theatrical aesthetic. In this comes an appreciation for self-reflection, the film itself acknowledging its kitsch nature, revelling in its social identity of bad taste. 

Instead of being identified as a director of poor taste and technical ability, perhaps we consider Ed Wood as a pioneer of cult cinema, with the ‘high-class tastes’ of the bourgeoisie being the real butt of the joke. As Michael Atkinson notes in an essay about cult film in 1995, “FUCK ‘EM, the secret culture howls at a world constructed of duty, safety and sense, then laughs, hard, when normal people don’t seem to understand why”. 

Plan 9 from Outer Space isn’t the worst film of all time, that award goes to The Emoji Movie.

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