And here we are at last with what the Golden Turkey awards called the “worst film of all time.”
That’s right! Edward D. Wood, Jr.’s high/low point in glorious cinema! Here is where all of the lessons he learned from “Glen Or Glenda” and “Bride of the Monster” were completely ignored. This is the baseline for any measurement of terrible movies.
The Origin Story
There’s nothing I can add to the mythology of the making of this film that hasn’t already been covered by the movie “Ed Wood” and thousands of other articles, so I won’t burden the record.
Broad strokes, then.
Edward D. Wood, Jr., maker of flop films, had a driving need to make movies despite all good sense. The problem is that making movies requires money. He conned a church, the First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills, to front the money for the movie. Wood claimed would it make enough money to bankroll a series of religious pictures that the head pastor, J. Edward Reynolds, originally wanted to make.
The fact that I am writing this under “If You Can’t Say Something Nice…” tells you how well this idea paid off.
It was originally titled “Grave Robbers from Outer Space.” The Baptists, for some unfathomable reason, felt skittish about bankrolling a movie with that name. So “Plan 9 from Outer Space” was created as a compromise title.
He used a number of his friends as actors/crew, which was a blessing and a curse. The blessing was they worked for next to nothing. The curse was that they were worth less than they were paid.
Wood was able to wrangle in some actual actors as well. This shows how desperate people are to get a break in Hollywood. Lyle Talbot, for instance, and Gregory Walcott. Both had long careers in acting both before and after the movie was released.
Perhaps in a testament to how well Wood could convince others that his work was worthy (or perhaps proof that madness is contagious), he was able to convince four relatively famous people to appear in his film as well.
Tor Johnson was a professional wrestler and actor. He made a number of commercials in the LA area and had a rather impressive string if uncredited appearances from a career starting in 1934. By the time he ran into Wood, he had twenty-three movies on his resume. He was also a powerhouse professional wrestler known as the “Super Swedish Angel.”
The Amazing Criswell was a local LA star with multiple appearances on “The Tonight Show” as well as his own syndicated TV programs. He had a minor presence nationwide and was renowned for his wildly inaccurate predictions.
Malia Nurmi, aka Vampira, was a local LA monster movie host on KABC-TV. She was rather risque for the staid 50s, which of course translated to a large viewership. She was iconic in her day, even serving as the life model of the Disney character “Maleficent” in “Sleeping Beauty.” She was the inspiration of later schlock movie hostess Elvira.
Then there was the tragedy of Bela Lugosi. He died before anything more than a few shots were finished. He was a lonely man towards the end, a recovering addict, a man who could not help but look back in life and wonder “what happened?” Ed Wood found him and the wounded comforted the wounded.
Although a cliche now, Lugosi was fresh and scary at the zenith of his stardom. And damn if he wasn’t charismatic. When you saw him in a movie, you wanted to see more. He was the best thing in any of Wood’s movies.
But nothing and no one can match Edward D. Wood Jr.’s incompetency.
But Is It All THAT Bad?
The Golden Turkeys had no idea what they were declaring. This is a thoroughly fun movie.
Sure, the central message (“we’re going to destroy ourselves and everything else if we can’t get it together”) lands with the thud of a dead messenger pigeon hurled through your living room window. Sure, the acting is, at best, horrendous. And Lawrence Olivier himself couldn’t make his way through the extremely clumsy dialogue.
The cameras are off kilter. The set was often nothing more than a black tarp laid over a brick wall with a few houseplants and gravestones set randomly for flavor. The “outdoor” scenes were manifestly inside, and the principal actor died early in shooting and was replaced by a man at least a head taller.
The flying saucers are so manifestly hubcaps that Wood might as well used stock footage of cars.
Hell, they gave Tor Johnson a speaking role.
Good, or Awesome?
CRAZY awesome! It is spellbinding!
Hilarious if watched alone, the movie’s entertainment factor multiplies with every other person you see it with. It’s like an optical illusion. You see it, but your mind cannot grasp why it is so fun. There’s too much to take in. It is synergistic.
It’s like a group of friends got together, said “hey gang! Let’s put on a show,” then accidentally started a massive garbage fire.
This movie is so “itself.” There is not a single drop of self-awareness in the whole thing. Nothing is done here for irony. Every shot is filled with Ed Wood’s diseased sort of love.
Like the two previous movies in Wood’s purview, there is nothing like it. This movie is the perfect storm. So many bad things come together to form something transcendent. Other, lesser directors like Uwe Boll or Anthony C. Ferrante have been trying to bottle this lightning. They’ve all failed. There will never, for better or worse, be another Edward D. Wood, Jr.
If you really want to see the worst movies of all time, they’re not hard to find. Watch anything from Coleman Francis, and may God have mercy on your soul when you do. Seek out Herschell Gordon Lewis, Bert I. Gordon, Phil Tucker, or Will Zens. Watch “Myra Breckinridge”, “The Starfighters”, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”, “Howard the Duck”, or “Glitter.” There are so many worse movies and directors out there.
So let’s give some love to Wood. He seriously tried so hard and failed in the same manner. But his movies entertain, and that is the whole point. This is in no way a good movie, but it is a great movie. It deserves and transcends its notoriety.
Incidentally, poor, star-crossed Edward D. Wood, Jr. never saw a dime from this movie. By the time the movie took off, he was long dead and the copyright was out of his hands. He was so earnest about his creations that I don’t know if he would have been happy being a laughing stock.
But a check or two might have softened the blow.