Plan 9 From Outer Space and how bad movies have changed

Originally published for Liverpool Small Cinema

By Cheap Thrills organiser, Christopher Brown

The world of the bad movie has changed over the last 10 years. When Harry and Michael Medved  published their 1978 book,The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time, they were shocked to discover hundreds of letters were being sent to them demanding an explanation as to why Plan 9 From Outer Space, showing at Liverpool Small Cinema on June 24th, wasn’t included.

Ed Wood’s bizarre 1958 opus had slowly gathered popularity with fans of so-bad-it’s-good cinema after years sitting as a failure on theatrical B-shows When the Medved brothers declared it “The Worst Film Of All Time”  for their Golden Turkey Awards, the label stuck and the film was catapulted into its dubious stardom.

From the opening scene of, real-life local TV host, Criswell looking half panicked from the nonsense he was spouting,  through to the stiff acting and no-budget special effects, Plan 9 succeeds because of how entertaining it is. Each frame is filled with a joyous enthusiasm and a passion that it drags its audience with. Plan 9 is a fun film, not just despite its numerous failings, but because of them.

Few bad films have the ambition of Ed Wood’s carnival of cardboard gravestones and narrative incoherence and it’s that which elevated it.

Over time tastes have changed and, from this lofty, if rather dubious, accolade, Plan 9 has changed from being the best of the worst to just being a cult classic. Indeed how we see what constitutes a “bad movie” has changed considerably since then.

The debate has shifted, not to which film is the worst, but to what constitutes a bad movie. The IMDB Bottom 100 has altered from a repository of cringing entertainment, into a list of films you probably just don’t want to see.

Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Disaster Movie  and The Hottie & the Nottie are films that, while undeniably bad, aren’t necessarily pieces you’d pay to sit through. Meanwhile, coming from the Tarantino/Rodriguez pastiche Grindhouse, a sub-genre of knowing gag-filled films has popped up, including Sharknado and Kung Fury. These are high-octane nostalgia pieces, playing up to our love for daft fun. A film like Kung Fury takes elements from 80s Cannon films, adds touches of the bizarre and then uses CGI to create spectacle the would have been impossible 30 years ago.

The Golden Turkies, meanwhile, have turned into the Razzies. The awards have moved away from celebrating glorious failures, and are now  designed to a be “one in the eye” for a Hollywood system unable to help itself churning out cash-cows with little artistic merit. That said, I doubt the producers of Annie or Saving Christmas were that concerned by winning their awards.

But let us return back to Ed Wood trying to write, direct, produce and edit his own masterpiece. A man who wasn’t put off with the fact that his star performer died before production began as he STILL managed to get him in the film. Wood wasn’t there to make a quick buck, nor was he there to mock films that came from the past. The reason his films exist is that he was charismatic and barmy enough to want to make them. So, while his films are almost certainly not the worst of those listed here, they are certainly the most entertaining.

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