What better way to inaugurate the new Midnite Drive-In with a dedication to one of the quirkiest film directors of all time? Ed Wood may have not had the talent to step into the shoes of John Ford, or Billy Wilder, or Otto Preminger, or even Roger Corman for that matter, all of whom released memorably classic movies in 1959 (Rio Bravo, Some Like It Hot, Anatomy of a Murder and A Bucket of Blood, respectively.). But that same year also saw the release of not one, but two Ed Wood gems; Plan 9 from Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls. Wood may not have had talent but, God bless him, he had heart. And that's what endears him to me.
Night of the Ghouls (1958)
Night of the Ghouls is, like most of Ed Wood's movies, unintentionally hilarious. The premise is that an old abandoned house, the site of some previous nefarious deeds (more or less, this was supposed to be a sequel to Bride of the Monster, an early Wood flick), is now the site of more strange events. The movie begins with a coffin in which Criswell, a somewhat famous magician of the time, is apparently dead. He rises from the coffin and delivers a a speech in his inimitable stentorian voice, warning the people in the audience of "Monsters to be pitied! Monsters to be despised!"
The movie really gets going with a few sequences of the mysterious; a young couple encounter a weird woman/ghost on the road, and an elderly couple encounter another while taking a short cut. The police call in a lieutenant to investigate and send a uniformed officer to help. The bumbling police officer is a familiar one to Wood aficionados, having played the same in several Wood's flicks.
During the investigation, the lieutenant finds that a fake psychic, Dr. Acula (Dracula, get it?) has set up shop in the old abandoned house on Willows Lake. He has Lobo, a former inhabitant of the house for muscle and a very attractive blonde girlfriend to act as a "ghost" to scare away snoopers (this being the apparition the old couple saw earlier). But there is also another woman/ghost who appears and is really scaring people, including the bumbling police officer.
The fake psychic meanwhile is trying to bilk an old woman out of her money through a "seance" with her dead husband. This combined with the investigations by the lieutenant, and attempts to keep the whole thing under wraps makes for the rest of the story. Confused? Watching the movie won't alleviate that very much. It is a story apparently written on some pretty decent drugs. But it is funny in it's own way. There's a ghost in a sheet which dances across the screen (with the pants legs of the person barely concealed at the bottom of the screen), and a gabbling head which appear during the seance which will have you rolling on the floor laughing.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
This is it. The one that nearly everyone agrees is the WORST MOVIE OF ALL TIME!
It's definitely not Academy award material. But it is amazing that some of these people went on to have careers after this. What makes this movie fun is the way everyone in the movie is so serious about their parts. The script itself was ludicrous. The actors barely able to hold their own. And some special effects errors that are legendary.
The movie begins with the death of a poor old man who, after the death of his wife, cannot go on living. (Ed Wood used some footage of Bela Lugosi he had shot just before Lugosi died, but for the majority of the movie it's not Lugosi in the cape but a guy who Ed conned into being him, with a cape across his face to help convince people it was Lugosi...but even that doesn't help.)
The police are called to the cemetery to investigate a mysterious flying saucer that supposedly landed there. Inspector Clay, played by another Wood regular Tor Johnson, is killed by a zombie woman, played by Vampira (Maila Nouri). He too becomes a zombie.
We are then taken aboard the flying saucer where two aliens have been working to animate corpses. This is the "Plan 9" of the movie. To animate the dead and have them help take over the Earth. Why? Because all people of the earth are idiots, ya see? Especially the ones who invested money in Ed Wood's' harebrained ideas for movies. All $2 worth of it.
Bu as I said before, the really fun part of Plan 9 is catching all of the unintentional flubs and special effects disasters: From the cardboard gravestones that shimmy and shake and tip over as you walk by them, to the shadow of the boom mike on the wall of the cockpit behind the airline pilots (and the shower curtain that is a door to said cockpit), to the infamous strings you can see suspending the flying hubcaps ( I mean saucers...). Plan 9 from Outer Space ranks as the worst movie of all time, but to me it is the absolute greatest "worst", meaning it is one I enjoy reveling in it's exquisite badness.
That's it from the backseat of the Plymouth Fury this time. Have a safe trip home, kiddies.