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Release date: February 15, 2016
Some movies take on a life of their own, growing from small endeavors to the looming legends of the silver screen. Some are famous for their A-list cast, or the use of cutting edge visual effects. Certainly, films like The Matrix boasted enough big names and computer generated wizardry to astound and amaze, and was an immediate phenomenon. Others, like Edward D. Wood Jr’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, are icons for the exact opposite reason. Despite its B-list cast (including an elderly Bela Lugosi, horror host Vampira and ex-wrestler Tor Johnson), lack of continuity, and cheap scenery and even cheaper effects, this charming little turkey from 1959 is revered by fans of horror and sci-fi cinema, and a legion of up and coming filmmakers have gained inspiration from Wood’s DIY approach. If you haven’t seen it, you’re either living under a rock, or you have extremely high cinematic standards.
Plan 9 is a faithful remake of Ed Wood’s classic sci-fi zombie movie. Writer/director John Johnson has lovingly crafted an homage to the legendary B-movie, assembling his own cast that includes cult favorites such as Brian Krause (Charmed, Sleepwalkers), horror host Mister Lobo (Cinema Insomnia), James Rolfe (aka The Angry Video Game Nerd) and the masterminds behind the Chad Vader web series, Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda. Johnson even brings in Conrad Brooks, a regular in Wood’s films who played a police officer in the 1959 version. The casting choices are fitting and give immediate genre credibility to Plan 9. Johnson shows great respect for the source material by making a cohesive tale out of Wood’s somewhat disjointed script, and by not resorting to parody or spoof of a movie, and a genre, that is often lampooned. While Plan 9 definitely sports some humor, at no point does it delve into full-on camp. It’s clear that this is a remake that was approached with a genuine love for the original.
Plan 9 follows the flow of the classic schlocksterpiece, but creates a more linear storyline. Just as its predecessor, the movie opens with Criswell predicting the future, only, in this case, our prognosticator of impending doom is played by the incomparable Mister Lobo and throws a diva fit when the director questions his performance. The plot then begins to build, as an airplane is nearly struck by a meteor that turns out to be an alien spaceship. An energy pulse emanating from the otherworldly craft raises the dead and controls them in an attempt to take over the world. Most of the movie revolves around three groups: local citizens hiding from the shambling dead in a convenience store (including Mister Lobo and our male lead, Jeff Trent, played by Brian Krause), the local police and physicist Lucy Grimm (Sarah Eshleman) who attempt to find and stop the cause of the zombie outbreak, and a military force sent in to quell the zombie uprising. Members of each group come together for the climactic showdown between human and alien. Along the way, fans of Plan 9 From Outer Space will find many parallels to the original, including an elderly man in a vampire cape, and zombies that look much like those played by Tor Johnson and Vampira.
As far as B-movies go, Plan 9 is the best kind – one that is made for the fans of that genre but maintains high enough production values to be not only watchable but engrossing. Genre fans will enjoy references to other cult classics including Troll 2, Ghostbusters, and Wayne’s World, among others. While many of these serve to add a dash of humor to the mix, the fact is that Plan 9 is a horror movie. This is a zombie movie with all the blood, guts, and headshots that come with that categorization. The impact is a mix of humor and horror that is amusing, entertaining, and, at times, disturbing. The backbeat to the carnival of cannibalism that ensues is up tempo, 1950s style rock songs, creating a surreal juxtaposition between saccharin sweet pop and chaotic flesh eating. Character development is also a key to the success of Plan 9. By the midpoint of the movie I found myself invested in the plight of Jeff, who desperately wants to be reunited with his wife, and Lucy, who struggles with the death of her grandmother, and a concern that the dead are rising due to an issue at caused by the physics lab at which she is employed. The cast does an excellent job, striking a sympathetic chord with the viewer, and that often lacks even in blockbuster films.
I was worried that a remake of Plan 9 From Outer Space would be a campy mess. Sure, the original movie was a bit of a low budget nightmare, but it still found its way into my heart, and into the lives of millions. John Johnson has done an admirable job capturing the horror that Edward D. Wood, Jr. intended for the film that would come to be known as the highlight of his career. Using current technology, the zombies, laser guns, and spaceships come to life in a way they could not in 1959.
Johnson has chosen not to reinterpret the storyline into something new but instead has created a monument to a film that has long outlived nearly all involved in its making. Whether you’re a Woodophile, or just a fan of horror and sci-fi, Plan 9 is an excellent watch that has earned the right to stand proudly next to its legendary forefather.
Reviewed by Jim1340