Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Vamp or not? Plan 9 from Outer Space

Hands up, who hasn’t heard of the 1959 film by Edward D. Wood Jr? I doubt that there are many hands in the air, for this is one of the world’s most famous bad movies, it also has a tendency to appear on vampire filmographies. As always, this ‘Vamp or Not?’ is aimed at exploring whether that place is valid, rather than looking at the film as a whole. For a more rounded review of the film, nip on over to the always excellent Exclamation Mark.

A brief plot line is in order, however. The world is being buzzed by flying saucers (for flying saucers read hub cap on wire). They seem to be concentrating on a little cemetery outside Los Angeles, a place where an old man (Bela Lugosi) has just buried his wife (Vampira). Soon his wife is spooking around and kills a couple of gravediggers (J Edward Reynolds and Hugh Thomas Jr). Not long after the old man is dead (which is a bit of an eerie coincidence, as we’ll discuss) and he’s spooking around too. There are, eventually, three dead people haunting the cemetery, when Inspector Clay (Tor Johnson) is also brought back.

The reason? The aliens have come in peace to stop the human’s creating a Solaranite bomb (not that there is evidence that we are working on one), a bomb that would explode sunlight and create a chain reaction that will destroy the universe. Having not been listened to, and generally treated like they don’t exist – despite being fired upon whenever a ship appears - they have raised the dead in order to let us know of their existence. It is a plot full of logical holes a mile wide, but somehow Wood had a naive charm and you can see he thought this to be more than it was – that is its appeal. But is it vamp?

I think that the label comes from the two characters of the old man and woman, credited as Ghoul Man and Vampire Girl, so we will look at them first. Vampire Girl – and the old man certainly had a much younger (if spooky) looking wife - does look like the archetypal Goth vampire. Okay she moves like a stilted marionette, or to be kinder a zombie, and looking like a vampire is probably not enough to call a film vamp.

The old man is played by Lugosi, ish. He died before production, though we do get some pre-shoot footage injected into the film and this is the eerie coincidence I mentioned. Wood then replaced him with Tom Mason and, as he looked nothing like Lugosi, he spooked around with cape over his face. You can’t disguise the height differential however. The cape over face is very stereotyped vampire but it is not a character trait as such, just being a case of hiding the face of someone who did not look like the actor he was meant to be.

We see Lugosi, at one point, prancing around in his cape, indeed in his full Dracula gear. It is almost sad to see the once great actor reduced to standing in a graveyard in the costume that brought him fame and realise that it is probably the last thing he did that was committed to film and yet, one supposes, Lugosi would be happy that he donned the outfit one last time. Wearing a Dracula costume doesn’t make a film vamp either.

We have to look at how the dead are reanimated and what they do. They are reanimated by means of “Long distance electrodes shot into the pineal and pituitary gland of the recently dead.” The dead are only animate when an electro machine is on (or through hand held pistol versions) making them more like remote controled creatures. We are actually told they have no thoughts.

We do get rapid decomposition later – straight to skeleton – but this is achieved by the alien’s decomposition ray, rather than anything in their supernatural makeup, at first at least. When the aliens are defeated, the lack of their equipment nearby has the same effect.

All in all, we have to say that this is Not Vamp. These are a combination of zombie and Frankenstein’s monster.

I will leave you with some of the opening lines of the movie by Criswell (playing himself), for no other reason than the fact that they are funny. “Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.”

The imdb page is here.


Mark said...

I have to concur; this is much closer to a zombie flick than a vampire movie. Great fun, though!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mark, great to hear from yourself. Loved your review of this, as I mentioned