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May 31-June 6, 2006

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Cult Leader

Worst Film Ever?: Revisiting Ed Wood's legacy as 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' comes to the Camera's midnight series

By Steve Palopoli


YOU KNOW who I hate? Michael Medved. I realize that probably doesn't come as much of a shock, since Medved has been hands down the biggest moron yammering about movies for many years running, both in print and on radio. He's sort of the Ann Coulter of the film world, forcing everything he sees through his cryptofascist little meat grinder of a worldview and coming up with crazy stuff that plays to the far-right-of-right extremists.

Normally that wouldn't bother me too much, as long as I can easily avoid having to read or listen to it. But I take Medved's dive off the deep end personally, since he was one of the first writers to get me interested in film. With his brother Harry Medved, he wrote The Golden Turkey Awards in 1980, when I was eight. I poured over that book and its sequels, and that was how I first became interested in movies outside of the mainstream. I just couldn't believe the movies they were talking about existed, or understand how they possibly could have found them. Of course, trying to go back and read those books now is a singularly painful experience, but at that age I didn't exactly have an eye for nuance.

Still, I have to give Michael Medved one thing even today: he and his brother are mostly responsible, as far as I can tell, for the cult of Ed Wood. In particular, the five pages they devoted to Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space transformed it from a mostly unknown 1959 science-fiction cult film to an unstoppable phenomenon. You know those magic words burned into every cult-movie lover's psyche, "Plan 9 From Outer Space: The Worst Film of All Time"? That's from The Golden Turkey Awards.

I've always felt that it was good, clean fun (the only kind Michael Medved would have, surely) to call Plan 9 the worst film ever. Technically, though, it's a cosmic injustice, since Wood's film is more entertaining to watch than a thousand soul-swallowing, mediocre Hollywood suckfests. (My own pick for actual worst film of all time is the Sinbad-Schwarzenegger brain-cell-massacre Jingle All the Way).

But Plan 9 just might be the most ineptly made movie ever. There is hardly a scene in this movie that doesn't have some epic error in continuity or common sense: night turns into day and back in the same scene, cops point their own guns absentmindedly at themselves and their partners, and the narration is probably the most incomprehensible ever written.

If you really want to live the Plan 9 cult experience, you're in luck, as Tom Holland down in Southern California is touring it in 35 mm (barely any prints of it were struck even when the film was released). He's bringing it to the Cameras' midnight movie series this weekend.

Holland is touring Plan 9 with some rare Wood shorts; he calls the whole thing "The Ed Wood Film Festival." The best new addition is a piece Mike Nelson from Mystery Science Theater 3000 did about the aliens' "lost" plans 1-8.

Fans may be surprised to see this print in color, but Holland says he was won over by the new technology Legend Films out of San Diego had used to colorize the movie last year, so he struck prints from that. It definitely adds to the novelty factor for this tour, and is sure to lead to some spirited debate among die-hards. I'm no fan of colorization myself, but it only seems fair to withhold judgment until I actually see it.

And when you see it this time, think about what Danny Peary wrote about it in 1981's Cult Movies, when he boldly stated that in Plan 9, "Wood is more critical of America's government and military strategy ... than any other director dared to be. Plan 9, dreadful as it is, is something far more significant, and therefore better, than 'The Worst Film of All Time' could possibly be."

Take that, Michael Medved.


Plan 9 From Outer Space plays at 9:30pm Thursday at Los Gatos Cinemas, and at midnight Friday at Camera 7 in Campbell and Saturday at Camera 12 in San Jose. Tickets are $7. Cult Leader is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback and your pick for worst film ever here.


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