Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Plan 9: Ed Wood Remade and Rebooted

It is long past time to induct Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space into the National Film Registry. Its cultural significance is beyond question. No film is more responsible for the midnight movie screening tradition or the “so-bad-its-good” aesthetic. Without it, Tim Burton’s Oscar winning Ed Wood would not exist. Wood’s cult classic now has another claim to lasting cultural currency. It has spawned a remake. More of a reboot than a recreation, John Johnson still pays plenty of homage to the Wood canon in Plan 9 (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

The prologue starts self-referentially, with Cinema Insomnia host Mister Lobo once again assuming the Criswell persona, but openly questioning the wisdom of remaking Ed Wood, because obviously. Oh but this Criswell will not get off as easily as the original. Once the reanimated corpses attack, he will find himself holed up in a country general store, along with Jeff Trent, the pilot who first reported seeing a flying saucer.

It is Halloween in the quiet town of Nilbog (Troll 2 reference alert), so Kelton the Cop is in no mood for UFO sighting reports. He will soon learn better. The Tor Johnson-looking Inspector Clay is one of the first to be killed by the re-animated hordes, but he will be back soon. So will workaholic scientist Lucy Grimm’s fatally suicidal grandfather. At least the whole Halloween thing explains why he was wearing a cape. Initially, Grimm thought the mysterious energy pulse was a death ray, but eight hypotheses later, she realizes it revives and controls the recently deceased.

There are no flamboyant, sequin-wearing aliens explaining their nefarious schemes in the more simply titled Plan 9. When the invaders finally show themselves, they trying to blend in, rather than stand out, but they only created two templates (one male, one female) for their human forms. There are in fact a number of departures from the original narrative (such as it was), but Johnson stays reasonably faithful to Wood’s concept.

It terms of tone, Johnson plays it perfectly. He never tries to slavishly duplicate the kitsch of Wood’s film. There are no cardboard tombstones flopping around here. Of course, Johnson keeps his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, but he still goes about the reanimated zombie business with all due earnestness. Arguably, Plan 9 is more closely akin to Dan O’Bannon’s comedic pseudo-sequel The Return of the Living Dead, which is very high praise indeed.

This might sound like faint praise, but Charmed’s Brian Krause is considerably better than his predecessor as Jeff Trent. Mister Lobo is a hammy riot as Criswell, while Jerry Moore adds some gritty Fessendenish flavor as the local DJ, Boss Man Mike. However, it is Johnson himself and Sara Eshleman who really make the film, bickering and bantering together as Kelton the Cop and the infinitely smarter Grimm.

In fact, elevating Kelton the Cop to the second lead is a clever way to acknowledge the character’s significance for small but strange cult fanbase. It is all just goofy and knowing enough to get away with its periodic winks and hat-tips, but sufficiently down-to-business to keep the audience invested. It is sort of shocking to say this, but Plan 9 is a clever, thoroughly entertaining film. Heck, it even deserves a sequel. Affectionately recommended for cult movie fans, Plan 9 launches today (2/16) on VOD.