With nothing but a rough idea for a horror film, director Edward D. Wood Jr. raised money, borrowed Bela Lugosi for a few days and shot footage in and around a cemetery and the front of Tor Johnson’s house. Lugosi died unexpectedly after four days of shooting. Wood wrote a script around this footage, calling it Grave Robbers from Outer Space and obtained financing from a Baptist Church. With Dr. Tom Mason doubling for Lugosi in the rest of the film, Wood shot most of the footage, including the graveyard scenes, at Quality Studios.
Wood arranged to have uniforms and props borrowed from the local Police Department. He recalled that his own salary was minimal ($350), and that considering the limitations of the budget, Tommy Kemp, who handled the special effects for the film, did an acceptable job, using hub caps as space ships. When the film premiered in Hollywood in 1959 under the title, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Lugosi’s widow Hope Lininger, together with Tor Johnson, appeared on stage in place of her dead husband.
Lugosi was convincing as an elderly man mourning his dead wife before an open grave. The scenes of Lugosi stalking a cemetery in his Dracula costume as a corpse raised from the dead are deeply moving, especially as it was his last role. Gregory Walcott, the lead, was a regular on the defunct TV series 87th Precinct. Finnish-born Maila Nurmi recreated her Vampira role–a characterization she made famous as a Los Angeles TV horror show hostess–as Lugosi’s wife. She played other minor roles, including an old hag in The Magic Sword in 1962, but she is remembered chiefly today for Plan 9.
Resembling other science-fiction films films of the ’50s, like Unidentified Flying Objects (1956) and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), its attempts to merge the genre with the early horror formula were nearly defeated by the crude, low-budget production. With its incoherent plot, jaw-droppingly odd dialogue, inept acting, threadbare production design, and special effects so shoddy that they border on the surreal, Plan 9 From Outer Space has often been called the worst movie ever made. But it’s an oddly endearing disaster; boasting genuine enthusiasm and undeniable charm, it is the work of people who loved movies and loved making them, even if they displayed little visible talent.