Beauty and the B-Movie

November 1st, 2006

By Jocelyn Codner

Have you ever muttered, “That was absolutely the worst movie ever made”? Well, there’s actually already a movie with that claim to fame, so maybe you should stop giving other films all the credit.

It all started in the 1950s. There was a man. Well, sort of. He had passion, he had drive, he had a grand vision, he dressed in women’s clothing. His name was Edward D. Wood Jr., and he truly and deeply loved making films. Unfortunately his talent for directing didn’t have a positive correlation to his love of it.

In fact, Wood was devoid of almost any directing skill at all. He is responsible for the creation of numerous ridiculously bad B-movies throughout the ‘50s. A few of his finest works include the science fiction film “Plan 9 from Outer Space”; horror films “Night of the Ghouls” and “Bride of the Monster”; and “Glen or Glenda”, a semi-autobiographical film about a transgendered male. All of his films have grossly blatant technical errors, along with continuity and plot mistakes, amazingly bad dialogue, and casts consisting of generally talentless unknowns. But this mattered not to Wood—he had little concern for detail, just the big picture. He had a vision, and nothing was going to stand in his way, damn it.

After seeing an Ed Wood film, you may ask yourself, “Was this guy serious?” The answer is yes: he was perfectly serious. These movies were made with the utmost sincerity in pursuit of a man’s dream of greatness. That greatness was, for some reason, not able to be achieved by Wood. Maybe it had something to do with how bad his movies were, I don’t know. Flop after flop at the box office forced Wood to fall back on the pitiable porn industry. He made low budget pornos with names like “Necromania” and “The Love Feast.” Now, granted, the standards for a porn film are pretty low, but Wood’s porn films were still the lowest of the lot, and there he remained until the end.

Although Wood’s film “Glen or Glenda” does consist of topics deeply controversial at the time of its release, any cultural impact or critical acclaim it may have possibly obtained was lost in its horrendous production quality. In the film, Wood stars as a man in the movie industry dealing with his preference for women’s clothing. “If you want to know me,” stated Wood, “see ‘Glen or Glenda’. That’s me, that’s my story, no question.” Wood, who was a paratrooper in World War II, claimed to have been dropped over Europe wearing a bra and panties under his uniform. He was also known to wear angora sweaters and heels while shooting.
“Plan 9 From Outer Space,” however, was his baby, and rightfully so. Wood openly discussed his cinematic technique, proudly divulging that he used “Cadillac hubcaps for flying saucers” in the film. It is, in fact, the worst movie ever made. The plot: Evil aliens invade Earth and start resurrecting the dead to obliterate our mentally challenged race.

Professor Leah Shafer, a film professor at IC, finds some charm in Wood’s work. “I love kitschy films with goofy special effects,” says Shafer. “The combination of zombies and aliens in the same film is also appealing: I think when you’re going to make an out-there sci-fi film, you may as well throw in as much crazy crap as you can.”

Shafer also recalls, “Someone calling ‘Plan 9’ something like ‘The Citizen Kane of bad cinema,’ which is hardly damning.”

Well it looks like she’s not the only one that’s come around. Today, Wood is recognized for his unique, err, achievements. “The Golden Turkey Awards,” a book by brothers Michael and Harry Medved in 1980, recognizes bad movies, performances, and performers throughout film history. The book honors only the absolute worst. Needless to say, Wood holds the title for Worst Director, while his film “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” in all its brilliance, holds the hallowed distinction of Worst Film.

Ed Wood has finally gained his much desired fame. Too bad he’s dead. Wood gained recent notoriety as the subject matter for the Tim Burton dark comedy “Ed Wood” (1994). Johnny Depp does a marvelous job portraying Wood, and Martin Landau received an Academy Award for his performance as the aged drug ridden Bela Lugosi. My only complaint is the shocking lack of clay-mation!

Many view Wood’s films as being so bad,they’re good. They are the original awesomely bad movies. Audiences today find them outrageously hilarious, and they are. Personally, I find myself agreeing with Professor Shafer about the killer zombies and alien invaders; it’s genius.
The moral of the story is that next time you feel the urge to accuse some moderately bad movie as being the “worst movie ever made,” perhaps you should rethink your accusation. Call up some friends, go rent “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” and see what it really takes to be “absolutely, the worst movie ever made.”

Jocelyn Codner is a freshman cinema and photography major. If you would like begin to production on Plan 10 From Outer Space, email her at jcodner1[at]ithaca.edu.

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Front cover and back cover of print edition by Jake I. Forney.
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