Filmmaker Ed Wood watches actress Dolores Fuller remove her white angora sweater in a still from the film 'Glen Or Glenda,' 1953. (Getty Images / Archive Photos)
Ed Wood, who died 35 years ago today, is known for the dubious distinction of having made some of the worst films of all time. The screenwriter, director, producer and actor was responsible for the bizarre cult classic Plan 9 from Outer Space, as well as several dozen other films that range from weird to awful.
Despite the poor quality of Wood's work, the director and his movies are, for the most part, looked upon with fondness by film buffs. It's hard to resist Wood's obvious enthusiasm for the movies -–– even when his films are laughably bad, some of those laughs are shared by the filmmaker. Ed Wood loved movies, and the joy he got from making them shines through his iffy plots and dollar-store special effects.
In 1980, Wood received a posthumous Golden Turkey Award naming him "Worst Director of All Time." It was an insult, to be sure, but it prompted renewed interest in his work. Critics began writing essays about his movies. The films made their way to festivals and were lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp as the director and focusing on the making of Plan 9 from Outer Space, sealed the deal for Wood's renewed fame, and Plan 9 is now practically a household name.
Poster for "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (Wikimedia Commons)
It's also surprisingly well-liked, considering how bad everyone seems to agree it is. Plan 9 currently has a 65 percent fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com, a remarkably high rating for a movie that the site describes as "incoherent," "odd" and "inept." However, Rotten Tomatoes also calls the film "an oddly endearing disaster." The toy flying saucers and out-of-sync dialogue add to the fun rather than detracting from the story. Ditto the clunkily fake Bela Lugosi. The famous actor appeared in several previous Wood projects, but he died three years before the filming of Plan 9. Wood cobbled together unused footage of the horror star, which he combined with a Lugosi stand-in, who looked nothing like the actor and did his best work with his face covered.
Plan 9 from Outer Space is Wood's highest-rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes, with positive reviews from critics and moviegoers alike. There's a grain of salt to be taken with reviews that say things like "Not nearly as awful as everyone seems to think it is" (reviewer Matt Bailey) and "This is a good film to watch for educational purposes especially for up-and-coming filmmakers as a way to see what not to do when making a film" (audience member Chris Weber), but the general consensus is that Plan 9 is worth watching.
The Rotten Tomatoes ratings of Wood's films drop off sharply after Plan 9. Glen or Glenda?, his "next best" movie according to the site's reviews, has a fresh rating of 32 percent, and it just gets worse from there, culminating in Night of the Ghouls with a not-so-fresh 22 percent. Wood put his all into Plan 9, imbuing it with bumbling glee and making it the very best of his many bad movies. Wood's "all" was quite different from the "all" of more talented auteurs with bigger budgets, but it was his all nonetheless. Plan 9 is a crucial piece of warts-and-all cinematic history that's bound to put a smile on the face of viewers –– even if that smile is a little pained from time to time.
We can't all be the best, but Ed Wood proved that you don't have to be the best to be memorable. His place in history is rock-solid, thanks to his movies: they're the best of the worst.
Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.