Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space
- Dear Friends,
Was it "live" or was it Memorex...
Love and Light.
Plans 1 through 8 from Outer Space
Bad acting, worse special effects ... or possibly the end of the world?
We were on a kick an Ed Wood sort of kick. We'd just seen the stunning DVD release of Tim Burton's film about the director of such classics as "Plan 9 From Outer Space," and "Glen or Glenda," and we just couldn't get enough. So we my friend Melissa and I grabbed up a box set of Wood's original films and dropped in on our old friend Doc Baxter to see if he was up for our annual Halloween marathon. One way or another over the past several years, our Halloween seemed inextricably linked with Doc Baxter, and somehow a movie marathon was always required to set things right.
Doc was happy to see us as we arrived at his humble, lab equipment strewn home. Until, that is, we held up the box set. He flinched and paled at the sight of it; his genial, if slightly absent-minded smile, faded.
"Oh yes, Plan Nine,' bad effects, bad acting, bad dialogue. Oh yes, very funny," Doc said, leading us into his living room, where he collapsed onto his favorite leather wing-back chair.
"Plan 9," he said, then was silent for a minute. When he spoke again, it was as a haunted man, full of remorse. "It was decades ago, I was a young man then, recruited out of MIT to be part of a special opps team for a top-secret agency. We ... fixed things ... covered up and erased traces of inconvenient truths. Plan Nine' well, that was one of our masterpieces, perhaps our greatest success."
Melissa and I exchanged glances. "Plan Nine"? Aliens trying to take over the world by raising an "army of the dead"?
"Doc, you're not trying to suggest ... that ... "
Doc shook his head. "I'm not trying to suggest anything. I'm telling you straight out: It's a documentary. Or it would have been if my team hadn't stepped in. Let's just say that one dark night, security at Wood's editing room was compromised. What a word that is, compromised. We got almost everything, all the actual footage of flying saucers, the real zombies and all the negative stock, too. I'm not proud of it now; we practically stole that poor man's entire life that night. When he found out what he'd done, he sort of went crazy. Started re-shooting everything on the cheap with whatever budget he had left. That was a bonus we hadn't even expected. The movie came out and every bit of it true but now everyone thought it was some kind of joke. Oh yes, very funny. America the whole world very nearly destroyed by soulless zombies. It's a laugh a minute fun-fest."
Doc fell into silence, staring somberly at the floor. We'd seen Doc in many moods, usually as a genial tweed-clad, pipe-smoking scientist who knew everything about everything. We'd also seen him in lab coat mode, when he was blindly trying to learn things humans were never meant to know. But we had never seen him like this, so somber and sad.
"It wasn't the first time it had happened either," Doc said at last. "When we saw how well the Plan Nine' ruse worked, we helped Hollywood release a number of fictionalized accounts of plots we'd covered up. It was the hide in plain sight' concept carried to its most extreme. Hide the truth by making a movie out of it."
Doc rose from the chair, turned the TV on and popped a DVD into the player. "I'll show you what I'm talking about. I've got them all right here. All these things actually happened. Now they're just Hollywood footnotes, amusing little fables that no one takes seriously."
The first film Doc showed us was "Invaders From Mars," a classic little gem from 1953. It's the story of a young science whiz, David Maclean (freckle-faced Jimmy Hunt) who wakes very late one night to see a flying saucer land in a field behind his house. His father investigates the landing, but disappears for several hours. When he returns, he insists that nothing is wrong and is very irritable and not like himself.
David tries to solve the mystery; why is his father so mean all of a sudden? Where did he go for so long? What's the deal with the strange little scar that has suddenly appeared on his father's neck?
David tries to get help from all the adults he can think of and, one by one, the adults are lured to the sandy field where they promptly disappear, accompanied by eerie choral music that sounds electronically modified. Finally, the army gets involved for a thrilling climax in tunnels beneath the field as the army confronts giant bug-eyed martians as well as the iconic image of the "head" martian literally a head carried around in a glass globe by the Martian drones. The Martian is described as "mankind developed to his ultimate intelligence." Why it's a man and not a Martian in the jar is never explained.
The film was shot in Eastman color, which does not age well at all, so colors that once must have been vivid and exciting now are mostly washed out and murky, but the movie still has a certain power. I remembered seeing the movie as a child, and how it scared the bejeebers out of me. That creepy music bores into your primal brain and stays there, so that years later someone that knows the movie can start trying to sing it, and you will have no choice but to tell them to knock it off at once. The American version of the film also ends on a note that was to become a trademark of the 1950s science fiction film: the question mark. The End, or is it? Cue the eerie music.
When the movie was over, Melissa and I exchanged knowing glances. I said. "So what you're saying, Doc, is that Invaders From Mars' ..."
"Is real, yes. Fictionalized, but essentially all true."
Melissa said, "And you got the idea of covering up true stories with Hollywood movies by seeing Plan 9 From Outer Space'?"
"Yes," Doc said, already knowing where we were going with this.
"But Plan 9 came out several years after Invaders,' right?"
Doc held up his hand, cutting us off. "Two words: time travel."
"Yes, time travel is the answer to nearly all of your questions," he said, changing DVDs.
Next feature on the bill was "Killers From Space," a 1954 film perhaps most notable for being directed by W. Lee Wilder, brother of Billy Wilder, creator of such films as "Sunset Boulevard" and "Some Like it Hot."
"Killers" is the tale of an atomic scientist, studying what seems to be near daily nuclear explosions in New Mexico. While flying an instrumentation run near one mushroom cloud, his plane crashes. Staggering out of the desert a couple of days later, he is a much changed man. How did he survive? Where has he been all this time? And what's the deal with the strange scar on his chest?
The scientist, played by Peter Graves, behaves strangely, as if under control of another entity, and steals some classified information. Captured, and under hypnosis, he relates a strange story of how he survived, taken in to the underground lair of aliens who then operated on him, restoring his life. The aliens come from a world that is circling a dying sun, which has forced them to evolve giant ping-pong ball eyes. Earth, it seems, is the ONLY ONE that can support their race. To clear the Earth of humans, the aliens are breeding an army of giant lizards, spiders, grasshoppers and scorpions that, when unleashed, will eat all humans until humans are no more. Needless to say, the plan was perhaps, in retrospect, not as thought out as it should have been.
"Don't be so sure about that," Doc said in answer to my joke. "Half the big-bug movies of the '50s are just coverups of the monsters that escaped from Killers From Space.' "
"Robot Monster" was next on the bill. Some say it rivals "Plan 9" for awfulness of acting, writing, directing and certainly costume design. Doc got very grim, however, as we sat down to watch. When the Robot Monster, or Ro-Man, as he is called, first appeared on the screen a deep sea diver helmet on top of a bulky gorilla costume, Doc silenced our derision.
"Don't laugh. Don't you dare laugh. Humanity has never been closer to the brink," he said. "Besides which, the real Ro-Man was even dumber looking in person."
Ro-Man, a soldier unit from the planet Ro-Man, has been sent to Earth to launch a pre-emptive strike against Hu-Mans, who, it is feared, are the only race capable of challenging the might of the science worshipping Ro-Mans. After vigorous applications of his Calcinator Death Ray (one of the very worst kind of death rays, Doc assured us), and attacks by dinosaurs created to devour Hu-Man life ("Are you seeing any patterns here?" Doc asked) The entire population of the world is down to eight people, though we only see six of them in the movie.
Ro-Man is ordered by his leader, Great Guidance, to kill the remaining Hu-mans. Contacting them via view screen, he kindly offers them a choice between "a painless surrender death and a horror of resistance death," but the plucky humans will have none of it, preferring instead to fight to the last.
In the end, Ro-Man loses, undone by his lust for a human female; but in a surprise ending, neither do the humans win. Great Guidance destroys the whole planet, Ro-Man, Hu-Man and all. Unless, of course, it was all just a dream, or is it? Cue the eerie music.
" Robot Monster' is real?" Melissa asked. "All the cities destroyed? Everyone killed except for one family? You don't just cover something like that up with a movie. I'd think something like that would've made the newspapers."
Doc smiled, touched a finger alongside of his nose: word to the wise, "Don't believe everything you've never read," he said mysteriously.
"But how ..."
"Time Travel," Doc said.
And so it continued throughout the afternoon, one invasion, one plan for the destruction of humanity at a time. All of it true; all of it diminished to cheap entertainment.
We watched "It Conquered The World" which should have been impossible since it hasn't been released on DVD, about an alien from Venus set to take over the world using flying amoeba brain suckers that attach themselves to humans.
We watched "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," a genuinely creepy classic about humans being replaced by soulless duplicates.
We watched "Atomic Submarine," in which earth is attacked by an infuriatingly arrogant, one-eyed creature that is sinking ships from its hiding place under the polar ice cap.
So many movies, so many coverups, and Doc right there at the heart of it all. It was difficult to tie the mild mannered Doc we knew to all of that subterfuge and derring-do.
As we finished the list with "Plan 9 From Outer Space," Doc provided a running commentary on all the points that the film had right, even if the footage had been poorly recreated. I tried to picture a young Doc Baxter, racing around the world, putting a stop to alien invasions, then creating cover stories with his elite squad of science commandos. I wondered if we could ever again be friends with Doc Baxter. True, his actions had probably been necessary at the time to promote calm and order, but know I felt uncomfortable around him; it was like, "who is this man?" I realized that after all these years, I never even knew him. Not even a little.
But as "Plan 9" finished, the strangest thing happened. A humming sound began building in the room, and over in the corner, next to the TV, the air began to glow and shimmer; the air blurred into a void, and out of that void stepped a young Doc Baxter. We knew right away it could be no one else.
Young Doc looked at the end of Plan Nine and smiled. Old Doc smiled too, "I remember this scene like it was yesterday," he said.
"You weren't supposed to remember it at all," young Doc answered. "Looks like the treatments must have worn off at last, probably triggered by this movie."
Then young Doc addressed Melissa and me. "And you, of course, were never meant to know any of this either."
Then young Doc pointed some kind of device, like a TV remote, at all three of us and he pushed a button. The whole world took on that same shimmery blurred look, and a sickening vertigo fell over me.
A moment later, it was like waking up, standing on the sidewalk outside of Doc Baxter's house. I was gripped by the most powerful feeling of Deja vu I'd ever experienced, and something in my mind, like the most ridiculous notions about Doc Baxter I could imagine. Only thinking about it now, later, am I able to piece together the jumbled pieces of what must surely have been a dream. It would have to be a dream; I don't know.
All I can say now, for sure, is this: As we approached Doc's door, Ed Wood box set in tow, as I pushed the doorbell, I had the strongest feeling that this should have been the end of something but of course, it wasn't.
Or was it?
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