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By unknown (Ed Wood Prod. / Valiant Pictures) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

10 Out-of-This-World Facts About Plan 9 From Outer Space

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By unknown (Ed Wood Prod. / Valiant Pictures) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Whether it deserves the title or not, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) has been both condemned and celebrated as “the worst movie ever made.” Critics love to mock everything from the film’s comical dialogue to its not-so-special effects. And yet these same things are what endears the film to its legion of fans. Writer-director Ed Wood crafted the picture with undeniable passion. “Plan 9,” he once said, “is my pride and joy.” After Wood passed away in 1978, his beloved film turned into a huge success—but for reasons he probably never would’ve expected. 

1. IT WAS BELA LUGOSI’S LAST MOVIE.

A lifelong Bela Lugosi fan, Ed Wood was able to cast his idol in 1953’s Glen or Glenda. Two years later, the director gave him a Dr. Frankenstein-like role in Bride of the Monster. For his next film, Wood once again wanted Lugosi to take center stage. At the California home of Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson—who’d also appeared in Bride of the Monster—Wood shot a handful of very brief scenes, all starring Lugosi. Depending on who’s telling the story, this footage was either intended for Plan 9 or for an unmade movie called The Vampire’s Tomb. Regardless, Lugosi sadly didn’t live to see any of it reach the silver screen. The horror icon died of a heart attack in August 16, 1956. Endlessly resourceful, Wood threw all of his existing Lugosi shots into Plan 9 from Outer Space.

2. A CHIROPRACTOR PLAYED LUGOSI’S DOUBLE.

Production on Plan 9 from Outer Space began in earnest after Lugosi’s death. Since he was no longer around to film certain scenes, Wood recruited chiropractor Tom Mason as a substitute. Physically, he wasn’t a perfect stand-in; Mason was noticeably taller than Lugosi (a fact that Wood tried to disguise by having him hunch over). But the good doctor made sure to mask his face under a cape at all times.

3. ITS ORIGINAL TITLE WAS DEEMED SACRILEGIOUS.

The film, about aliens who try to conquer Earth by reanimating human corpses and turning them against the living, was given the working title Grave Robbers from Outer Space. But most of the movie’s funding came from J. Edward Reynolds, a devout Southern Baptist, whose religious sensibilities were offended by the title. So Wood changed it to Plan 9 from Outer Space. To further improve his relationship with the financier, Wood underwent a full-body baptism at Reynolds' church. Several cast members did likewise—including Johnson, who pranked the minister by pretending to drown mid-ceremony.

4. IN SOME VERSIONS OF THE FILM, YOU CAN SEE THE SHADOW OF A BOOM MIKE IN THE BACKGROUND.

By Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Restored DVD.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Plan 9 has numerous bloopers. For example, the grave scenes use plywood tombstones, which wobble throughout the movie. But Wood’s team wasn’t responsible for every error. Early on, we see our hero—pilot Jeff Trent—flying a plane when a huge burst of light almost blinds him. Viewers may also notice that, as he recoils, a boom microphone shadow appears on the back wall of the cockpit. Look carefully, and you’ll also observe that Trent’s co-pilot is holding a copy of the script in his lap. Both of these gaffes were created when Plan 9 was converted to a film and TV-friendly format. Neither the script nor the boom mike shadow appeared in the original theatrical version. Unfortunately, the aspect ratio changes made to Plan 9 for its video and TV releases suddenly rendered both of these things visible.

5. THOSE FLYING SAUCERS WERE STORE-BOUGHT TOYS.

It has been suggested that Wood made his economical-looking spaceships out of hubcaps, pie tins, or dinner plates. But actually, they were just UFO model kits someone had picked up at a hobby shop. The “build-it-yourself” saucers were part of a mass-produced, 1956 line from toy manufacturer Paul Lindberg. 

6. MAILA NURMI (A.K.A. VAMPIRA) DEMANDED A SILENT ROLE.

Plan 9 is filled with classic lines like “Future events such as these will affect you in the future” and “All you of Earth are idiots!” (Eat your heart out, Shakespeare!) From start to finish, though, the movie’s biggest star is dead quiet. TV’s first horror host, Maila Nurmi had gotten her big break on the Los Angeles station KABC as “Vampira.” Alluring and ghoulish, the character’s weekly show earned huge ratings during the 1950s. In Plan 9, Nurmi plays a similar role. Yet whereas Vampira had a silky, seductive voice, Nurmi's Plan 9 character (a revived cadaver) never makes a peep. The actress later claimed that Wood had given her some dialogue at the onse, but she didn’t like the material he’d written, so insisted on staying mute. 

7. TOR JOHNSON’S PHONY SCARS KEPT MIGRATING.

After Inspector Clay (Johnson) is killed off, his semi-mangled corpse rises up and attacks some hapless police officers. For these sequences, makeup wizard Harry Thomas gave the actor some hideous-looking fake bruises. “The scars were created on Tor’s face with cotton spirit gum and collodion,” Thomas said in the 1992 documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The ‘Plan 9’ Companion. “You have to be careful because sometimes collodion will burn, especially if it’s used over the same area more than once.” Throughout the shoot, Thomas was constantly moving the false scars slightly to the left or right. In doing so, he prevented Johnson from getting any real ones.   

8. IT TOOK FANS ALMOST 40 YEARS TO FIGURE OUT WHO COMPOSED THE SCORE.

Like most low-budget 1950s flicks, Plan 9 from Outer Space doesn’t have an original soundtrack. Instead, it uses a composite score pieced together from assorted bits of stock music. Music supervisor Gordon Zahler assembled Plan 9’s instrumental tracks on the cheap. Yet, after the fact, he failed to give credit where some was due. Zahler never wrote a complete list of which composers were behind the movie’s various cues, so for decades their identities remained a mystery. But in the early 1990s, historian Paul Mandell combed the archives and tracked down most of Plan 9’s original recordings and was able to recognize almost every piece that Zahler had grabbed. One of these was “Grip of the Law” by Trevor Duncan, which acts as the film’s lively opening credits theme.

9. GREGORY WALCOTT’S SCRIPT NOW DECORATES A BATHROOM.

At first, Gregory Walcott (who played Jeff Trent) wanted nothing to do with Plan 9. “I read the script and it was gibberish. It made no sense,” the leading man recalled. Eventually, Walcott swallowed his pride and joined the cast anyway. Little did he know that Plan 9 would overshadow the rest of his career. “I will go to my grave not remembered for … meaty roles that I did for the likes of John Ford or Steven Spielberg, but as the leading man in a film most historians consider the worst movie ever made,” Walcott lamented in 1998. Still, he did come to appreciate this film. When Tim Burton’s biopic Ed Wood (1994) came along, Walcott delivered a brief cameo. Then, in 2013, an Escondido, California brewery called the Plan 9 Alehouse opened for business. Walcott helped out by letting the owners use pages from his original Plan 9 script as wallpaper in their men’s room.

10. ONE SNAIL MAIL CONTEST RESCUED THE MOVIE FROM RELATIVE OBSCURITY.

In 1978, movie critics Harry and Michael Medved helped co-write The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time. The book was a hit, but many readers took issue with their list. Some 393 genre fans contacted the Medveds demanding to know why Plan 9 from Outer Space hadn’t so much as been mentioned. “People really took us to task for it,” Harry said. “We were shocked by the flood of fan mail—or, in this case, hate mail—saying, ‘We agree Robot Monster is one of the worst of all time, but how could you write [this book] and not include Plan 9 from Outer Space? What were you thinking?!”

The Medveds would soon redeem themselves. The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time invited readers to nominate their pick for the most inept motion picture in the history of cinema. More than 3000 ballots were cast and Plan 9 won the vote by a landslide. When the Medveds published 1980’s The Golden Turkey Awards (another sort-of tribute to B-grade cinema), they pronounced Ed Wood’s masterpiece “the worst movie ever made.” Ironically, this was the best thing that ever happened to the film.

Before The Golden Turkey Awards arrived, mainstream audiences had more or less ignored Plan 9 from Outer Space. Then, seemingly overnight, its cult following grew. Even TV sitcoms jumped on the bandwagon. A 1991 episode of Seinfeld revolved around Jerry’s eagerness to catch the flick at a screening. “This isn’t ‘Plans One Through Eight from Outer Space,’” he tells Elaine.  “This is Plan 9. The one that worked. The worst movie ever made!”

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15 Things You Might Not Know About One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
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Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which premiered on this day in 1975, won critical acclaim, box office success, and a shelf full of Oscars. But even if you love the complex exploration of life inside a 1960s psychiatric hospital, there are a few things you may not know about its behind-the-scenes story. 

1. CUSTOMS NEARLY DOOMED THE PROJECT. 

Despite the middling success of the 1963 stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel starring Kirk Douglas, Hollywood legend Douglas was dead set on adapting the story for the screen. Douglas contacted Czech director Miloš Forman about the project, promising to send Forman a copy of the book for his perusal. 

Douglas mailed Forman the novel, but the package was confiscated by Czechoslovakian customs and never reached the director. Unaware of the parcel’s fate, the filmmaker resented Douglas’ broken promise, and Douglas thought Forman rude for never bothering to confirm receipt of the novel. It took a decade to sort the mess out, and things only cleared up when Kirk’s son Michael Douglas took another crack at production and contacted Forman once more. 

2. ONE STUDIO WANTED TO CHANGE THE ENDING.

When producers were shopping the picture to studios, 20th Century Fox was interested, but with a catch. Fox would distribute the film, but only if the filmmakers would agree to rewrite the ending; the studio wanted McMurphy to live. Producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas wisely considered this a deal breaker, and United Artists eventually distributed the film.

3. JACK NICHOLSON AND LOUISE FLETCHER WERE NOT THE FIRST CHOICES FOR THEIR CHARACTERS. 


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When Kirk Douglas spearheaded the first attempt to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to life on the big screen in the 1960s, he had intended to play the Randle Patrick McMurphy role himself, just as he had on stage. When production began in earnest 10 years later, Douglas was too old for the part, leaving director Forman to consider and contact the likes of Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and (his personal favorite) Burt Reynolds before finally settling on Jack Nicholson.

A number of different actresses were considered for the role of Nurse Ratched, the film’s central antagonist, as well: Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, and Angela Lansbury were all in the running, before Louise Fletcher ultimately got the part. 

4. LOUISE FLETCHER CHANGED FORMAN’S VIEW ON THE CHARACTER. 

Forman’s original view of Nurse Ratched was as “the personification of evil,” a characterization that made Louise Fletcher a bad fit for the part in the filmmaker’s mind. As Fletcher pressed for the role, Forman’s perspective of Ratched evolved: “I slowly started to realize that it would be much more powerful if it’s not this visible evil,” he said. “That she’s only an instrument of evil. She doesn’t know that she’s evil. She, as a matter of fact, believes that she’s helping people.” This new take on the character paved the way for the official casting of Fletcher. 

5. SEVERAL OF THE FILM’S STARS WERE NOT ACTORS. 

Following the production team’s decision to use Oregon State Hospital as its shooting location, the producers hit on the idea of casting facility superintendent Dr. Dean Brooks as Dr. John Spivey, the doctor charged with assessing R. P. McMurphy’s psychological health. Brooks agreed to play what turned out to be a sizable role, though it would be the only acting job he would ever take. He also helped secure employment for many of his hospital’s patients as extras and crew members during production. 

Mel Lambert, another non-actor, was wrangled to play the harbormaster who protested McMurphy’s ad hoc fishing trip. What’s more, Lambert—a respected area businessman who had a strong relationship with the local Native American community—introduced the production team to Will Sampson, the 6-foot-5-inch-tall Muscogee painter who would make his acting debut as the major character Chief Bromden. 

6. THE STARS LIVED ON THE WARD DURING PRODUCTION. 


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All of the actors who played patients actually lived on the Oregon State Hospital psychiatric ward throughout production. The men personalized their sleeping quarters, spent their days on campus “get[ting] a sense of what it was to be hospitalized” (as actor Vincent Schiavelli put it), and interacting with real psychiatric patients. 

7. MANY SCENES WERE SHOT WITHOUT THE ACTORS’ KNOWLEDGE. 

To complete this realistic immersion, Forman led his performers in unscripted group therapy sessions in which he directed the actors to develop their characters’ psychological maladies organically. He would often capture footage of the actors, both in and out of character, without explicitly mentioning that the cameras were rolling. The film’s final cut includes a shot of a visibly irritated Fletcher reacting to a piece of direction fed to her by Forman. 

8. FORMAN AND NICHOLSON HAD A TREMENDOUS SPAT OVER THE FILM’S PLOT. 

While the intensity of the turmoil varies from rumor to rumor, reports from the set were consistent on one fact: The star refused to speak with Forman for a large chunk of the production process. Nicholson took issue with Forman’s suggestion that the hospital inmates would be an unruly bunch upon the initial arrival of McMurphy. Instead, the actor insisted that such disavowal of the medical staff’s authority should only begin after the introduction of McMurphy into their lives and routines. 

Although the version of the story that we see in the film today is more closely associated with Nicholson’s alleged reading, suggesting that Forman ultimately took his advice, Nicholson refused to interact with his director from that point forward. When the star and Forman needed to communicate with one another, they used cinematographer Bill Butler as a middleman. 

9. DANNY DEVITO CREATED AN IMAGINARY FRIEND DURING PRODUCTION. 


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Emotionally strained by a demanding shooting schedule that kept him 3000 miles from his future wife, Rhea Perlman, DeVito developed the coping mechanism of an imaginary friend with whom he would have nightly chats. Concerned that his own sanity might be slipping away, DeVito sought the advice of Dr. Brooks, who assured him that there was no reason to worry as long as DeVito could still identify the character as fictional. 

10. THE CREW WAS WORRIED ABOUT THE SANITY OF ONE CAST MEMBER.

While Dr. Brooks had no concerns about DeVito, he echoed the rest of the cast and crew’s apprehensions about the psychological state of Sydney Lassick, who played Charlie Cheswick. Lassick exhibited increasingly unpredictable and emotionally erratic behavior during his time in character, a pattern that culminated in a tearful outburst during his observation of the final scene between Nicholson and Sampson. Lassick became so overwhelmed during the scene that he had to be removed from set. 

11. FLETCHER TOOK OFF HER CLOTHES IN ORDER TO GET FRIENDLIER WITH HER CO-STARS.

Envious of the camaraderie her male costars had forged, and hoping to dispel any associations with her tyrannical character, Fletcher surprised the cast one evening by ripping off her dress on the crowded ward. Years later, the actress laughed about the display, saying, “‘I’ll show them I’m a real woman under here, you know.’ I think that must have been what I was thinking.” 

12. THE FISHING TRIP SCENE BARELY MADE IT INTO THE FILM. 

Initially, Forman was vocally opposed to including a scene that took place beyond the grounds of the hospital out of concerns that a temporary liberation would undercut the dramatic force of the film’s ending. In the end, Zaentz convinced Forman to shoot the fishing trip sequence. It was the final scene filmed and the only piece shot out of chronological order. 

One thing to look for in the fishing scene: A very subtle Anjelica Huston cameo. Huston, who was dating Nicholson during production, has a nonspeaking role as one of the spectators on the dock as McMurphy and his fellow patients steer the stolen boat back to shore. 


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13. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST WAS THE FIRST FILM TO WIN ALL “BIG FIVE” ACADEMY AWARDS IN 41 YEARS.

Not since 1934's It Happened One Night swept the Oscars had a film walked away with awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest took home the lot, with Nicholson and Fletcher winning the top acting awards. The feat would not be matched again for another 16 years, with Silence of the Lambs becoming the next (and last to date) movie to earn the distinction. 

14. THE FILM ENJOYED ONE OF THE LONGEST THEATRICAL RUNS IN MOVIE HISTORY. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was revered worldwide, but Swedish viewers developed an especially soft spot for the film. Cuckoo’s Nest remained a regular option for Swedish moviegoers through 1987—11 years after its initial release. 

15. KESEY REFUSED TO SEE THE FILM (BUT MAY HAVE BY ACCIDENT). 

The poster child for the “the book was better” movement, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Kesey disapproved of a big screen adaptation of his novel as soon as he found out that the filmmakers had abandoned the use of Chief Bromden as the story’s narrator. Kesey never intended to see the movie, but one story says he inadvertently caught a few moments during a bout of channel surfing one evening. Once Kesey realized what he was watching, he promptly changed stations.

According to fellow novelist Chuck Palahniuk (who has famously praised director David Fincher’s adaptation of his novel Fight Club, plot changes and all), Kesey once stated privately that he did not care for the material.

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The Origins of 10 Thanksgiving Traditions
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There's a lot more to Thanksgiving than just the turkey and the Pilgrims. And though most celebrations will break out the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, there are a number of other customs that you might be less aware of (and some that are becoming too ubiquitous to miss).

1. THE TURKEY TROT FOOTRACE

Many towns host brisk morning runs to lessen the guilt about the impending feast (distances and times vary from race to race, but the feel-good endorphins are universal). The oldest known Turkey Trot footrace took place in Buffalo, New York, and has been happening every year since 1896. Nearly 13,000 runners participated in the 4.97 mile race last year.

2. THE GREAT GOBBLER GALLOP IN CUERO, TEXAS

During their annual TurkeyFest in November, they gather a bunch of turkeys and have the "Great Gobbler Gallop," a turkey race. It started in 1908 when a turkey dressing house opened in town. Early in November, farmers would herd their turkeys down the road toward the dressing house so the birds could be prepared for Thanksgiving. As you can imagine, this was quite a spectacle—as many as 20,000 turkeys have been part of this "march". People gathered to watch, and eventually the first official festival was formed around the event in 1912. The final event of the celebration is the Great Gobbler Gallop, a race between the Cuero turkey champ and the champ from Worthington, Minnesota (they have a TurkeyFest as well). Each town holds a heat and the best time between the towns wins. The prize is a four-foot trophy called "The Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph."

3. FRANKSGIVING

From 1939 to 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up by a week. In '39, Thanksgiving, traditionally held on the last Thursday of November, fell on the 30th. Since enough people would wait until after Thanksgiving to start their Christmas shopping, Roosevelt was concerned that having the holiday so late in the month would mess up retail sales at a time when he was trying hard to pull Americans out of the Great Depression. It didn't entirely go over well though—some states observed FDR's change, and others celebrated what was being called the "Republican" Thanksgiving on the traditional, last-Thursday date. Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas all considered both Thanksgivings to be holidays. Today, we've basically split the difference—Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November, regardless of whether that's the last Thursday of the month or not.

4. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON

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The story goes that since at least Harry Truman, it has been tradition for the President of the U.S. to save a couple of birds from becoming someone's feast. Records only go back to George H.W. Bush doing it, though some say the tradition goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. (Lincoln is also the President who originally declared that the holiday be held on the last Thursday of November.) In recent years, the public has gotten to name the turkeys in online polls; the paired turkeys (the one you see in pictures and a backup) have gotten creative names such as Stars and Stripes, Biscuit and Gravy, Marshmallow and Yam, Flyer and Fryer, Apple and Cider, and Honest and Abe last year.

5. THANKSGIVING PARADES

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Everyone knows about the Macy's Parade, but for a more historically accurate parade, check out America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade in Plymouth. The parade starts with a military flyover and continues with floats and costumed people taking the parade-goers from the 17th century to the present time. There are nationally recognized Drum and Bugle Corps, re-enactment units from every period of American history, and military marching units. And military bands play music honoring the men and women who serve in each branch: the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard.

6. BLACK FRIDAY

Black Friday, of course, is the day-after sales extravaganza that major (and minor) retailers participate in. Most people think that the term comes from the day of the year when retail stores make their profits go from red to black, but other sources have it originating from police officers in Philadelphia. They referred to the day as Black Friday because of the heavy traffic and higher propensity for accidents. Also, just because you hear that it's "the busiest shopping day of the season" on the news, don't believe it. It's one of the busiest days, but typically, it's hardly ever the busiest, though it typically ranks somewhere in the top 10. The busiest shopping day of the year is usually the Saturday before Christmas.

7. CYBER MONDAY

Black Friday is quickly being rivaled in popularity by Cyber Monday. It's a fairly recent phenomenon—it didn't even have a name until 2005. But there's truth to it—77 percent of online retailers at the time reported an increase in sales on that particular day, and as online shopping has continued to grow and become more convenient, retailers have scheduled their promotions to follow suit.

8. BUY NOTHING DAY

And in retaliation for Black Friday, there's Buy Nothing Day. To protest consumerism, many people informally celebrate BND. It was first "celebrated" in 1992, but didn't settle on its day-after-Thanksgiving date until 1997, where it has been ever since. It's also observed internationally, but outside of North America the day of observance is the Saturday after our Thanksgiving.

9. FOOTBALL

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It's a common sight across the U.S.: parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles passed out on the couch watching football after dinner. Well, we have the first Detroit Lions owner, G.A. Richards, to thank for the tradition of Thanksgiving football. He saw it as a way to get people to his games. CBS was the first on the bandwagon when they televised their first Thanksgiving game in 1956. The first color broadcast was in 1965—the Lions vs. the Baltimore Colts. Since the 1960s, the Dallas Cowboys have joined the Lions in hosting Thanksgiving Day games, and the NFL Network now airs a third game on that night.

10. NATIONAL DOG SHOW

Of course, if football isn't your thing, there's always the National Dog Show. It's aired after the Macy's Parade on NBC every year. Good luck telling your dad that he'll be enjoying Springer Spaniels instead of the Lions or Cowboys, though.

A version of this story originally published in 2008.

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