Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957) is the canonical horror movie which is so bad, it’s MST3K material. The 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards notably honored it as “worst movie ever made.” Published in 1980, this treasured classic book launched the era of bad movie fascination. It also listed a disproportionate number of horror movies.
Your humble author will freely cop to the following: (1) I’m such a horror movie freak that I will sit through the most gawdawful ones, and (2) out of all the genres, when horror movies go wrong, they seem to go the most wrong. I don’t know why that is. A theory could be that horror movies are cheap to make, so they’re a frequent target for the most amateur filmmakers with the lowest budgets. You might also theorize that horror is a delicate balance to pull off, so it looks easier on screen than it actually is to do.
As for Plan 9, its fame is so great that it lent its name to the successor to the Unix operating system, named “Plan 9 From Bell Labs.” I’ve written on it countless times, so won’t repeat it here. The shout-out from Ken Thompson and Dennis Richie alone gave it eternal life in die-hard geek circles. I’ll freely grant that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a real stinker, all right. It deserves its place as a hilariously bad effort by legendary B-movie director Ed Wood, himself so notorious that a mockumantary bears his name. I’m not going to defend it for a minute. But a whooooole lot of water has gone under the bridge since 1957. We have horror movies now that make Plan 9 look… not as bad by comparison!
So for your obligatory “so bad it’s good (or just unbelievable)” viewing (dis)pleasure, if you’re a Plan 9 cultie, you should see these. Cases in point:
Frankenstein Island (1981)
Not only is this among the worst movies with “Frankenstein” in the title, but it’s also one of the most bizarre. Think that one over. For starters, “Dr. Frankenstein,” the character, is barely even in it, and the monster doesn’t show up until the last 15 minutes. It does have stock footage of John Carradine as the good doctor in a superimposed hologram yelling about “THE POWER!” and other gibberish. It also has an island full of catsuit-clad natives, a militia of obscure thugee cultists, a drunk pirate guy who yell-laughs “AH HAR HAR HAR HAAAAR!” constantly, a Poe-quoting prisoner, and the granddaughter of Dr. Frankenstein in a modest bungalow home + laboratory furnished out of Dollar Tree props, performing experiments.
My paragraph plus the above Dark Corners review doesn’t capture the half of it! Made by the famously inept director Jerry Warren of The Wild World of Batwoman fame, this movie is an incoherent, babbling mess with little continuity from scene to scene and no logic anywhere. Covered by RiffTrax but so far sadly missing from MST3K. Unforgettable!
The Wicker Man Remake (2006)
I insist on titling it The Wicker Man Remake because this movie does not deserve its proper title. Please pass that on. You knew this movie was coming on this list, but it still deserves even more hate. Not just for being a despicable dumpster fire on its own, but for taking a steaming dump on the name of what was regarded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. For the rest of history, every time somebody hears good word of mouth about the original Wicker Man and wants to go check it out, they run in danger of accidentally getting the 2006 Nicholas Cage circus of crap instead.
This is everything wrong with bad Hollywood remakes. Nobody wants them, they don’t even make the studios money, and they bring nothing but pain to future generations. It would be like if you put a landfill full of rotten fish next to Disneyland and named it Disneyland too. The taxi from the airport would assume you meant to go to the landfill every single time until you corrected him. Doesn’t that sound stupid? Why do we let them do this to movies?
Seeing as how I am the only person in the world who hates the original Blair Witch Project (1999), and have been forced to live in a cave to hide from Millennials so I don’t get hung for it ever since, I’m pretty smug about Book of Shadows. You all see where it was a lazy, muddled mess, a waste of film, done for nothing but a cynical cash grab off the original marketing megabomb? Good, now we agree. The only part we disagree on is the first movie.
There technically wasn’t a first movie at all. There was a global viral marketing campaign whose budget was 100x the actual film production costs. The movie was an afterthought. Coming at the time that it did when “viral marketing” was still an experiment, anything could have taken The Blair Witch Project‘s place – candy corn, Microsoft Zune, White Claw, pineapple on pizza – and the sucker public would have wolfed it down in a brainwashed frenzy. I guess we should be grateful it was just a movie.
Barn of the Naked Dead (1974) AKA “Terror Circus” AKA “Nightmare Circus“
TRIGGER WARNING: The other movies on this list are “so bad it’s good” and the purported equals of Plan 9 From Outer Space. I’m including Barn of the Naked Dead to show how a movie can be far worse than Plan 9! Not a second of laughs is to be found in this sick story of a psychopathic circus ringleader who kidnaps women off the desert highway and forces them to perform in his personal circus of sadism. Which, contrary to the title, has no undead characters, naked or otherwise, but kind of has a radioactive mutant for no reason. It may sound interesting, but the film sabotages its own potential. The horror aspect is tame, the pace is a crawling drag, and every character, be it psycho, victim, or cop, is as dumb as a post.
Besides the rampant, unfettered misogyny, the whole movie is both a roaring bore of pointlessness and produced in the poorest of taste, like when it uses saxophone stabs from the soundtrack every time a woman gets whipped because “haha it’s so funny.” Made by the mean-spirited schlock director Alan Rudolph, who added to this resume for Hell by taking an even bigger dump on author Kurt Vonnegut with his film “adaptation” (assassination) of Breakfast of Champions (1999). Other bad movies just lie there and stink; Barn of the Naked Dead makes you stink while you’re watching it so you need a shower afterward.
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
You’d better expect this one here too! Not only is Exorcist II: The Heretic called “the worst sequel ever made” and “the worst horror movie,” it even makes some “worst movie PERIOD” lists. It is indeed by legendary acid-head director John Boorman, and can you believe after he finished Zardoz, he still had enough hubris left in his tank to make this? Insult to injury: This is the sequel to what many regard as one of the greater canonical horror movies of all time.
So Exorcist II: The Heretic has only the most tenuous of connection to the first movie, even in terms of continuity. However, they did introduce a kind of X-Men Xavier school for the formerly possessed, a blinkenlights mind-reading machine, James Earl Jones turning into a leopard out of nowhere, and a persistent locust motif. It has so many locusts that it almost qualifies as a “when bugs attack” horror movie. You almost forget there’s supposed to be demons in it, as I’m sure Boorman did many times.
The rest of the movies on this list are here because, even though they suck, they’re at least good riffing fun. TCM:TNG, the longest horror movie title ever, doesn’t even deliver that much joy. It actually riffs on itself, with that self-aware irony attitude that everything in the mid-90s had. It’s a mix of attempts at black comedy, which fails, and attempts at real horrors, which also fail. They just didn’t care, nobody cared what they were doing, and they didn’t believe anybody would see it even before they started making it.
At the same time, they managed to stick to the same tired formula: carload of teens, with an irritating passion for squabbling, get lost in the woods and subsequently picked off one by one. The only things they did that were original are the forced “humor” and the attempt at nailing a logical ending onto it – the exact two things which were at the bottom of the list of things that anybody wanted. The TCM franchise is barely any kind of story to begin with; it’s like going to a monster truck rally to watch Bigfoot squash the other cars. To start with a bar set that low and still blow it takes some real dedication.
From Hell It Came (1957)
Now playing on: Amazon Prime
For a final surprise, one horror movie from the same release year as Plan 9, arguably equally as bad, not 1/1000000th as well-known. From Hell It Came does not deserve its title. It should have been called something like “Splinters,” or “Root of All Evil,” or mayhaps “Terror of the Trumk.” You’ve heard of ridiculous premises for horror movies like an attack of killer rabbits in Night of the Lepus, right? Are you sitting down? From Hell It Came is about a rampaging, monstrous tree.
The tree was an island prince wrongly executed in a former life, so he comes back from the grave as a mobile tree, in a revenge plot which dares you to question its efficiency. The image you see is the real costume they gave him. Yep, this walking tree with resting bitch face was supposed to be scary. Even excusing the wooden acting, the premise of the plot is rooted in Indonesian folklore, so western audiences will be out on a limb. This pile of compost will have you sycamore horror movies in general because it leafs you so board. Also, nobody else on the island seems to have access to a book of matches.
I rest my case
Plan 9, ridiculous horror movie? Of course, and yet its pure innocence makes it almost lovable. But Plan 9 From Outer Space, worst horror movie ever made? Uh-uh, we have crossed many more thresholds of suck since that day.
In case you’re asking “Why isn’t my favorite bad horror movie on the list?” There are infinite bad horror movies out there. These were just seven pertinent examples.