Review: How RiffTrax makes the epic fail of Plan 9 epic fun

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

As the horror/punk/metal/thrash band the Murderdolls sang, "You can knock on Ed Wood, but it won't do you no good."

What's the point of making fun of Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space? The movie about super-advanced aliens rising the dead—which features a posthumous performance by Bela Lugosi courtesy of Mrs. Wood's chiropractor acting as a body double for the late actor—is considered to be the worst and most unintentionally funny movie ever made (with no diss to the glory that is Troll 2).

And Wood is considered the worst filmmaker of all time. Plan 9 and Ed Wood's legacy have endured because they need no ribbing. The movie is the crystallized vision of Wood in all his demented glory. Plan 9 isn't fascinating just because it's bad. It's fascinating because of the mind-boggling and kind of touching sincerity that Wood brought to the material. It's great in its awfulness, and watching it is funny because it's what we now call an "epic fail," the striving for greatness totally beyond the striver's ability.

Just in time for the 21st anniversary of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the 50th anniversary of Plan 9 comes the RiffTrax edition of Plan 9 on a DVD entitled, fittingly enough, RiffTrax: Plan 9 From Outer Space ($9.95, Legend Films).

What's RiffTrax? RiffTrax is an online service offered by MST3K alums Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. Through the RiffTrax site, you can download MP3s of the trio mocking specific movies in top MST3K style that you can synchronize as "commentary tracks" for DVDs of these specific movies. Movies ranging from The Dark Knight to Ocean's Eleven have been "riffed" by Nelson, Murphy and Corbett, and so have episodes of shows like Heroes and Grey's Anatomy. This new Plan 9/RiffTrax DVD is part of a passel of RiffTrax releases that, like Plan 9, have either fallen into the public domain or are really easy and/or cheap to license, like Reefer Madness, Little Shop of Horrors and Missile to the Moon, among others.

So is this RiffTrax Plan 9 release any good? Well, in that it manages to inspire a few chuckles, ... yes. Watching this DVD is like hanging out with some of your funny friends and checking out Plan 9, which is never a bad thing. In the case of Plan 9, which has a hypnotic power in its badness, the gags can help ground you as you're enraptured by the wretchedness.

But ultimately, this is not a review of a DVD, but of a concept. And the RiffTrax treatment of these stinkers is well worth the investment of $9.95 apiece. As with MST3K, the gags work best with movies that are kind of good (remember MTS3K's savaging of Marooned?), and the best RiffTrax DVD of the lot is that of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

While it might seem blasphemous to make fun of a truly great movie like NOTLD, there's the upside of these releases: You can watch the movies with the RiffTrax commentary shut off, and the transfers and sound are all great. Just under ten bucks for a nice clean DVD of NOTLD, or other campy-but-great crapfests like Plan 9 and Reefer Madness, as opposed the usual quality you get with public-domain movies, is a good deal in and of itself. The option of funny commentary might just be gravy for some movie fans.