Remaking the ‘Worst Movie Ever’: Director Johnson tackles Ed Wood cult classicWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
John Johnson never planned to be the guy who brought to life a remake of Ed Wood’s camp landmark “Plan 9 from Outer Space.” And yet, it seems as though he was destined to do so, even from childhood.
“Most of my friends didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives — and most of them, to this day, still don’t,” Johnson said in an interview with Toledo Free Press. “But I, somehow, knew. I wrote, directed and starred in a play when I was 7, and made my first film when I was 8. And then, by [the time I was] graduating high school, I had made over 50 films.”
Growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia, the budding filmmaker was obsessed with watching any cheesy, B-movie camp that came into his peripheral — whether it be the then-modern slasher genre on VHS tapes or old flicks aired via local syndication. It was in this latter environment that a young John would have his fateful first meeting with “Plan 9.”
“Grandpa from ‘The Munsters,’ after the Saturday morning cartoons were over, he would do a double feature, like around noon, of monster films. And a lot of it was like the old Hammer films, which I was obsessed with, and Godzilla films. But then, all of a sudden, there was this ‘Plan 9.’ And at the time, I just thought it was this zombie movie. But I didn’t know quite the notoriety, the infamy of it, until much later.”
The “infamy” comes from the fact that the original “Plan 9″ — made on less-than-a-shoestring in 1959 — has been called the “worst movie ever made” in some circles. Depicting a race of aliens who invade earth by resurrecting the dead, the film features wonderfully bad acting, cardboard sets, utterly unconvincing effects, terrible dialogue and oh so much more. But because of all that, it’s also genuinely entertaining and memorable — something much modern Hollywood schlock will never be.
Johnson always kept a soft spot in his heart for “Plan 9,” even as he grew into adulthood and began working on films like “Freshman Psych” and “Scary Story Slumber Party.” But it had never occurred to him to make his own version of Wood’s cult classic — not until one day, when he was on a set, grumbling about how Hollywood was churning out too many remakes.
“A PA (production assistant) asked me, if I could remake any movie in the world, what would I do? And I had met Conrad Brooks, who was one of the sole survivors of the original ['Plan 9'], and he kind of told me the history of the movie.
“So, I said, I would try to take that film, and show that, because the odds were against them, the film got this notoriety of ‘the worst movie ever made.’ And, in fact, the concept of the film could be fun. It could be exploitative, and a fun film to do, so I would remake that,” Johnson said. “So, as a joke, I posted that on my phone, sent it out as a text message to a bunch of people. And a couple weeks later, it was in Fangoria that I was doing it. ‘Val Kilmer doing this! John Johnson doing remake of ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space!’ And at the time, I hadn’t even really thought about it.”
After doing some research and finding that the out-of-copyright original was free and clear as far as rights went, there was only one person Johnson could really ask for the blessing he needed to proceed.
“I went to Conrad, and I said, ‘Well, you’re like, the sole survivor. What would you think about me doing this?’ And he said, ‘As long as I’m in it!’”
Not to say that there hasn’t been resistance. Ever since Johnson began filming his new version — simply called “Plan 9″ — many fans of Wood’s original have expressed displeasure at the very idea of a modern reimagining.
“The Ed fans thought we would make fun of it, or make another parody, to that effect. So in 2009, I shot a teaser trailer, to show the feel of what we wanted to do. And it turned a lot of people around. And I think that teaser trailer has had, like, cumulative, 1.2 million views. So there’s been a lot of positive feedback since that became the case.”
Now, as Johnson prepares to take the finished product around the country with screenings at conventions and festivals (including a stop at Epic-Con in Dayton this October), he hopes fans both young and old appreciate what his new take on the cult classic can bring to the screen.
“There’s something that I think is lost in film right now. I think audiences are so critical of what could be real, what could not be real, that they stop wanting to take, just, the ride,” Johnson said. “So, with this film, I’m hoping that I might be able to start opening a door where people can just have fun with the movie and maybe not over analyze.”