“You know, it’s an interesting thing when you consider… the Earth people, who can think, are so frightened by those who cannot: the dead.” So says the alien “Space Commander” in what is, hands down, one of the worst movies ever made: Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Some of the movie’s more… memorable features include its flinchingly bad dialogue (“A flying saucer? You mean the kind from up there?” “Yeah, either that or its counterpart.”), the terrible casting (which was made worse by the fact that the star, Bela Lugosi, died before “Plan 9” was finished… and then was replaced by his chiropractor for the remainder of the film), the “string-powered” flying saucers, and the plot in general (aliens attempting to destroy Earth using an army of zombies). Even the back of the DVD case calls the movie “a hymn to all those who have ever tried to create something intelligent and meaningful and failed miserably every step of the way.”
But, despite the fact that Ed Wood’s lofty intentions for his film were so horribly crushed by its sheer terribleness, there is still something about “Plan 9” that is striking. There is a lot of truth in the idea that people are horrified by the dead, and especially by the not-quite-dead. Our fascination with zombies, in shows like “The Walking Dead,” in the ever-growing list of zombie movies, which has become a horror genre in itself, or even in classic horror tales like “The Monkey’s Paw,” reveals our fear of the “living dead.” Even in cases where zombies are portrayed as ridiculous (as in “Zombieland,” or this episode of “South Park”), there is still a sense of horror associated with the idea of mindless eating machines that were once human, but are no longer alive, nor quite dead.
What is it about zombies that is so threatening (other than the fact that they are virtually unstoppable and want to eat us, of course)? Maybe it is the fact that they defy order, and negate our rituals for the acceptance of death. If we have accepted the death of a loved one, and conducted the proper rituals to come to terms with our loss, it would be a severe blow to our society, as well as our individual emotions, for that person to return to “life.” In the case of zombies, this is made even worse due to the fact that the person who was dead does not come back as he or she was, but as a distorted version of a human being who can do nothing but eat and destroy all in its path. Perhaps what we fear is a loss of our own intellect, of becoming, like zombies, unthinking, violent distortions of ourselves. Whatever the underlying cause of our fear of the undead, what remains is the fact that we do fear them, despite the fact that we can think and they cannot. “It’s an interesting thing, when you consider…”