John Johnson doesn’t spook easy. An avid fan of all things macabre, the film director built his career on mauled bodies, zombies, spine-tingling hauntings, and heinous murders. But the pending release of his latest work has him shivering.
“The day Plan 9 gets released to general audiences I will be probably be hiding in a closet somewhere,” the Charlottesville native said in a recent interview.
Johnson’s trepidation is not unfounded. The film is a remake of Ed Woods’s 1959 film Plan 9 From Outer Space, which authors Michael and Harry Medved famously dubbed “the worst movie ever made.” But retelling the story, which describes the small town implementation of aliens’ “Plan 9” to use zombies to prevent humans from destroying the universe, became a point of obsession for Johnson.
“No one was crazy enough to do it, but I was,” he said. “I was working on another film and complaining about remakes, so someone asked what movie I would actually want to remake.” Johnson felt a connection to Woods that helped prompt his decision.
“Even if you don’t agree with the quality of his work, the idea of the relentless filmmaker is something we all agree with,” Johnson said. “I decided I would try to remake Plan 9, not to make fun of the original but to do what they would have done without the budget and time restraints they faced.”
The final product preserves its new director’s personal approach to film-making while offering 54 visual and auditory nods to the original. The film boasts several actors well known in the horror community, including Brian Krause (Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers), Mike Christopher (Dawn of the Dead), Addie Miller, the little girl who portrayed the now iconic “first zombie” in AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead, and Conrad Brooks, a cast member from the original Plan 9 From Outer Space. Johnson himself joins makes several onscreen appearances.
“It’s really a love letter to that kind of film,” Johnson said, who characterized Plan 9’s style as a type of “make-believe” underappreciated by moviegoers today.
“Modern audiences don’t just let it be a movie,” he said. “They don’t allow a fourth wall, and they constantly want answers.” He hopes that the deliberate “fakeness” of the Plan 9 universe will help audiences relax into an alternate reality.
“It’s not meant to be real,” Johnson said. “We constantly remind you with the costumes, dialogue, even certain situations characters find themselves in. We want you to just enjoy the ride.”
Plan 9 appears to be succeeding, with preliminary successes that include a spot in the Cannes Film Market this summer and a partnership with Spotlight Pictures.
“I’m definitely fighting for Ed [Woods] with this movie,” he said. “I hope people might look more kindly at him. I hope someone will hang a Plan 9 poster on their wall and not because it was a bad movie. Hopefully his story won’t be clouded by that legacy.”
Reserve a free ticket to see Plan 9, playing at Regal Stonefield cinema on June 3, through this link.
~ Maggie Underwood