“God would seem to indicate to us and not allow us to doubt that these beautiful poems are not human, or the work of man, but divine and the work of God; and that the poets are only the interpreters of the Gods by whom they are severally possessed. Was not this the lesson which the God intended to teach when by the mouth of the worst of poets he sang the best of songs?”Ion

On September 13, 2010, I received an email that would have changed the course of cinematic history, had misfortune not intervened. The message contained the startling claim that the worst movie ever made—the inimitable Graverobbers from Outer Space (later retitled Plan 9 from Outer Space)—was not the work of incompetent transvestite director Ed Wood, Jr., but in fact an imitation of Wood’s style by the writer’s dead husband, the unrecognized genius of avant-garde filmmaking, Ted Hood, Jr. (1932-1958). Though I was skeptical of her claim, Mrs. Norma Jean Shady-Hood—whose attempts over the years to interest the late Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, and TMZ.com in her story had all fallen on deaf ears—invited me to visit her on her deathbed so she could set the record straight about her dead husband’s greatest achievement.

Ted Hood's Plan 9 from Outer Space
Original unaltered credit screen for “Graverobbers from Outer Space”

You will search in vain for a complete (or partial) filmography of Ted Hood, Jr. In fact, you will have difficulty finding mention of the underground auteur anywhere; so ahead of his time that his work was rejected by his contemporaries, his obscurity is ample proof of his importance. Hood had a letter to the editor published in Cahiers du Cinéma arguing that “Dwain Esper‘s orangutan rapists and tea-smoking pianists are fully as dialectical and twice as proletariat as Cocteau’s grasping candelabras and mirror tricks, and the King of the Celluloid Gypsies deserves the status of auteur every bit as much as that dyspeptic Italian pretender.” His seven minute short “Defecation” anticipated the quotidian films of Andy Warhol, but although the footage was not explicit, the controversy caused by the protagonist’s folding of the toilet paper under the roll was judged to violate the Hays Code’s prohibition against presenting material that goes against the “correct standards of life,” and thus the film could not be exhibited legally in this country. Besides his uncredited script for Plan 9, Hood completed nine unpublished screenplays: “Revenge of the Atomic Darwinists”; “Tales from the Harlot’s Crematorium”; “Oh! How Dry My Wick Is!”; “Lunchwagon of the Worms”; “Night of the Crazy Lunatic” (his only attempt at film noir); “King Leer” (a stage production of Shakespeare’s play to be performed entirely by burlesque dancers reading off cue cards with no rehearsal); “Gauchomania!” (believed by Flixter’s moaninmovievixen to be the inspiration for George Lucas’ Star Wars); the rejected sequel “Citizen Kane Has Risen from the Grave”; and the screwball comedy “Is America Ready for Morris Windsor to Propose to a Jewess?” These pieces all demonstrated an advanced knowledge of camp aesthetics far beyond that of his peers. An obviously jealous Edward Albee makes mention of Hood Jr. in an unpublished diary entry, calling him an “annoying little brat” who “smelled of his beloved muskrats” and “always had his hand out for some crazy scheme or another.” Jean-Luc Godard was well aware of Hood and once called him a “crackpot” and a “bleeding heart liberal.” The polymathic Hood Jr. also developed a photographic process for filming ghosts, although to this day his patent application languishes in some Washington bureaucrat’s desk drawer (Shady-Hood claims that this neglect was due to the intervention of big money interests at Kodak-Eastman, who filed a competing patent for a similar process two months after Hood’s application, and by United Artists, who were afraid that the invention’s widespread use would mean they would be forced to renegotiate Rudolph Valentino’s contract).

Eager for a possible scoop that would rock the movie world, on September 19 I followed Norma Jean Shady-Hood’s directions to her double-wide trailer, at that time illegally parked on land in a southern Indian county owned by the State Septic Council. I was greeted at the door by her chain-smoking Filipina caretaker, Jhenelynia. Shady-Hood herself was in the final stages of her battle with nose cancer and was barely mobile; while holding her oxygen tank in one hand, I used the other to maneuver her wheelchair between the corridors formed by stacks of yellowing, tinder-dry issues of Variety, Hollywood Reporter and (oddly enough) Player, none of which contained any mention of her deceased husband. She directed me to a chamber with walls formed from the August 1950 – November 1962 issues of TV Guide, where she had created a small shrine devoted to her ex-husband’s work. There, in between wheezes, she showed me the documentary evidence of her husband’s authorship of the notorious film that came to be known as Plan 9 from Outer Space: reels and reels of Hood’s unpublished short films, which demonstrated an ahead-of-his-time sense of pop culture irony worthy of a Taranatino; the original handwritten script dated Febraury 3, 1959; photographs of her husband on the set with a megaphone in one hand and Tor Johnson’s beefy shoulder in the other, cardboard gravestones in the background; an actual Cadillac hubcap used as a special effect on the set; outtakes from Graverobbers featuring Dudley Manlove delivering the scrapped line, “You dumb humans!  You’ll ruin everything, the whole magnificent planet!,” a useless scene of Duke Moore accidentally forgetting to point his revolver at his own head, and Vampira’s lost nude scene; and, most tellingly, a signed photograph of Bela Lugosi bearing the legend, “Dear Ted, Ed’s a cool guy but also a backstabbing faggot.  Don’t let him take credit for your work!  All my best, Drac.”

Persuaded by Shady-Hood’s ample documentation of her husband’s authorship of Graverobbers, I listened to her story.  Ted Hood Jr. was born the poor son of Ted Hood, Sr., a fertilizer salesman from El Paso; in 1950, after becoming the youngest person to graduate Texas Western University with an associate’s degree in applied agriculture (at that time there was no film studies program), he married his high school sweetheart Norma Jean Shady and began filming short experimental works in his backyard and mailing his screenplays to Hollywood studios.  His efforts met with indifference.   Clearly, Hood, whose work anticipated the prankish anti-audience provocations of Paul Morrisey, the Kuchar brothers, John Waters, and George Lucas, was too ahead of his time to find approval in conservative 1950s Hollywood; he was even too out there for his fellow experimental filmmakers.  The hostility of the timid film industry to Hood’s innovative ideas left him despondent, forced to work part time as a soda jerk to support his wife.

His life changed forever, however, when in 1953 Hood witnessed an uncut screening of Ed Wood’s pro-transvestite documentary Glen or Glenda at the Starlite Drive-In.  The labyrinthine, wandering, inconsistent narration, Lugosi’s inexplicably omniscient character, and the dream sequence featuring Satan attending a wedding mixed with catfighting strippers ignited Hood’s imagination.  “We usually made out at the Starlite,” Norma Jean confessed, “but that night Ted was glued to the screen.  He kept saying, ‘This is it, honey muffin.  This is what I’ve been searching for.  Buñuel and his Marxist claptrap be damned; this is the unconscious on screen, this is the absurd parade of human comedy at its subtlest. I must harness this power.’”

Ted became obsessed with the movie and soon cashed in his soda jerk pension for a one way ticket to L.A. to meet the man who had brought this masterpiece to the screen.  “But when he finally met Ed,” Shady-Hood relates, “he was crushed.  Eddie wasn’t even drunk that day, but he could hardly put two sentences together.  Ted knew twice as much about filmmaking as Ed did.  Ted always assumed that other people were as smart as he was; he went into that first meeting thinking Ed was this great Surrealist filmmaker.  He came out of it with a hangdog expression, telling me, ‘the master is an oaf.’”  But Hood remained impressed by the power of Glen or Glenda, and thought of a plan to create a film in the style of Ed Wood, but with one important difference: everything that Wood produced by accidental bumbling, Hood would create deliberately.  Ignoring the advice of Pierre Menard, Hood sought to recreate the experience of being Ed Wood.  For a year, he studied the director as he worked: he hung out with Lugosi, grew a pencil mustache, drank the same rotgut, wore the same chemises and cashmere sweaters.  Finally, he conceived his grand idea to make a science fiction epic about grave robbers from outer space reanimating the dead to prevent Earthlings from harnessing the apocalyptic power of the sun.

Deliberately putting himself into the mindset of his inspiration, Hood realized Wood would want to feature Lugosi as his star, and doubted that Wood would have let the actor’s death a few months earlier stop him.  Hood asked Wood for the few minutes of footage the latter had shot for the unfinished project Tomb of the Vampire; the guileless director saw no harm in providing Hood with the film.  Hood used the bland footage of Lugosi attending a funeral and sniffing flowers outside his suburban home and, realizing that Wood would want Lugosi to play an even larger role, came up with a brilliantly absurd idea to circumvent the star’s demise.  “Ted told Ed I was suffering from back pain,” Shady-Hood explains, “and asked for the name of his chiropractor.  For some reason, Ted had the idea in his head that Ed would want to cast his chiropractor as Bela’s stunt double.  He giggled every time he thought about it.”  Hood cast Wood’s chiropractor in the role of Lugosi’s reanimated corpse, instructing the actor to pull his cape in front of his face so that the audience could not help but get the joke: it was a parody of a blatantly incompetent attempt to hide the identity of a stand-in.  Cleverly mocking the proclivity of exploitation movies for including pseudo-celebrities in their products as a selling point, Hood surrounded “Lugosi” with the cheapest, craziest cast of misfits and the near-famous he could think of: former Swedish wrestler and Wood regular Tor Johnson, TV psychic Criswell as the omniscient, unexplained, stream-of-conscious narrator (a nod to Lugosi’s role in Glen or Glenda),  TV horror hostess Vampira, radio announcer Dudley Manlove.

Hood painstakingly prepared a script for the project, taking care to make it as ridiculous as possible.  “I swear, Ted must have rewritten each line twenty times,” Shady-Hood recalls.  “He would accidentally write something grammatically correct, or that he felt made too much sense, then he would shake his head angrily and scratch it out.”  Hood was just as meticulous in every aspect of the production.  “He must have worked eighteen hours a day for six months to get everything perfect,” relates the great man’s wife.  “I remember we must have discussed for hours where to put the shadow of the boom mike.  He finally decided the airplane scene was the best place.”  Although the acting seems ramshackle to the untrained eye, in fact, every stumble was carefully planned.  Hood would often have his actors do twenty or more takes.  “I recall there was a scene where Tom [Mason, Wood’s chiropractor] was supposed to be threatening a cop, advancing towards him menacingly with his face away from the camera.  The scene was just too chilling, there was nothing humorous about it.  After about nine or ten attempts, Ted came up with the idea to have Tom’s cape slip off his shoulders to defuse the ‘tension’ [Shady-Hood uses ‘air-quotes’ here to illustrate her point, a quite painful gesture for her given her advanced rheumatoid arthritis–Ed.]  It worked like a dream. It’s the kind of thing that just sucks all the suspense out of the scene, seeing the ‘monster’ stop to adjust his wardrobe.  After he came up with the idea, Tom had to do the scene another four or five times until he got it just right.”

Knowing the actual facts of the production completely reverses the common understanding of Plan 9 from Outer Space as a “bad movie.”  Film critic Michael Medved originally rescued the film from obscurity by anointing it the “worst movie ever made” in his “The Golden Turkey Awards”; given the fact that a large part of his argument was premised around the numerous “continuity errors” found in the film, that judgment can no longer stand.  There are no continuity errors in the film; every supposed mistake was painstakingly placed there by the film’s auteur to contribute to the farcical continuity of cinema’s first, funniest and greatest self-referential meta-comedy.

Had Graverobbers from Outer Space been made by incompetent, drunken, flatulent Ed Wood Jr., it would have been a risible disaster.  Since it was created by the brilliant Ted Hood, Jr., it is, in fact, a cinematic masterpiece. Consider Criswell’s introductory narration (pretending, as a thought experiment, that these lines were penned by Ed Wood):

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?

These lines are clearly the laughable ramblings of a complete idiot. Why does Criswell begin his spiel spouting off about the future (mentioning it three times in two sentences) when he’s talking about events that happened in the past? The exposition sounds as if it was dashed off five minutes before shooting commenced. But now consider the opening as written by Ted Hood:

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown, the mysterious, the unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?

Here, the author masterfully inverts our expectations as to what is future and what is past, reminding us that time is naught but a construct, and that in the malleable world of cinema the auteur is free to manipulate it as he sees fit. The idea is astounding. “Unknown, mysterious, unexplainable” indeed! Hood labored for over a week crafting these twelve unforgettable opening lines. A version of the sixth draft of this speech, which your author alone has had the privilege of reviewing, reveal half a dozen interlineations, and perhaps a dozen words angrily struck out in red marker. Clearly, the carefully studied absurdity of this passage is a work of genius, something far beyond the feeble capacity of a literary hack like Ed Wood, Jr.

Graverobbers from Outer Space has never garnered the praise it deserves as a work of sly wit and satire on par with the best of Wilde and Twain because of the misattribution of authorship to the bestial Ed Wood. This misfortune, in turn, results from Hood’s lack of business sense and skill at self-promotion: “Teddy was an artist,” Shady-Hood complains. “He had no business sense. When Ted screened the final product for Eddie, poor Eddie didn’t get the joke. He thought the movie was a legitimate thrill ride. Ed was really keen on distributing the picture, and Ted sold him the rights for a song. Ed might have been blinded by his love for Lugosi; he still thought the public would flock to see anything with Dracula in it. I remember he asked Ted, ‘When did you get Bela to do those scenes? I thought he had passed away already.’ It was sad, really.”

Ted Hood slain by hubcap
Snapshot of the hubcap that felled Ted Hood, Jr., caught in flight by an amateur photographer at the fatal scene

Even sadder was the fact that Ted Hood died in a tragic accident the day after he sold the rights to Graverobbers from Outer Space to Wood. His passing was the height of irony: while witnessing a violent automobile collision on La Brea Parkway, Hood was struck in the head by a flying hubcap that could have been a prop from his own masterpiece. He suffered a brain hemorrhage and died within hours at a Los Angeles public hospital.

Graverobbers from Outer Space was not an immediate hit; remarkably, its debut was largely overlooked by the press, who expected another Wood yawner. What few notices the movie received entirely missed the point, considering it as if it were a badly made, schlocky piece of disposable sci-fi. Even Shady-Hood forgot about the film, and she had no idea until the end of her life that Wood had removed Hood’s name from the title screen and substituted his own, taking credit for her husband’s work. In fact, the change of name from Graverobbers from Outer Space to Plan 9 from Outer Space was conceived by Wood precisely to deceive the widow Hood.

When Plan 9 emerged as a cult movie in the 1980s, the film’s entire cachet was tied up with the connection to Wood, now a legendary figure.   Ever since Medved had been fooled into believing Graverobbers was the work of Ed Wood, and used that ‘fact’ as evidence to anoint Wood “the worst director ever,” audiences had been enamored by the myth that the the film was the work of the incompetent Wood; they gained a smug satisfaction from viewing themselves as obviously intellectually superior to the author of the film.  The surviving cast was making a fortune selling autographs at sci-fi conventions, and no one was willing to break ranks and rock the boat by confessing that Plan 9 was a lie, that it was not the worst movie ever made, but possibly the cleverest. If the audience knew the truth, the joke would suddenly be on them for believing for all these years that this masterpiece was a turkey; their self-satisfaction would be annihilated and their contempt would be turned against themselves instead of Wood. That would be bad for business.

The conspiracy of silence continues to this day from everyone involved in the production. As proof, I note that all of the surviving cast and crew whom I have attempted to contact have refused to speak to me. They will not deny the fact of Hood’s authorship either publicly or privately. A denial would start a debate, and in any debate the facts would inevitably emerge. They prefer to remain tight-lipped, pretending your author is a crazy person and hoping that the issue will magically go away.

They did not count on this reporter’s tenacity. Or, perhaps, they did. I have, or had, ample documentary proof of the legacy of Ted Hood, Jr.: not only the testimony of Norma Jean Shady-Hood, but the reels of film and the stacks of photographs and writings housed in that TV Guide-walled shrine deep inside the labyrinth of her doublewide. I intend, or intended, to blow the lid off this case. One week ago, I drove out to Mrs. Shady-Hood’s trailer, meaning to gather the necessary information and take the case to Harry Knowles. About two minutes from her home, I heard a great “boom” in the distance and saw a flash of light on the cornfield horizon. My heart thumping in my chest, I arrived on the scene to find a scorched but unharmed Jhenelynia gaping in disbelief at a smoking crater where Norma Jean Shady-Hood’s doublewide trailer used to sit. She claimed, and the authorities seem to credit her testimony, that the explosion was an accident caused by her failing to completely snuff out one of her Marlboro lights in the ashtray. Apparently, the combination of an oxygen tank with a faulty valve and the omnipresent methane fumes from the nearby sewage treatment facility created a situation where the slightest ember could have sparked a conflagration at any time. Deportation proceedings have now begun against Jhenelynia, whose grasp of English was too poor at any rate to corroborate the deceased Mrs. Shady-Hood’s story. There are a few living cast members of Graverobbers who will be quite happy at this news; I do not accuse them of committing murder, arson, vandalism and evidence tampering to keep their shameful secret. I only point out that they are the beneficiaries of the final link in a literally incredible series of coincidences that make up the tragedy of Ted Hood, Jr., auteur of Graverobbers from Outer Space.


  1. This post was lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010. This comment was recovered from the Google cache.

    Eric Gabbard says Very clever and utterly fascinating! That’s an A+ for your ability to pull the wool. Plan 9/Graverobbers From Outer Space is clearly a masterpiece and a resplendent work of ingenious naviete that will continue to supercede it’s reputation no matter who was at the helm of the picture. My resources have told me the idea for the picture came into it’s early developmental stages when the idea was weakly uttered by a trapped coalminer by the name of Ned Good, Sr. who spoke of his vision to another helpless comrade holding his hand in a sealed, pitch black mine (rumor has it, this was the only miner to escape the disaster and was seen wearing a soot covered angora sweater upon his rescue). I’ve also heard that a young Tor Johnson was wandering around the outskirts of the mining disaster and neglected to help with any rescue efforts because he was “gathering information on the ramifications of pollutants within the atmoshere following a mining disaster”. This is hearsay however, because other witnesses at the scene said Tor was “clueless, staring vacantly at his untethered shoelaces”. After pointless questioning and no resolve, Tor was seen slumbering away with the mysterious angora sweater wearing man’s arm around his hunched shoulders. What follows is legendary.

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