Contrary to popular belief, the detective who points his gun at himself several times did so deliberately. The actor was actually testing director Edward D. Wood Jr. to see if he would notice. Needless to say, Ed Wood didn't notice.
Bela Lugosi appears in footage shot just before his death, but with no script in mind. Edward D. Wood Jr. wrote the script to accommodate all the footage shot in a cemetery and outside Tor Johnson's house in the new production. Lugosi was doubled by Tom Mason, Wood's wife's chiropractor, who was significantly taller than Lugosi, and played the part with a cape covering his face.
One of the legends about the production of this film was that Edward D. Wood Jr. used everything from automobile hubcaps to pizza pans to pie tins and even paper plates as flying saucers. The truth is that he bought a number of the Lindberg 1/48 scale "Flying Saucer" plastic model kits for use as props. One was modified with a wooden block, to represent the squared walled flying saucer set (the UFO seen landing in the graveyard).
Footage from the same shoot that produced Bela Lugosi's performance in this movie was meant to be used to make another film, "The Ghoul on the Moon". When Edward D. Wood Jr. went to retrieve the film he found it had been ruined, so the new movie was scrapped.
Previewed as "Grave Robbers from Outer Space" at the Carlton Theater in Los Angeles on March 15, 1957, the film went into general release as "Plan 9 from Outer Space" in July of 1959, on a double bill with the British suspense thriller Time Lock (1957), which featured a pre-James Bond Sean Connery. The actual copyright for the film is 1957.
Although some saw the insertion of footage of the recently deceased Bela Lugosi into the film as exploitation, in his autobiography Edward D. Wood Jr. saw it as a homage to the actor. In the last few years of his life, Lugosi had become a firm friend of the director.
Copies of the original 35mm release prints are extremely rare. There were reportedly fewer than 20 release prints struck for the original release. As part of the distribution deal with the Distributors Corporation of America (DCA), producer J. Edward Reynolds had to pay for the release prints and advertising material.
The DVD release of the colorized version of the film features an audio commentary track by comedian Michael J. Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988) fame. The producers of the series at one point actually screened the film for airing on the show, but found it to have too much dialog to fit the show's format.
The film script seems to aim at making this an epic film, a "genre" which typically requires a big budget provided by a major film studio. That Ed Wood filmed the story with minimal financial resources underlines one of the qualities of his work: His ideas tended to be too expensive to actually put on film, and yet the director attempted them anyway.
The film opens with an introduction by Edward D. Wood Jr.'s friend, psychic Criswelll: "Greetings my friends! We are all interested in the future, For that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives! ...". At the time of filming, Criswell was the star of the KLAC Channel 13 (now KCOP-13) television series, "Criswell Predicts". The introduction could be an allusion to the opening lines of his show, but since no episodes of the television show are known to survive, a comparison is impossible. Another phrase of the introduction "Future events such as these will affect you in the future", served as a signature line for Criswell. He used it repeatedly in his newspaper and magazine columns, and probably his show as well.
Much of the filming took place at an independent soundstage called Quality Studios. Though it hasn't been used as a soundstage for many years, the building still exists. It is located on Santa Monica Blvd. near Western Ave. The entranceway is located next to the Harvey Hotel.
What Maila Nurmi contributed to the film as the female ghoul was a "regal presence" and theatrical mannerisms. Her performance is reminiscent of a silent film actress. She credited Theda Bara as her main influence for the part.
The film contains a cautionary message from the aliens. The earliest use of this concept in film was probably in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and it had since seen frequent use in science fiction films. The idea was that the self-destructive behavior of humanity was the real threat, not any external source of danger.
The narrator at some point starts claiming that "we" (the filmmakers) are bringing to light the full story and evidence of fateful events, based on the "secret testimony" of the survivors. The lines seem to emulate the style of sensational headlines in newspapers, and promise the audiences access to "lurid secrets" as if following the example of "True Confessions" and other similar magazines. The notion that a film or show could be based on true incidents and testimony would be familiar to a 1950s audience, because it was used in contemporary police procedurals such as Dragnet (1951).
Although trade publications announced the movie's general release in July 1959, distributor DCA had already made prints available to cinemas from June 1958 onwards, with the film playing on regular movie theatre bills in states as far afield as Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas during the 13 months prior to its supposed "general release".
In 1977, Glenn Danzig created his own independent record label to release his band The Misfits' music, originally called Blank Records, later renamed Plan 9 Records. The band's song "Vampira" is about the movie, including the lyric "Graverobbers from outer space," which was the film's original title.
The Pentagon office depicted includes a map of the United States with the sign of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The same map appears in Bagdad After Midnite (1954), which was also filmed at Quality Studios; it was probably a standard prop used by the studio.
Through Trent's initial conversation with his wife, the film introduces the notion of a government and military conspiracy to cover up information on documented UFO sightings. This notion was clearly influenced by the emergence and increased popularity of a UFO conspiracy theory. The implications concerning the public's distrust of the government were atypical for a 1950s American film. Anti-statist ideas were to become more popular in the 1960s, which is when the subject became "safe" for mainstream cinema.
At the time of the film's creation, David De Mering was the personal secretary and alleged lover of fellow cast member John Breckinridge. His inclusion in the cast was probably a result of this association.