Robot Monster [retro review]

“I cannot – yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet? Yet I must – but I cannot!”

The Scoop: 1953 NR, Directed by Phil Tucker and starring George Nader, Claudia Barrett and Selena Royle

Summary Capsule: A robot and/or monster tracks down survivors after decimating the planet Earth but then starts to feel bad about it. He also plays with bubbles.

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Al’s Rating: Gorillafishbowltastic!

Al’s Review: I wish low-budget film directors still did science fiction. I mean, I really like Sam Raimi and Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino and everything they brought to the table. I do. I won’t even say that I’d wish away all the mediocre, imitative crap that exploded all over our multiplexes in their wakes. But when you’re financing a movie with only the cash in your wallet, I’d rather watch you try to make the next Flash Gordon instead of the next Clerks. All the snarky counterjockeys and one-set movie scripts in Hollywood can’t hold a candle to a man with a plastic ray gun in a space suit. Or, as it happens, gorilla suit.

And that’s really the allure of Robot Monster — a killer space creature bearing a striking resemblance to an underpaid, disgruntled actor in a diving helmet and a sweaty monkey costume. You see, Ro-Man, the robot monster, has come to Earth to Destroy Us All! and, surprisingly, he pretty much succeeds. Using his “Calcinator” death ray, everyone on the planet is reduced to nonfat dairy creamer with the exception of eight people he can’t seem to locate. Of course, Ro-Man’s master, The Great Guidance, sees Ro-Man’s record of 2,500,000,000 – 8 – 0 as a complete and utter failure on Ro-Man’s part and berates him into tracking down and eliminating the remaining survivors.

Our humans, including a wizened old scientist, a strapping young anthropologist, and two precocious youngsters, were lucky enough to have recently taken an antibiotic serum that has a side effect of immunity to death rays (please consult your doctor before taking antibiotic serums or more serious side effects may result). They live a downright Omega Mannish existence in a pleasant-looking fortified compound, just down the road from the Ro-Cave, where Ro-Man alternatingly plots worldwide destruction and plays with his Automatic Billion Bubble Machine (provided by the good folks at N.A. Fischer Chemical Products). Our humans bicker and argue and have endless conversations about the ‘electrical safe zone’ while Ro-man follows the inevitable path trod by every single robot or alien or sentient computer program ever and discovers humans are way cooler than he is because we get to laugh and cry and fall in love and get the farts after eating sweet potatoes and stuff.

After sixty spellbinding minutes, the relentless tension simply must come to a head: Ro-man is in love with Alice, the prerequisite babe; the adults are nearly out of topics for their mindless, unceasing chitchat; and little Johnny has a daring rescue plan to save them all. Something has simply got to give, so The Great Guidance gets really, really angry at Ro-man and kills everyone by bringing back the dinosaurs except we then find out it’s actually all just been a dream.

Uh, spoiler.

So, if you haven’t figured it out, Robot Monster is pretty much review-proof. It’s terrible and hilarious and preposterous and everything you’ve probably expected it would be. Its reputation for standing alongside the best of the worst from directors like Arch Hall Sr., Coleman Francis, and Ed Wood is ironclad and well-deserved. To try and watch it from any other point of view than “one of the worst movies ever made” will just become an exercise in hair-pulling because the phrase ‘so bad it’s good’ may as well come attached to a little drawing of a man in a gorilla suit with a fishbowl on his head. It’s iconic — like trying to review Citizen Kane. Actually, you know what? That’s your review right there. Robot Monster is Citizen Kane. Hear that, Estate of Phil Tucker? Feel free to use that blurb on your next DVD release and please forward all gratuity checks c/o Mutant Reviewers, Hell. I’ll be waiting patiently at the mailbox.

Fizzy Lifting Drinks not included.

Intermission!

  • The budget (estimated at $16,000) did not allow for the creation of the robot suit that was scripted, so Phil Tucker instead hired his friend George Barrows as Ro-Man, since he owned a gorilla suit Tucker thought they could use.
  • Originally shown in 3-D
  • Though the truth of it is disputed, the abysmal performance of Robot Monster is long-rumored to have been the reason behind director Phil Tucker’s attempted suicide. Now don’t you feel bad for laughing?
  • The Automatic Billion Bubble Machine gets its own credit in front of the movie.
  • I wonder what they call Ro-Man in Italy? “Us?”
  • The little boy is actually named Johnny. What is this, the 1950’s? (Oh, right…)
  • I give Ro-Man mad props for actually managing to exterminate nearly every human on the planet. That’s tougher than it sounds. Believe me, I know.
  • The Ro-Men use ‘computators.’ Sciencey!
  • Data reels and rabbit ears are clearly the height of modern technology.
  • The name of the monster, his species, and his home planet all appear to be Ro-Man.
  • They’re just planning to go find rocket fuel? Kinda ambitious, no?
  • Jiminy? Do people outside the Little Rascals actually say that?
  • Roy gets married without his shirt on. Did I stumble into a Cassie Edwards novel?
  • Witness how Ro-Man craftily outwits a ten-year-old boy!
  • Did Ro-Man strangle a little girl to death? That’s cold, Ro-Man, stone cold.
  • The Great Guidance apparently goes all Jurassic Park on everyone to kill off four people. That seems… excessive.

Groovy Quotes

Roy: I was standing as close to him as I was to you! And he couldn’t see me! Do you know why?
Alice: Because you’re not worth noticing?

The Great Guidance: You sound like a Hu-Man, not a Ro-Man!

Roy: You know something? You’re either too beautiful to be this smart or too smart to be this beautiful.

Ro-Man: Hmm, perhaps I should try to make a date with the girl?

Johnny: I think you’re just a big bully picking on people smaller than you are!
Ro-Man: Now I will kill you.

Johnny: You look like a pooped-out pinwheel!

Carla: Is Alice going on a date with Ro-Man?

The Great Guidance: Ro-Man, you violate the laws of plans. To think for yourself is to be like the Hu-man.

Ro-Man: Yes! To be like the Hu-man! To laugh! Feel! Want! Why are these things not in the plan?
The Great Guidance: You are an extension of the Ro-Man, and a Ro-Man you will remain. Now, I set you into motion. One: destroy the girl. Two: destroy the family. Fail, and I will destroy you!

Ro-Man: I am ordered to kill you. I must do it with my hands.

Ro-Man: Suppose I were Hu-Man. Would you treat me like a man?

Ro-Man: I cannot – yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do “must” and “cannot” meet? Yet I must – but I cannot!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • The Day The Earth Stood Still
  • Plan 9 From Outer Space
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
  • The Automatic Billion Bubble Machine gets its own credit in front of the movie?
  • I wonder what they call Ro-Man in Italy? ‘Us?’
  • The little boy is actually named Johnny? What is this, the 1950’s? (Oh, right…)
  • I give Ro-Man mad props for actually managing to exterminate nearly every human on the planet. That’s tougher than it sounds. Believe me, I know.
  • The Ro-Men use ‘computators?’ Sciencey!
  • Data reels and rabbit ears are clearly the height of modern technology.
  • The name of the monster, his species, and his home planet all appear to be Ro-Man?
  • They’re just planning to go find rocket fuel? Kinda ambitious, no?
  • Jiminy? Do people outside the Little Rascals actually say that?
  • Roy gets married without his shirt on? Did I stumble into a Cassie Edwards novel?
  • How Ro-Man craftily outwitted the ten-year-old boy?
  • Did Ro-Man strangle a little girl to death? That’s cold, Ro-Man, stone cold.
  • The Great Guidance apparently goes all Jurassic Park on everyone to kill off four people?
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4 Comments

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