Created By: Anarquistador on August 11, 2011

Unnecessarily Creepy Robot

Robot is scary looking. Just because.

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In the real world, robots are designed from a practical standpoint: form follows function. A robot is built with a specific task in mind and is designed to be able to best perform that task. For example, it makes sense for a bomb-defusing robot to be equipped with tank treads and a manipulator arm: it's going into unstable terrain and it needs to be able to pick up and move things.

But in the world of science fiction, sometimes robots are designed from a completely different standpoint: to be as creepy-looking as possible. Sometimes a robot is designed with almost no regard to intended function. Why would you design a maintenance droid to look like a giant spider? Why does the mining robot need huge glowing red eyes? And who gave it a laser?

The reason? Drama.

Because AI is a Crapshoot, and because Technology is Evil, the machines will eventually destroy and/or replace us. And it's much scarier if the machine doing it is inheritantly creepy-looking. The creepiness can take many forms. The robot could resemble an animal that humans already have an instinctive revulsion to, like an insect or a snake. It could enter the Uncanny Valley by having a vaguely humanoid form, but with some addition (or subtraction) that makes it flat-out unsettling. Or it could have a form so completely removed from anything recognizable organic that it makes you wonder what engineer could have possible come up with it, let alone wonder WHY they did.

Whatever the form, the Unnecessarily Creepy Robot has this as its constant: it was designed to be creepy first, and then efficient second. Given what the narrative says the robot was designed to do, there is no practical reason for it to look like it does, other than to simply make a dramatic point: either that technology is unnatural and scary, or simply that seeing THIS THING coming after you is terrifying.

A good example is Hector the robot from Saturn 3: Seven feet tall. Humanoid in form, only instead of a head it has a pair of telescoping eye stalks. Its body is covered in a network of tubes that resemble human musculature, giving it the overall appearance of a skinned, decapitated corpse. Oh, and its CPU is culture-grown human brain tissue. Its intended purpose? Farming.
Community Feedback Replies: 9
  • August 12, 2011
    The necron in Warhammer40000 are an Omnicidal Maniac race of robots (a humanoid race whose mind imprints were put in machines after their masters ate their souls). They all look like mechanical skeletons, fight in utter silence and use energy guns that disintegrate their targets bit by bit with rays of green light. They are nearly impossible to kill and if their nanomachines can't cope with the damage, they teleport, dissappearing without a trace. It is all done entirely on purpose. The C'tan want their enemies to know death is coming for them.
  • August 12, 2011
    Played straight and then later justified in-universe in the The Matrix. The Sentinels are alien, organic-looking robots with multiple eyes and metallic tentacles, that almost resemble deep-sea creatures. There isn't really a reason they need to look this way, other than to be truly menacing when they swarm on the Nebuchadnezzar. Indeed, most of the Machine tech is characterized by being unnecessarily-creepy. The "human farms" in particular look like something out of a Hieronymous Bosch painting. Later works in the franchise imply that this was a conscious choice on the part of the Machines. "The Second Renaissance" shows that the first Machines were simple humanoid androids. As relations between Human and Machine soured, the Machines became more and more alien, developing into creepy insectoid things. And it was most likely deliberate: both as an declaration of the Machines' independence from Human influence, and as a means to intimidate the Humans.
  • August 12, 2011
    • Every robot in Blame!. Also every silicon creature. Actually just everything in that manga, period.
  • August 12, 2011
  • August 13, 2011
    • Ultron on The Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes looks pretty creepy, even before his inevitable Face Heel Turn. His designer Hank Pym (Ant-Man) even gets called on it, but he doesn't see it.
      Hank: It's not a toy and it's not creepy looking. It's design to look like an Ant head.

  • August 13, 2011
    Futurama has a robot nanny who not only looks frightening, but speaks in a loud, angry voice and claims to have replaced the baby's mother before feeding it with a bottle from its toothy maw. Leela thought it was cute.
  • August 14, 2011
    So, to clarify: If the robot was deliberately designed to be frightening, because fear and mayhem is its intended purpose -- like in the Warhammer 40000 example above -- that's not this trope, right?
  • August 15, 2011
    That's actually a good question. Thinking of this trope I'm thinking of a robot that doesn't have to be creepy to do what it's supposed to be doing, and yet it is purely for the "Rule of Scary." The Necron kind of straddles the line, it that it's designed to be scary but it doesn't necessarily have to be, since it's just a war machine. Perhaps we should consider this one as an aversion?
  • August 15, 2011
    Futurama's Robot Santa Claus. Sure, he's evil now, but as originally designed he shouldn't be that scary.