In real life, robots are our friends. They perform tasks that human beings find either too dangerous or too boring. And they are designed with an eye toward efficiency, toward form following function. There's a reason a car-building robot has one big swivel arm. There's a reason a bomb-disposing robot has tank treads. All to better perform their intended function.
In fiction, however, things are different. In fiction, technology is evil, A.I. Is a Crapshoot
, and the robots will always rise up and destroy us
. And in fiction, engineers seem to design their robots with this in mind. Sometimes a robot is not designed for efficiency. Sometimes a robot is designed just to be scary.
The Unnecessarily Creepy Robot is one such robot. It's deliberately designed to be scary, with little to no regard to its intended purpose. Sure, the characters may say it's only a simple maintenance robot, but does it have to look like a giant mechanical spider? Sure, it's just a mining droid, but does it have to have sinister glowing red eyes? And who gave it a laser, anyway?
Why even design a robot that looks like that?
Drama. And Rule of Scary
. May also be justified if the robot is designed with Psychological Warfare functions. Additionally, insect-like forms are actually very practical for many kinds of labor (as seen with social insects such as ants or bees) but humans find them creepy due to associating bugs with vermin.
Robots tap into our primal fear of automation. The fear of being replaced and/or destroyed by a machine. And it's all the more dramatic when a robot is scary looking. When your robot snaps and turns on you, it's all the more frightening to be chased by that giant spider, to be stared down by those red eyes, to be zapped by that laser.
The Unnecessarily Creepy Robot can take many forms. It may tap into the Uncanny Valley
, being too human-like for comfort. Or it may be vaguely humanoid, but with some addition or subtraction that makes it unsettling. It may also resemble an animal that humans have an instinctive revulsion to, like a insect or a reptile. Or it may have a design so far removed from anything recognizably organic that it makes you wonder how anyone could come up with it.
Whatever the form it takes, the Unnecessarily Creepy Robot has this as its constant: the creepy design is, at best, only vaguely related to its intended function. Given what characters in-universe say it was designed to do, it doesn't have to look like it does. It was meant to be creepy first, efficient second. Because a robot will always run amok, and when it does, it will be all the more terrifying to have it chasing you.
Please note: this trope applies to intentionally
creepy robots - that is, intended by the creator of the work of fiction. Lower budget movies and tv shows may feature robots that are accidentally creepy, due to a Special Effects Failure
. That is not an example of this Trope.
See Cute Machines
for the opposite of this Trope. Super trope of Skele Bot 9000
Anime & Manga
- Saturn 3: Hector is perhaps the quintessential example of an Unnecessarily Creepy Robot. Hector is seven feet tall and humanoid in form, although instead of a recognizable head it has a telescoping metal tentacle with a pair of eye stalks on it. Its body is a network of metal tubes and plates that resemble human musculature, giving it the overall appearance of a skinned, decapitated corpse. Its CPU is a mass of culture-grown human brain tissue. Hector's intended purpose? To replace one of the human workers on a farming colony.
- 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.
- Colossus of New York tells the story of a brain surgeon whose humanitarian son gets into a fatal accident, so he transfers his son's brain into a robot body. The robot looks like this. Unsurprisingly, he goes on a rampage.
- The Star Wars universe has an interesting example. On many backwater outposts like Mos Eisley, droids are often put together or repaired with parts salvaged from other droids. This not only results in droids that sometimes look rather unsettling, but also causes many of them to develop bizarre personalities and mental defects.
- I, Robot edges into this territory. Normally the robots are unthreatening, if a bit coldly impersonal— a shining example of Everything Is an iPod in the Future. When dialing home for a software update, however, they stand in a corner, stare at their owners, and glow a baleful red.
- The robots of Isaac Asimov's works are an interesting subversion: the Robot designers are Genre Savvy enough to be aware of this trope, and go out of their way to make their robots as non-creepy as possible. The Robots are described as basically humanoid in form, but quite obviously mechanical. Some stories indicate that the technology does exist to make them look more organic, but the designers don't do it to avoid the Uncanny Valley. They genuinely don't want to creep out the humans who are going to buy the robots and work closely with them on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, sometimes it just can't be helped - and unfortunately many of the film adaptations missed the point.
- Depending on how you define "robot" (ie - artificial life form, construct, etc.), Frankenstein's Monster. The Monster is a grotesque abomination with a humanoid form, a crude imitation of human life whose creator abandoned him almost immediately after his "birth". The story unfolds as it does for this very reason: the Monster's initial kindness giving way to violent misanthropy stems from his hideousness causing everyone he interacts with to reject him.
Table Top Games
- Eureka features "Tiny," an experimental extra-terrestrial explorer robot. It's built like a giant wolf and has the obligatory glowing red eyes and laser cannons. Carter even calls it out as an "unnecessarily creepy design."
- The classic Star Trek episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" features androids that are superficially identical to humans... and then there's Ruk, the monstrous giant android portrayed by Ted "Lurch" Cassidy. It could be justified in that he was an older "model" android, and so perhaps not as elegantly designed as newer ones, but still, he's much more intimidating than he needs to be.
- Potentially further justified by the fact that Ruk is old enough to have been constructed by the original makers of the android-constructing equipment, while the other androids were made by humans. It is entirely possible that he is exactly as intimidating as he needed to be to look superficially like the Old Ones that made him.
- Somewhat justified in-universe with the Necron from Warhammer 40,000, 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, disappearing without a trace. It is all done entirely on purpose. The C'tan want their enemies to know death is coming for them.
- Chortlebot in Wario Land Shake It. Seriously, it was presumably designed to be some sort of entertainment robot, like an automated clown for a circus. What they actually came up with was a Monster Clown flying head that looks like it came from the ninth circle of hell, complete with Evil Laugh, built in flamethrower and a nose that acts like a circular saw. There's pretty much no role on the planet that this thing could do that wouldn't have anyone in the nearby vicinity running for an exit.
- Real Life military tech averts this trope for the most part, with an emphasis on functionality rather than intimidation. Drones like the Predator are basically small unmanned planes, and there's actually a kind of beauty to their simple aerodynamic design.
- As mentioned above, the current trend in robotics is a move toward designs based on insects. Focus is shifting away from complex machines capable of complex tasks, and more toward smaller, simpler units programmed with a simple set of commands. The insectoid design definitely is more efficient for certain tasks, like moving over uncertain terrain, and some have theorized that future space exploration will be done by means of insect-like autonomous drones. So they are, in a sense, Necessarily Creepy Robots...
- Cracked has posted several articles on this subject. See here, and here.
- There are many creators of animatronic robots that invoke this trope.
- Inverted in the case of Cloaca No. 5. It's not all that creepy to look at, actually. As to what it was built to do, however...