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Film / Robot Monster

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"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!"
Ro-Man XJ2

"What in hell can any director do with a lousy cast and a lousy story? There was a film, in the days of 3-D, which only because it was in 3-D, played the Paramount Theater in Hollywood (one of the major houses). The picture lasted one performance, then was scrapped until television came in. It claimed to be a science-fiction piece. The only science (or fiction) about it was the fact it came into being at all."
Ed Wood, Hollywood Rat Race
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A 1953 B-Movie, released in 3D, by Phil Tucker, Robot Monster is one of the most famous So Bad, It's Good sci-fi films ever made. Simply put, it is about a family having a picnic in California and meeting an evil alien invader: the nefarious Ro-Man, who has used a special Death Ray to destroy all humans. But the family survived by taking a special serum invented by their scientist dad.

Using his amazing advanced galaxy-conquering technology — you can tell, because it emits soap bubbles at moments of high drama — Ro-Man must find a way around their defenses. The kicker is the Big Guy's also struggling with unforeseen human desires... oh, did we mention the scientist's nubile daughter? Not to mention her hunky lab assistant boyfriend, annoying younger brother and... Yeah, you figured? OK then.

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So far, so run-of-the-mill. It could even be argued that hey, as compared to, say, Manos, this thing has an actual plot (though not a good one), also a soundtrack involving the onscreen actors speaking in their own voices. But no other classic bad movie can boast of Ro-Man, the titular "Robot Monster". Quoth the film's then-twentysomething auteur, recalling the inspiration (and, not incidentally, budget) behind his lead character:

"...I talked to several people that I knew who had robot suits, but it was just out of the way, money-wise. I thought, ‘Okay, I know George Barrows.’... When they needed a gorilla in a picture they called George, because he owned his own suit... I thought, ‘I know George will work for me for nothing. I’ll get a diving helmet, put it on him, and it’ll work!’"

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Well... no. At least, not in the way he intended.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King recalls seeing the movie as a kid, and says that he felt it was "art of quite a high nature"note . It was also John Carpenter's favourite film when he was a child.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode see here.


Robot Monster provides examples of:

  • Action Figure Speech: The titular aliens, looking for all the world like a guy in a gorilla suit wearing a space helmet flailed around wildly while speaking.
  • After the End: It's explained that much of movie takes place after Ro-Man has (almost) completely wiped out human civilization.
  • All Just a Dream: After the Great Guidance comes to Earth, Johnny wakes up, apparently having hit his head and dreamed the whole thing.
    • And You Were There: ...At least until Ro-Man suddenly runs out of a cave at him in the end.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling:
    • Carla, Johnny's younger sister. In a meta example, her actress was so annoying that the other actors begged to have her character killed off so they could get her off the set.
  • Apocalypse How: Starts off as a Planetary Species Extinction, thanks to the the effect of the Calcinator Death Ray. Later upgraded to a Planetary Physical Annihilation, as the Great Guidance gets pissed off at Ro-Man's failure to kill the humans and unleashes a "Q-Ray" which completely destroys the planet. Subverted when it turns out to be All Just a Dream.
  • Big Bad: The Great Guidance, the space overlord who sent Ro-Man to Earth in the first place.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Johnny taunts Ro-Man from an apparently safe vantage point.
    Johnny: You look like a pooped-out pinwheel!
    Ro-Man: I will destroy you!
  • Crapsack World: There are only two life-bearing planets in the Universe. One is Earth, the other is a mechanical dystopia. The dystopic planet attacked Earth, and has won. There are only eight people left at the start of the film, relentlessly pursued by a robotic fiend.
  • Dan Browned: The trailer claims, "Robot Monster brings you an actual preview of the devastating forces of our future."
  • Death of a Child: Carla, the little girl, is strangled by Ro-Man, and Johnny is killed when The Great Guidance comes to Earth to kill the rest of the humans.
  • Evil Overlord: The Great Guidance (who is played and voiced by the same actor who does Ro-Man, except with a slightly different helmet).
  • The Faceless: Stockings, worn over the face and under the helmets, to convey the effect.
  • Funny Foreigner: It's unknown if the Professor was supposed to be one, but he certainly sounds like it (the actor playing him, John Mylong, was Austro-Hungarian).
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Ro-Man almost seems like he's going to stop being a Jerkass at the end, but the Great Guidance has other plans.
  • In Name Only: Ro-Man is supposed to be short for 'robot man'.
  • Kick the Dog: Ro-Man shows the family the destruction of humanity on their video screen. Why? Oh, just to make them feel shitty. Justified Trope, when you consider it's trying to drive the humans to despair and perhaps suicide.
  • Madness Mantra: "I must... but I cannot..."
  • Mars Needs Women: Played with in a weird way - Ro-Man has no idea why he wants to get into Alice's pants, and while he's struggling with it Great Guidance orders him to kill her, so he goes into the Madness Mantra.
  • Mechanistic Alien Culture: The film features Ro-Man... Appearing as a man in a gorilla suit with a deep sea diver's helmet, the alien invader's exact morphology is elusive. It seems to be a cyborg, it comes from an advanced civilization, it is able to resist radiation, and speaks in a typical robotic style monotone popular at the time in B-movies. However they are not simply constructs or tools, as we learn in the scene where the earth stationed Ro-Man contacts the leader of the Ro-Men, who is a similar diving helmeted gorilla-bodied biped.
  • Moment Killer: The Great Guidance calls up Ro-Man at the most inopportune times....
  • Or Was It a Dream?: While it may have been Bobby's dream, it seems it could have been a clairvoyant dream.
  • People in Rubber Suits: Ro-Man looks like a person wearing a cheap gorilla costume and a diving helmet.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Ro-Man has a gorilla body because there was no money for a robot costume, and the actor playing him already owned his own gorilla suit.
  • Robot Antennae: The villain Ro-Man's head is a space helmet with antennae sticking out of it.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Johnny gives Ro-Man a piece of his mind:
    Johnny: "I think you're just a big bully, picking on people smaller than you."
    Ro-Man: "Now I will kill you."
  • Technobabble
    Ro-Man: I am ordered to kill you. I must do it with my hands.
    Alice: How is it you're so strong, Ro-Man? It seems impossible.
    Ro-Man: We Ro-Mans obtain our strength from the planet Ro-Man, relayed from individual energizers.

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