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.
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!’"
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.
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.
- Aliens Are Bastards: The Great Guidance is one for ordering the destruction of all humankind.
- All Just a Dream: After the Great Guidance comes to Earth, Johnny wakes up, apparently having hit his head and dreamed the whole thing.
- 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.
- Johnny himself is this too, to Alice.
- 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.
- B-Movie: And how! Rampant use of Stock Footage from other movies, a shaky scifi plot with an incoherent Twist Ending, and one of the most iconically silly monsters in cinema history!
- Big Bad: The Great Guidance, the space overlord who sent Ro-Man to Earth in the first place.
- The Blank: Stockings, worn over the face and under the helmets, to convey the effect.
- Bronson Canyon and Caves: A classic use of Bronson Canyon, and one that would set the tone for most of its '50s appearances.
- Bullying a Dragon: Johnny taunts Ro-Man from an apparently safe vantage point.Johnny: You look like a pooped-out pinwheel!
Ro-Man: (flatly) Now I will kill you.
- Covers Always Lie: Despite the poster that appears as this page's article image, this movie does not have a rhedosaurus in it, although there is plenty of Stock Footage from much worse dinosaur movies with much worse effects.
- 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.
- 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.
- Deus ex Machina: Just when all seems lost, it turns out to be All Just a Dream.
- A Dog Named "Dog": Ro-Man's race are called Ro-Men. Great Guidance refers to him specifically as "Extension XJ2", however. This is probably a deliberate point about their Mechanistic Alien Culture having no use for individuality.
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom: At the end, after killing XJ2, the Great Guidance decides he has no more use for the Earth unleashes a "Q-Ray" to make the planet start to collapse and split apart. The only thing that prevents it from succeeding is Johnny waking up.
- Evil Overlord: The Great Guidance (who is played and voiced by the same actor who does Ro-Man, except with a slightly different helmet).
- Fantastic Racism: Ro-Man's contempt for us "hu-men"
- 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).
- Garnishing the Story: We get a few cutaways to Stock Footage from dinosaur movies, including the baby-alligator-with-plastic-sail vs. lizard fight from One Million B.C. and some triceratops and sauropod Stop Motion Animation scenes from Lost Continent. They don't add anything to the plot, never interact with any of the main characters, and their presence makes no sense. An easily-missed line from Great Guidance suggests that somehow he has brought the dinosaurs back to life so they'll eat the last few humans.
- 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.
- Herr Doktor: The Professor's European accent. See Funny Foreigner, above.
- Idiot Ball: Johnny goes by himself to confront Ro-man, insult him to his face, and brag about exactly HOW his family is immune to the calcination beam. Ro-man vows to adjust the beam to counteract it.
- 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.
- Kid Hero: Johnny, the viewpoint character of the movie.
- Kill All Humans: Eight are left at the start and it goes down from there.
- Killer Space Monkey: The use of a gorilla suit to portray an alien.
- Lunarians: According to the poster, Ro-Man is a "Moon Monster" though in the movie he claimed to be from the planet Ro-Man.
- Madness Mantra / Logic Bomb: "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....
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Right there in the title. He's a robot who is also a monster. And an alien, thought the title doesn't mention that.
- Or Was It a Dream?: While it may have been Johnny's dream, it seems it could have been a clairvoyant dream.
- Panacea: The immunity serum was discovered by accident while attempting to create something that could cure all diseases.
- People in Rubber Suits: Ro-Man looks like a person wearing a cheap gorilla costume and a diving helmet.
- The Professor: There's a character literally called ...The Professor.
- 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.
- Ridiculously Human Robots: Ro-Man falls in love with Alice, but in a twist, he is horrified and confused by his emotions.
- Robot Antennae: The villain Ro-Man's head is a space helmet with antennae sticking out of it.
- Robot Names: Ro-Man XJ2
- Rule of Three: The end? Nope, Ro-Man comes out of a cave stretching his arms at the viewer! The end? Put that funky shot again, boy! The end? One more time!
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: The ending essentially renders the rest of the movie a moot point.
- Shirtless Scene: Alice's boyfriend Roy spends a good chunk of the movie shirtless.
- 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."
- Silly Simian: Part of the reason this movie is remembered at all is Ro-Man's hilarious gorilla suit.
- Skull for a Head: The poster shows that Ro-Man has a skull inside his helmet.
- Space Suits Are SCUBA Gear: Ro-Man's diving helmet is supposed to be a space helmet.
- Spock Speak: The ultra-rational dialogue of the Ro-Men.
- Stock Footage: A few random "dinosaur" shots from One Million B.C. and Lost Continent are worked in. The rocket launch, space platform, and destroyed human cities are all shown via stock footage as well.
- Straw Vulcan: Ro-Man's overly "logical" Mechanistic Alien Culture is set up specifically to be discredited by the narrative, with even Ro-Man realizing its flaws.Ro-Man: To be like the hu-man! To laugh! Feel! Want! Why are these things not in the plan?
- TechnobabbleRo-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.
- Tin Man: The titular robot has a hard time dealing with his emotions
- The Unseen: Jason and McCloud, as well as the garrison on the "space platform". All end up killed by Ro-Man anyway.
- Video Phone: Ro-Man uses a video linkup to communicate with Great Guidance on the planet Ro-Man.
- What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Ro-Man doesn't understand his sexual interest in the heroine of the film, accompanied by the above Madness Mantra. Doubles as a Logic Bomb.
- Would Hurt a Child: Ro-Man has no problems killing children.
- You Are Number 6: The main Ro-Man differentiates from the others by his codename, XJ2.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After XJ2 continually defies the orders to kill Alice first, Great Guidance has had enough."If you wish to be like the Hu-man, then you will die like the Hu-man."