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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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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....
  • Nice Hat: Ro-man's ridiculous diving helmet.
  • 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.
  • Notable Original Music: A score by Elmer Bernstein, of all people.
  • 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.
  • The Professor: There's a character literally called ...The Professor.
  • Posters Always Lie: The poster shown above seems to suggest that the rhedosaurus shows up in this movie. It does not. Although there is plenty of Stock Footage from much worse dinosaur movies with much worse effects.
  • 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 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."
  • 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 BC are worked in.
  • 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.
  • The Unseen: Jason and McCloud, as well as the garrison on the "space platform". All end up killed by Ro-Man anyway.
  • Tin Man: The titular robot has a hard time dealing with his emotions

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