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.
- Most of Brother EYE's creations in The New 52: Future's End and Batman Beyond seem to focus on the edginess of sewing superheroes together into faux-phyrexian creations rather than actual practical use. Probably the crowning example is attaching Barbara Gordon's torso to the Bat Signal, rendering both essentially less efficient than before.
- 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 to distinguish themselves as apart from both humanity and humanity's control, 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.
- The Star Wars Legends continuity had the C2-R4 Multipurpose Unit (a hideous thing resembling an R2 unit designed by a Mad Max villain), which was built from scrap by overenthusiastic aliens and flopped horribly, and the J9 Worker Drone, whose insectoid looks and misleading name meant that it didn't sell well and the people who did buy it ignored its protocol training and sentenced it to move boxes forever.
- I, Robot edges into this territory. Normally the robots are non-threatening, if a bit coldly impersonal — a shining example of Everything Is An Ipod In The Future. When dialling home for a software update, however, they stand in a corner, stare at their owners, and glow a baleful red.
- In the film Transcendence, the helpful singularity known as Will Caster attempts to help disabled people by using nanotechnology to restore their limbs, eyes, and other deficiencies. He also, for some reason, felt the need to add brain implants to all of his patients that could turn them into creepy borg-like drones which he could take control of and speak through. The only thing this accomplishes is freaking people out and causes the authorities to turn against him.
- The Terminator universe has the T-600's, the models preceding the iconic T-800. The metallic skeleton design has a purpose, since its supposed to be intimidating for humans, but the 600's were the first attempts at creating Terminators capable of blending in with the resistance. Unfortunately, this was before Skynet had created realistic synthetic skin, so the 600s ended up looking like freakish, murderous mannequins that would pass only a very cursory inspection.
- The Phantom Creeps: in this classic 1939 Film Serial, Mad Scientist Doctor Zorka has a giant robot with sharp claws, glaring eyes, and a monstrous, fang-filled mouth. The robot doesn't actually do anything significant over the course of the serial: it opens the door to Zorka's secret lair, stands guard, and occasionally moves heavy objects around the lab. There's really no reason for it to look that scary, except to establish that its creator is villainous.
- The robots of Isaac Asimov's works are an interesting subversion: the Robot designers are 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. The book does note that the creepiness only starts after bringing Adam to life, and Frankenstein was aiming for beauty.
- Heart of Steel offers up a robot that Julia dubs Stickman, who resembles a cross between a stick insect and a coatrack, sounds like someone taught an electric shaver how to talk, and acts like a nominally-helpful Cylon.
- 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.
- The Watchbird drones from the Masters Of Science Fiction episode "Watchbird" were originally designed for military use in the middle east, and like any other military drone, moves too fast and too high up for the target to be able to see them clearly for them to have any psychological effect. Despite this, they were designed to look like creepy metallic eagles.
- In Other Space Kent designs a body for AI Natasha so she can operate outside the ship. It's a mechanical spider.
Natasha: Kent designed it to be very fast.
Kent: And eerily quiet, while it's not quite as venomous as I want it to be.
- That Mitchell and Webb Look has a scientist who refuses to create anything that could potentially endanger mankind, and who created a robot to help in stores with claws to stack shelves. It's shaped like a giant scorpion. It doesn't help that his name is Professor Death, leading to things like the Mind-Controlling Death Ants.
- In the Red Dwarf Season XI episode "Give and Take", we have Asclepius, which features: a single massive eye that is Sickly Green Glowing, a mouth-grill that looks like an impossibly massive set of fangs curled into a permanent Slasher Smile, a body designed like a stereotypical Mad Scientist labcoat, one hand that's a rotating array of blades and pincers, and another hand that's basically a cannon. Its designated function? Medical diagnosis and surgery.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Somewhat justified in-universe with the Necron, 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 away, disappearing without a trace. It is all done entirely on purpose. The C'tan want their enemies to know death is coming for them.
- Robots built from Necron tech that are not full Necrons are also designed to be creepy, with most designs being based around arthropods - Tomb Spyders and Scarabs being the most notorious. This overrides function. For example, a Tomb Spyder is a floating machine designed to look after Necron tombs, and Necron tech is some of the most reliable stuff ever, meaning it's not entirely clear why it had to have so many legs when it only rarely touches the ground.
- Also applies to Imperial Servitors. Due to the Adeptus Mechanicus fear of true AIs, all robots are actually either clones or convicts that are lobotomized and strapped with huge amounts of cybernetics, which results in extremely disturbing cyber-zombies doing much of the Techpriests' menial labour.
- And don't forget the servo-skulls, actual human skulls stuffed with cybernetics and given an anti-gravity drive. Nothing creepy about a skull hovering in a corner with various dangly manipulators or weapons just waiting for orders...
- Averted with Tau drones, which are flying discs with gadgets hanging underneath and antennae on top. The combat ones are slightly scary because Tau guns are extremely powerful, but a shield drone is basically ablative protection with minimal offensive capability and about as intimidating as a Roomba.
- In Magic: The Gathering the Phyrexians are a race of evil, magical, assimilatory undead cyborgs that seek perfection in horrific blends of metal and flesh. While they supposedly prioritize efficiency over all else, most if not all of their designs seem to focused in being as horrific as possible rather than efficient.
- 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.
- Five Nights at Freddy's takes place in a Suck E. Cheese's where the animatronics are not only really creepy looking, but roam around the restaurant at night - and, due to shoddy programming, see anybody they find as a robot out of costume and try to jam them into a suit filled with wires and electronics. The managers are evidently too cheap to get any of these things fixed.
- In the sequel Five Nights at Freddy's 2, some of the new animatronics are even more creepy than the originals. The Mangle was supposed to be a newer, child-friendly version of Foxy before being broken, but even were it repaired, it still has unnecessarily massive teeth. The Marionette is a skinny puppet with a creepy clown-like mask. The old mascots are left to rot, and are in a state of disrepair. Bonnie for one doesn't even have a face.
- Toy Chica invokes this during the second game: when she begins to roam the halls, she ditches her beak and eyes, turning an already creepy robot into something of nightmares.
- Five Nights at Freddy's 3 only has one animatronic: Springtrap, which is a decrepit version of Bonnie, which was found in a sealed-off room. It also has the corpse of a child Serial Killer trapped inside it.
- Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location has all the animatronics being able to separate their faces revealing their robotic parts underneath.
- Many of the robots from the Descent series of games fall into this category. They hit all of the tropes - glowing eyes, sharp, deadly claws, scary humanoid faces, spider-like limbs, ridiculously freaky sounds... many a kid in the 90s had nightmares after playing these games.
- Overload, a spiritual successor to Descent, overdoes it by making basically all robots look borderline excessively creepy.
- Alien: Isolation gives us the Working Joes. The androids of Weyland Yutani, as seen starting with Alien are extremely humanlike, except when cut and bleeding milky white fluid. The Working Joe androids of Seegson, on the other hand side, start in the Uncanny Valley and are programmed to dig it into an Uncanny Mariana Trench with their waxy appearance and bad AI that can barely deviate from its standard functions (but will still merrily try to strangle you while asking you to remain calm). It's fully acknowledged in-universe: The Seegson marketing department tries to spin their faults as features, claiming no-one would want an android that you can't tell from a human. Considering that, for quite some time, the Working Joe was the face of the Alien: Isolation Nightmare Fuel page rather than the titular creature, it may come as little surprise that Seegson is in the process of going belly-up.
- Can be invoked in Stellaris if you give your machine empire robots the "Uncanny" trait, impacting your diplomatic prowess negatively even if you play as a relatively benevolent robot empire, simply because your robots are that creepy.
These monstrous machines were created in the image of one of the most horrific species in the universe, and the resemblance is uncanny.
- In Bravest Warriors, there is an episode where Danny builds a robot version of Chris in order to make him jealous. While everyone else is understandably freaked out (Robo-Chris is just a skull with arms, legs, and glowing red eyes) Chris himself is thrilled that Danny built him and doesn't find him creepy at all. At least until Danny turns up Robo-Chris's friendship drive and said robot starts getting clingy...
- Questionable Content has Gordon, a friendly robot who helps with the questionnaires that pair humans with companion androids. He's also designed like a dog-sized purple spider who sits on people's heads to collect biometric readings, and doesn't have a clue why Marten's heart rate is so high in his presence.
- The artificial Treasure Monster from The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! looks like a hideous jewel-encrusted Oni mask mounted on semi-amorphous clawed body made of black slime. It really just wants to be helpful and eventually gets a job as a waiter.
- Ultron on The Avengers: Earth's 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 designed to look like an Ant head.
- Futurama has quite a collection, played largely for laughs:
- Robot Santa Claus. Sure, he's evil now, but as originally designed, he shouldn't be that scary. Granted, he didn't start that way exactly. He has a "nice" look (eyes curves side down, tilted outward, no teeth, no spikes on the hat, seen when he gives Zoidberg his pogo stick) and a "naughty" look (seen every other time he's on screen). The "naughty" look is very over-the-top howevernote , and the massive size seems rather unnecessary.
- The current page image is that of 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. Notably, the baby doesn't seem to mind either.
- In the Gravity Falls episode "Soos and the Real Girl", Stan shows off Goldie, a nickel-operated animatronic gold prospector that's supposed to give a "gold nugget" to customers. It already suffered from Uncanny Valley, but its age and poor maintenance causes it to leak oil (especially from it's mouth and eyes), fall apart, and shriek when used.
Wendy: No offense, Mr. Pines, but it's time to throw that thing out. Its face reminds people of the inevitability of death!
- Steven Universe: Holo-Pearl is a Hard Light projection of Pearl meant to be a simple sparring partner, but very conspicuous shortcuts in its appearance make it fall deep in the Uncanny Valley, having a one track mind focused on fighting, talking like a robot, and, while in "wait mode", just staring off into nothing. Also, every time it furrows its brow, its blue eyes turn red, which is probably supposed to be scary.
- 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's also "A Series of Emails from Cyberdyne's New Tech Guy," about the Fridge Logic that should have averted a certain Robot War. "I'm not a design guy or anything, but I can't see any either peformance or aesthetic benefits in designing the robots with cold skeleton heads, piercing red eyes, or giant metal teeth." (However, the article seems to believe it was Cyberdyne that built the Terminators, which it did not.)
- There are many creators of animatronic robots that invoke this trope.
- Some high-end hunting decoys resemble real deer or bears closely enough to hit the Uncanny Valley when their animatronic heads turn to "look around".
- Inverted in the case of the "Cloaca Machines," a series of works designed by Belgian industrial artist Wim Delvoye. They aren't all that creepy to look at, actually. As to what they do, however... What's a "cloaca"?
- The Telenoid R1 is a telepresence bot intended to allow people communicating to see each other's facial expressions. Unfortunately, it looks disturbingly like a deformed, limbless fetus.