Few films hold the spot in
science fiction history like that of the 1953 science fiction invasion film,
Robot Monster. Director Phil Tucker creating this B-Movie superclassic that has
only been rivaled by the equally painful Plan 9 from Outer Space, although
9 has many slow spots and Robot Monster is nauseating from start to finish.
Originally released in 3D, where audiences were asked to wear those annoying
red/blue lenses paper glasses, this thing has found a strange cult status by
underground fans who rejoice in recognizing just how badly made and moronic this
film can be.
The story begins with little Johnny decked
out in his best Tom Corbett space gear, and his sister Carla who are scampering
about some of the least interesting terrain ever put to film. They stumble upon
a cave (filmed at Bronson Cavern, California) where two archeologists Roy and
"The Professor" are trying to excavate a primitive painting off the wall. The
Professor then abruptly lectures Johnny on the wonders of peaceful coexistence
and the benefits of science to society. The children's mother and older sister
Alice show up and drag the children off for lunch and a nap atop some terribly
uncomfortable looking rocks. You really have to see these rocks they're trying
to sleep on.
The rocks are so bad that Johnny can't
sleep. He gets up and goes back to the cave, and stumbles, tumbling down more
rocks. (Rocks are important in this movie). When he recovers from the fall, he
is launched into a world of visions and the viewer is launched into Robot
Monster's true character of insanity. Johnny watches earthquakes that rock the
world, a pair of claymation triceratops who appear to be trying to have
claymation sex, and an alligator with a fake dorsal fin who battles a battles a
Tyrannosaurus Rex, badly portrayed by a monitor lizard.
Johnny escapes from these pointless
visions and rushes to the cave, which is filled with electronics. There he gets
a glimpse of one of the greatest screen menaces of all time: Ro-Man, agent XJ-2,
a "Robot Monster", the ultimate instrument of destruction from the Planet
Ro-Man. This killer from outer space looks suspiciously like a gorilla with a
deep-sea diver's helmet decorated with TV aerials but he is the fierce danger
that threatens our science-friendly, picnic-loving heroes.
waddles to his communicator, a revamped WWII radio with a video screen on top
that blows bubbles when it operates, and calls his galactic boss, the Great
Guidance. The two then converse in bizarre minimalist techno-babble that would
make any Star Trek scriptwriter proud. Guidance reports that there are no other
forms of life in the universe and that Earth is their only rival for galactic
supremacy. So, these two space villains develop the plan to wipe out mankind.
Ro-Man then reveals that he has already
started stage one of the operation and tricked the world into nuking itself to
death. After the atomic fallout settled down, he revealed himself and mopped up
the survivors with his Calcinator Death-Ray. He claims success but his boss
points out an error and says there are eight people still running loose. By the
sheerest coincidence, these eight, the very last of mankind, are near the cave
having a picnic. Ro-Man promises to wipe out the human plague.
Johnny rushes "home", now a bombed-out
basement surrounded by electrical wires. The Professor and Mom scold him for
wandering outside the electrical barrier (obviously the purpose of all the
wires). Johnny reveals that Robot Monster inhabits the cave and is in the local
neighborhood. The Professor, who may or may not be Johnny's dad, can't believe
such an amazing coincidence, although there are many in this film. Another is
revealed at this point in which the audience learns that he also created a super
immunity serum that he tested on the entire family and saved them from the
fallout from the nuclear war Robot Monster covertly started. Mom is also a
genius because she invented the electrical barrier that protects the family from
With these brilliant minds they ponder
their situation and come up with the only possible conclusion.
Unless, they can find a weakness in Robot
Little Alice then suggests that perhaps
the soldiers on the orbital space platform, a veritable garrison of fighting
power, might have been overlooked and forgotten by Robot Monster. If they could
communicate with it, then the soldiers could come and kick the Hell out of the
They all turn to the video screen, which
activates. Its not the space marines. It's Robot Monster, who informs them
that they are the last humans alive and that if they surrender, he promises them
a quick and painless death. They refuse and he promises them a painful death
instead. At this point we learn that there actually are two settings on the
death ray - painful and not.
After some more needless discussion, Roy
tells everyone that Jason and McCloud are also still alive. Who are they?
(Believe me it won't matter in about five minutes). Jason and McCloud have been
off with batches of the Professor's super serum. They scrounged enough fuel
together to launch a rocket to the Space Platform that carried the serum with an
invitation to come back to Earth and kick a little Ro-Man ass.
Yet, these hopes are dashed as Robot
Monster calls them again and gloats that he detected the rocket launch and then
blows it up in a scene that looks remarkably like older V2 rocket test footage.
He then shows them the space platform, portrayed by an amazingly cheap-looking
model spewing sparks and swinging in an erratic circle. That also blows up but
fortunately causes no harm to the very visible hand holding the model. Robot
Monster repeats that they have no hope and surrender is the only solution.
by the turn of events, the family weighs their options and decides to appeal to
the space invader's mercy. They call Robot Monster back on his video
communicator. The alien demands that they state their business because
he's busy. (What he's involved in other than exterminating mankind isn't clear).
The Professor defiantly declares that they will never give up and humanity will
survive! Besides, he asks, "What exactly do the Ro-Men have to fear from
humans?" Robot Monster provides the standard "humans are self-destructive so we
can't allow you to tamper with affairs in the cosmos, blah, blah, blah, etc.
etc. etc. excuse.
Undaunted, the Professor introduces the
family. Robot Monster isn't interested until Alice takes her turn in front of
the view screen demanding peace with honor. At this point we learn that Robot
Monster has some biological urges that he can't quite understand and these start
to cloud his logic. He offers to spare the humans if Alice will come and just
"have a chat" with him.
Robot Monster then goes out and runs
endlessly up and down a hill for no understandable reason while little Johnny
rushes out to face the invader. When Johnny arrives, Robot Monster aims his
Calcinatory Death Ray at him but, surprise, the super serum protects little
Johnny from that as well as it protected him from radiation. Robot Monster
realizes his error, relies on his superior skill and intellect, and opts to
simply use force. Johnny runs home and is sent to bed without supper for his
Roy and Alice decide to get married and the Professor, using powers given to
professor's after nuclear conflicts, marries them. The two newlyweds go off to
share some private time together. Everyone is happy, except Robot Monster, who
bursts in and kidnaps Alice and takes her back to the cave, but not before also
finding little Carla out in the open and squeezing the life out of her in a
fierce space gorilla bear-hug. The family discovers Carla's body and
buries her just before Roy stumbles into the scene, announces that Ro-Man has
captured Alice, and then dies on the spot.
Back at the cave, Robot Monster again
calls Guidance and explains that he should keep one of the humans (Alice) for
study. Unimpressed, Guidance orders him to kill them all and cuts the
transmission. Robot Monster professes his love for Alice. She resists so he
starts pawing at her, ripping her top and exposing her shoulders. He tries to
take it further but his communicator starts ringing. He snatches some rope and
tries to tie up Alice but when this fails, he simply knocks her unconscious.
Robot Monster turns on the video display
and sees the Professor who says they agree to surrender and are ready to die.
Robot Monster says he's busy and to call back later then hangs up and turns his
lustful attention back to Alice, who miraculously managed to tie herself up
He moves towards her but the communicator
goes off again. This time it's the Great Guidance and his patience is at an end.
Robot Monster begins to question the Guidance's instructions asking why they
can't be like the humans, and laugh, and want, and dream? Guidance is fed up and
orders Robot Monster to kill the girl and then the others. In response, the
invader simply mutters "I cannot" over and over.
Johnny rushes into the cave and presents
himself to Robot Monster as a diversion. Guidance insists that Robot Monster
snap out of it, kill the girl first and then the boy. The alien asks Alice to
forgive him and throttles little Johnny to death. Enraged by Robot Monster
changing the order of his instructions, Guidance activates the Calcinator
Death-Ray and kills Robot Monster who falls and dies right next to Johnny. Yes,
two children under the age of ten are slain in this 1950s film.
... but wait ...
The screen dissolves and we're back in the
original reality. Roy finds Johnny who has suffered a bump on the head from
falling on a rock and carries him back to the cave where he happily learns that
the world isn't under attack by space aliens and suffering from total nuclear
devastation. Luckily, it was all a dream.
... or was it ...
The soundtrack turns ominous and Guidance
stalks out of the cave, not once but three times for emphasis!
Robot Monster is a legend among the
B-movie brethren. George Barrows was well known at the time as the one of two
guys with the gorilla suit. He and Bob Burns played practically every gorilla in
Hollywood for a couple of decades.
Ironically, given the complete lack of
budget used in this film, the musical score was composed by Elmer Bernstein, who
went on to produce such classic scores as "The Great Escape" and "The
Word of this tragedy soon got out and the
film was an incredible failure, although its low budget of $20,000 has paid
endless dividends to the copyright owners since the movie's first run. The film
was re-released in theaters intermittently throughout the 1950s with the new
titles "Monster from Mars" and "Monsters from the Moon". Since its first
showing, Robot Monster and its director were so universally scorned and derided
by reviewers that Phil Tucker was blackballed from the industry and never again
worked in the film business.
The saddest part of this film is that Phil
Tucker really did believe he was creating art. The dialog is filled with social
and political references that he thought relevant at the time. Unfortunately,
unlike other science fiction movies that successfully used this approach, this
film utterly fails to make any points at all. Its just a disaster, throughout
every second of its 66 minutes of playtime.
That's probably why its also a huge cult
classic that's a blast to watch!