At last, I fulfill the
promise made on the Philosophy
page. It still should not be that hard to find a copy of Robot Monster;
both the major chains stock it in their Cult or Drive-In Movies section.
If you've only ever heard
about it before, trust me: Robot Monster is The Cheese. It occupies
that rarifed atmosphere, that lofty plateau occupied by only a few,
those happy few: the completely and utterly inept.
Plot? Pfeh! Okay, the
fearsome Ro-Man Extension XJ12 has come to Earth and wiped out everybody
with his Calcinator Death Ray except for 6 survivors who had been injected
with some wide-spectrum anitbiotic that renders them immune to the C-ray.
Ro-man must then kill these holdouts with his bare hands, but our plucky
humans befuddle him with emotions and a voluptuous babe. XJ12 of course
falls for the girl, disobeys his orders, and gets killed by the Guidance
Ro-man, who unleashes a "devastating U-ray" which toasts the
Earth with massive stock footage and for some reason, brings back the
dinosaurs. The End.
Okay, okay, I was trying
to forget the lame framing device. It's all a dream our young (and dreadful)
boy child/protagonist, Johnny (Gregory Moffett) has while unconcious
from the World's Worst Stage Fall. Although the Guidance Ro-man does
stalk forth from the cave at the end. Three times. All that is missing
is a title card reading "THE END....????"
A lot of this will recall
for you the masterworks of the great Ed Wood. There are indeed parallels:
A COMPLETE AND UTTER DISREGARD FOR
LINEAR TIME. Ro-man is given "one Earth Revolution" to complete
his deadly mission. To me, this would seem, oh, perhaps 24 hours? The
heroine, Alice (the rather likable Claudia Barrett) then spends two
days rewiring a telescreen (to no avail, as it turns out) and then completely
rewiring it in a matter of minutes. Then they parley with Ro-man,
then heroine and hero (the sorta likable George Nader) spend the night
together. Professor Pop (an unlikable John Wycliffe, with a Slavic accent)
"marries" them, and Ro-man is informed his "revolution"
is half up. I give up.
GLARING CONTINUITY ERRORS. I am
the world's worst at spotting these things, but in Robot Monster
they reach out of the screen and slap you across the face. Most seem
to involve Wycliffe's character. What, was Lugosi not available that
week? At least Bela knew to do the same thing take after take, to minimize
this sort of editing nightmare. However, the most glaring (and hilarious)
involves the Ro-man. After kidnapping Alice, XJ12 makes a half-hearted
attempt to tie her up, only to have that meddling Guidance Ro-man ring
in. Frustrated, XJ12 knocks her unconcious, then goes to make his excuses
to Boss Ro-man. Upon returning to his prisoner, we find her magically
and thoroughly bound,hand and foot. Irving Klaw would be proud.
UNGAINLY DIALOGUE. Ed has writer
Wyott Ordung beat on a line-per-line awfulness basis. A lot of the dialogue
tries to be philosophical, of the sort done so well in Corman's later
It Conquered the World.
It doesn't fly, but the truly awful dialogue is left to the Ro-men,
who engage in more technobabble than ever dreamed of in Star Trek:
Voyager. XJ12 himself has the most quotable lines, such as "Is
there a choice between a painless surrender death and the horror of
resistance death?" and the famous "To be like the hu-man!
To laugh, feel, want... why are these things not in The Plan?"
"PEOPLE IGNORE THE LITTLE THINGS!"
- Starting with Ro-man: a diving helmet on a gorilla suit. But there
have been worse robots, so let's move on. Ro-man's diabolical
apparatus has a distinct WWII surplus radio feel to it, and it rests
upon a high-tech wooden dining table. It is apparently turned on by
moving the rabbit-ears antenna on the top. When the telescreen is not
on, observe the wrinkles in the screen's fabric. When it's on, notice
that you can see the wood grain in its frame. And oh yes, that WWII
radio? It blows bubbles. Don't ask me why. But I suspect it looked pretty
cool in 3-D (oh yeah...the movie was shot in 3-D. *moan.*)
THOSE SPECIAL LITTLE MOMENTS. Alice
is apparently disabled in some way, since she is constantly getting
picked up and carried by every male in the cast, with the exception
of the irksome Johnny. In fact, while Ro-man is carrying her to his
cave, they pause for a spot of dialogue. Something about his energy
source. Never mind. It has nothing to do with the rest of the movie.
Pop brandishes a common revolver and is asked, "What if the atomic
guns don't stop him?" And Earth's last best hope, the "Space
Platform", is represented by a model rocket with a sparkler hanging
out its ass zizzing endlessly around in a wobbly circle.
Did I mention that Alice
gets tied up? Twice? This, my friends, is Art.
The real heartbreak in
all this is that you can tell director Phil Tucker actually thought
he was making Art. Discussing Deep Questions. Making Statements.
And much like Eddy postulated UFO government cover-ups long before Duchovny
ever pooped a diaper, Tucker violates a few Hollywood conventions by
offing not only the Hero but a little girl. Try that today.
Shortly after the film was released to predictably disastrous reviews,
Tucker attempted suicide.
In the face of Robot
Monster, we can only stand in awe, that for $20,000 this film was
made, it was made in 3-D, and it was released to
movie theaters. Giants walked the earth in those days.