Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Robot Monster

Robot MonsterCinema Monolith: 2/10 This film is part of the Cinema Monolith collection!
IMDb: 2.9/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: BOMB

Released on June 25, 1953
Not rated
66 minutes

Directed by Phil Tucker

Written by Wyatt Ordung

Cast: George Nader, Claudia Barrett, Selena Royle, John Mylong, Gregory Moffett, Pamela Paulson, George Barrows as Ro-Man and Great Guidance, and John Brown as the voice of Ro-Man and Great Guidance

Of the many low-budget and low-grade horror and sci-fi films of the 1950s and 1960s that are considered the worst of all time, most bad-film aficionados point to the Ed Wood classic Plan 9 of Outer Space as the reigning champ. (Personally, I’d go with The Creeping Terror, but we’ll save that discussion for another review). But there are a growing number of naysayers out there who believe Robot Monster takes the crown, and if you’ve seen both, you know it’s truly a tough decision to make. Especially if you find yourself lost just six minutes into Robot Monster, like I was.

The first five minutes seemed simple enough: a family of four—mother, hot older daughter, young son, younger daughter, and the memory of a deceased father—are having a picnic at the bottom of a canyon, and the two younger ones wander off to play, finding a cave entrance where two archeologists are studying cave drawings. The mother and older daughter find the kids and scold them, everyone gets a laugh out of it, then the family returns to the picnic site for a nap. The boy, intrigued by the work of the scientists, returns to the cave, only to find the two men are gone.

It’s at this point that all hell—and audience confusion—breaks loose. There’s a vicious lightning strike, knocking the boy unconscious, and suddenly a blazing meteor falls from the sky. Somewhere, dinosaurs and giant lizards engage in battle, and when the boy wakes up, still at the cave entrance, he’s now lying next to…an alien bubble machine! As the boy runs and hides, a tubby humanoid wearing a gorilla suit and diving helmet stumbles out of the cave, approaches what looks like a bathroom vanity, and contacts another ‘Ro-Man’ called Great Guidance, who wants to know: if Ro-Man wiped out all of Earth’s population, why does his ‘calculator’ show that eight people are still alive?

Why, indeed. Two of the eight are astronauts on their way to an orbiting space station, but they’re eliminated by Ro-Man’s calcinator ray, so now we’re down to the family of six, hiding in plain site on the patio of their home. Wait…six? Yes, somehow in this twisted storyline, the older of the archeologists is now married to the widow, and father to the kids, while the younger scientist is now the boyfriend of the older sister! Soon, these two get married, and in a fit of jealous rage, Ro-Man strangles and kills the younger sister! Good freaking lord! Finally, after Ro-Man tries to make off with the new bride, and throws her spouse off a cliff, the Great Guidance loses his cool, the Earth is torn asunder, and the young boy is found…awake? And we’re back to square one, with everyone alive and happy after their nap!

At first, this Oz-like wrap-up had me thinking: were these sad little filmmakers actually throwing alternate realities at me? Well, not quite. I’ve seen this movie maybe a half-dozen times, and it was only now that I noticed something I’d never paid attention to before: as the film opens, the young boy is blowing bubbles…just like the alien bubble machine! And then it hit me: this wasn’t about alternate realities at all…this was about a young boy’s dream! Dinosaurs and meteors and astronauts, and a gorilla from space, and a world where a friendly scientist is the father he no longer has. Everything that was happening was just what a young boy would find in comic books, and the pages of Boy’s Life magazine, and in Saturday afternoon serials at his local cinema.

So who do we credit—or blame—for all this? For Phil Tucker, it was the second of eight films he directed over a nine-year span, and was arguably his most popular and well-known. Made at a cost of $16,000 and shot in 3-D, it earned a cool million at the box office and was credited as the first science fiction movie to offer stereophonic sound (and it featured a film score by Elmer Bernstein!). And yet, Tucker attempted suicide that same year, after receiving no payment or percentage of the earnings for his work on the film, and unable to find a job after its release. As for writer Wyott Ordung, Robot Monster was the first of five films he received writing credits for in the 1950s, before moving on to assistant director duties on a handful of minor films in the 1960s and 1970s.

As for my recommendation, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Is it a good movie? No, it’s still poorly made, and could be considered a bit dull if it weren’t so ridiculously funny. I’ve always scored this a 1 out of 10, but this recent ‘it was all a dream’ revelation has me re-thinking my views. Did Phil Tucker make a science fiction adventure movie geared towards kids, that was misunderstood by the masses? Or is it just a low-budget piece of sci-fi schlock that I’m reading far too much into, and is worthy of all the negative reviews it’s received over the years? I think I’ll meet everyone part way, and give Tucker a bit more credit, and boost my rating by one. For fans of bad movies, I’d say it’s definitely worth the sixty-six minutes of time invested.  (2/10)

Robot Monster - photo 1 crop 2

24 comments on “Robot Monster

  1. Dracula

    I wonder if Apollo 11 encountered any of these Moon Monsters 16 years later? At 66 minutes, I think I could make it through this one with a couple of beers of course!

    • Todd B

      I bet you’d sit through this one TWICE with a couple of IPA’s in you. And the crew of Apollo 11 did come in contact with these Ro-Men…IN THEIR DREAMS!

  2. Dracula

    With the high alcohol content of the IPA’s I would be asleep in 20 minutes and having nightmares of the Moon Monster attack on Phoenix.

    • Todd B

      Ha, I wouldn’t want THAT to happen. I’ll let you share some of my pink lemonade instead…or perhaps a tall cool glass of chocolate milk.

  3. geelw

    Funny, I think I was the only one of my friends to get this flick on the first viewing, but yeah, it’s pretty badly put together. I’d watch this again with the original Invaders from Mars as a counterpoint that shows a much better made low-budget flick that’s got a similar kid’s eye view of things and ends up being a lot more memorable.

    And yep, The Creeping Terror is quite the weird one, isn’t it? I saw that back to back with The Horror of Party Beach on TV as a kid and I think that messed me up significantly. I think.

    • Todd B

      I’ve never seen Invaders from Mars, but I keep reading about how closely Robot Monster parallels it…I’ll take your advice and give it a look someday. I’ve also never seen The Horror of Party Beach, but it seems to be quite similar to Creature from the Haunted Sea, which I have seen, and is probably the worst – not best worst, but WORST – movie I’ve ever seen. Because of that, I’ll assume Party Beach will no doubt mess me up as well if I ever watch it. So to play it safe, I won’t.

      • geelw

        Heh. I saw Creature From the Haunted Sea in a theater with a few other Corman flicks here in NYC during a Film Forum revival a looooong time back. I think I laughed way too much at it (probably because I paid to see this and a few other Grade-Z films and it was either that or cry in my popcorn). I’ll save you something like an hour or so on Party Beach just in case you’re tempted:

      • Todd B

        I’m crying right now myself knowing that you PAID to see Creature from the Haunted Sea…although going to a Roger Corman film festival in NYC would probably be a lot of fun. I don’t believe I own Party Beach in any of my monster multi-packs, so thanks for the review link and saving me some possible brain damage by having to watch it.

  4. This one is reallllly hard to get thru but I did it and should be awarded a purple heart. Lol.

  5. Lindsey

    I need to see this!

    • Todd B

      After I’d written and posted this review, I realized this would’ve made for a great movie for our Mini Cheese-athons! So yeah, you should definitely give it a look…and I have a lot of other cheesy drive-in movies on tap for the coming months, so I’ll let you know if there are any that are worthy of our blogathons.

      • Lindsey

        Cool! We are definitely overdue for a cheese-athon, so I’ll let you know if I come across anything as well!

      • Todd B

        Yes, please do…and here are a few possibilities from that list of drive-in films I want to review this year: Frogs, Attack of the Crab Monsters, War of the Gargantuas, Chrome and Hot Leather, King Kong vs Godzilla, and Rocketship X-M, to name a few. Any of those sound promising?

      • geelw

        Funny thing about Rocketship X-M…it’s a darker film than expected although it has a reputation as a sort of cheesy film (blame the terribly bad science on display and the obvious army surplus outfits). If you can find The Terronauts or The Twonky (two films that are indeed cheesy fun), I’d add those to your list. Gigantus, The Fire Monster (aka Godzilla Raids Again) is also super terrible (that US dub is so wretched that it kills the film dead).

      • Todd B

        Oh man, I totally agree that Rocketship X-M has a dark side to it…just look at that ending! I watched Godzilla Raids Again on Svengoolie about a year ago, and didn’t even deem it worthy of a review. And though I’ve heard of Twonky, I’ve never heard of Terrornauts; I just tried to watch their trailers, but apparently one for Twonky doesn’t exist. But Terrornauts does, and it looks…cheesy. I think I can watch both on YouTube, so I’ll give ’em go.

      • geelw

        Heh. I saw Terronauts on a double feature with Star Wars back in 1978 and had to sit through it TWICE because we were late to the theater and missed something like 20 minutes of the far better film.

        And yeah, The Twonky needs a restoration at some point because it’s too goofy to die forgotten.

        Oh, add ZOTZ! to your list of cheesy films to see, as it’s probably William Castle’s weirdest film for a few reasons. I still need to review that one, but it’s… oh, you’ll see…

      • Todd B

        I’ve heard of Zotz! I think Tom Poston is in that, right? And I can’t believe Terrornauts played with Star Wars…what a goofball twinbill that was! I don’t remember seeing SW play with another movie back in 1977-78…maybe I blocked it from memory. Okay, heading over to read your Twonky review…

      • Lindsey

        I’ve already done Frogs and Crab Monsters (You’re in for a treat with both, especially Frogs haha). Rocketship X-M looks like a great contender, I’ll see if I can track down a copy!

      • Todd B

        As soon as I sent my last comment, I remembered that you’d already reviewed Frogs…but I didn’t remember that you’d also reviewed Crab Monsters, and I’d commented on that one, too. Hopefully you can track down Rocketship X-M, but if not, let me know if you have any ideas…I have quite a bit of cheesy films on the Monolith!

      • Lindsey

        Hey, it’s easy to forget when you’ve got hundreds of posts per year to comment on, haha! (Plus, if my own memory serves, both of those reviews were posted quite a while ago). I’ll let you know if I have any luck!

      • Todd B

        I think those two posts were from 2013, so yeah, maybe I shouldn’t blame my memory skills for that one!

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