Robot Monster (1953) – By Josh Samford

 So this month here at Rogue’s we’ve come up with an idea that I’ve been thinking should have been put forth from day one. A celebration of man – and his monkey. What would we do without such stupid animals to make us feel superior? We would most likely all be taken down a notch, causing the mass IQ of the world to drop by at least ten points. Sure, not a massive number you’re thinking, but when you imagine your local cab driver or brain surgeon having their brain sucked down in such a manner – do you really trust a world without monkeys? Heaven knows I don’t, and I don’t like the idea of the cinematic world lacking in monkey love. So, when it came down to it, I had two choices for this little gathering of collective effors. Any Which Way but Loose – starring a Monkey and Clint Eastwood; or the Science Fiction classic: Robot Monster. Now me, traditionally I’d go with the Eastwood flick simply because I’m usually drawn to the more grounded in reality type of b-movies but hey – it’s 2006, let’s live dangerously. I’m well familiar with Robot Monster, ever since I first discovered it on late night television years ago. It’s a film with a reputation, a reputation for being the worst. As you all might know too, that’s going to be a hard rep to live up to it. With Plan 9 From Outer Space taking on the crown of being the most over the top film of all time – and done in a much humorous/entertaining way – finding a true champion for a film that is just outright terrible seems to be the real challenge. Now, does Robot Monster live up to expectations in that area? Me, I have to say, no. Robot Monster is entertaining in the fact that it is over the top but it doesn’t quite enter the levels of insanity that would make it a truly hillarious or entertaining time.

So, in my estimation (and since I write on the interweb, that immediately makes me a man just bursting with knowledge) there are three types of bad movies. Bad-good movies, Bad-bad movies and bad-boring movies. The previously mentioned Plan 9 would be a great example of a Bad-Good movie, Manos The Hands of Fate would be a perfect Bad-Bad movie if ever there was one… and although I’m not going to go out and say Robot Monster is a bad-boring type of flick; a lot of the hype it gets for me is a little undue. For the simple fact that it’s really not the worst, and as for entertainment value – I think the low budget is what gets it so much attention and that’s it. For my money, Robot Monster has never really quite been as over the top as I always expected it to be. For a flick with a gorilla wearing a fish bowl on his head named Robot Monster – I’ve always found it pretty subdued, but then again, maybe I’ve been locked away with these types of flicks for too long.

Like I said, this is a story about a gorilla with a fish bowl for a head. Well, something like that at least. One day while off wandering around a little boy named Johnny stumbles upon a cave where he gets to fooling around – as a death ray beams down upon the earth; successfully wiping out humanity as we know it. Well, it wasn’t too terrible of a success, since it seems pretty much everyone Johnny knew is still alive – albeit in rough shape. Along for this post-apocalyptic ride however are the Robot Monster(s) of the film’s title. More specifically – Ro-Man, a big time gorilla leader out to do away with the remaining earth people. So, it’s man Vs. Gorrilla in Fish Helmet – who will win? The viewer? Depends on the case I guess. In this day and age, Robot Monster is such a specialty item that those who seek it out usually have the taste for such a piece of celluloid – but I’ve always found myself in the middle of the road on it. Considering the director contemplated suicide due to the tremendously harsh reactions the film received upon first release – opinions have varied since inception. I think acting-wise, I have seen infinitely worse. Far more exaggerated, far less dignified and all around incredibly worse – but with this type of flick; who expects Shakespeare? I’m not really defending a lot of the film; but I’m just saying we’ve all seen worse. The production values, even for an ancient science-fiction flick – are quite god-awful though; I must admit. Still, that adds to one of the more entertaining aspects of the film. Along with Ro-Man’s inane dialogue, I’d say it is what gives the film its edge… if it indeed has one.

I figure I could get a lot of flack for this review if enough people cared. There are those that stand by the belief that it is a classic to be heralded for all the ages; there are those that feel it is utter garbage but overall – all I can truly say is I recommend it as a piece of cinematic history. A view into a time where things were much simpler and where all it took to get a film made was the drive and ambition to effect an audience – not so much the drive and ambition to be a great filmmaker or truly contribute to the diversity of the art-form. Take it for what it is – and yes, there is indeed a lot of fun to be had. Play hard-nosed or expect Plan 9 part two and you might just leave disappointed. Regardless of what I may have to say or not; it’s a film still well deserving of it’s notoriety and for true fans of cinema – the bizarre or completists of all genres – it’s simply a must-see.

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Rogue Reviewers Roundtable Topic: Spank the Monkey

Josh’s Review Site: Varied Celluloid