Tag Archives: Phil Tucker

160. ROBOT MONSTER (1953)

“[CROW T. ROBOT and TOM SERVO are complaining to JOEL ROBINSON that the incoherence of the movie Robot Monster is making them physically ill. JOEL kind of likes it.]

JOEL: No, you don’t get it. Isn’t it kind of weird? There’s, like, a guy in a gorilla suit, and he’s got a robot head, and inside he’s got kind of a bunch of clay. I mean, I’ve seen Dali paintings that made more sense than this movie does.

TOM: Yeah, but I think there’s a fine line between surrealism and costume store closeouts!

CROW: I don’t get it, Joel. Is it cool to make no sense? Is it hip to be vague?

JOEL: No, it’s not cool, but it’s surreal…”

–“Mystery Science Theater,” episode 107 (Robot Monster)

DIRECTED BY: Phil Tucker

FEATURING: Gregory Moffett, George Barrows, Claudia Barrett, George Nader, John Mylong

PLOT: Young Johnny is playing spaceman when he encounters a pair of archeologists on a dig. Later, he is struck by lightning, we see footage of dinosaurs fighting, and Johnny awakens in a future world where mankind has been wiped out except for his own family and a few surviving scientists. The remnants of humanity are being hunted down by a Ro-man, an emotionless alien with a gorilla’s body wearing a diver’s helmet.

Still from Robot Monster (1953)

  • Robot Monster was originally released in 3-D (which may explain why the producers thought floating bubbles were imperative to the story).
  • The film was shot in four days, mostly in Bronson Canyon, with no interiors. It reportedly cost $16,000 to make (which would be about $140,000 in 2013 dollars). As bad as it was, Robot Monster reportedly grossed over $1 million in its initial run, even before it became a cult item.
  • The inserted dinosaur footage comes from One Million B.C. (1940) and Lost Continent (1951).
  • The music is by composer Elmer Bernstein, who was just starting his career. Bernstein would go on to be nominated for 14 Oscars, winning once.
  • According to “The Golden Turkey Awards,” director Phil Tucker attempted suicide due to the negative critical reaction to Robot Monster. Although Tucker did try to kill himself after the movie was released, the idea that bad reviews drove him to it is likely to be wishful thinking on the part of Harry and Michael Medved. The story is usually repeated—with the kind of cheap irony that suggests an urban legend—as some variation of “upset over bad reviews, the director tried to shoot himself, but missed!” Bill Warren gives a more balanced account of the scandal in his 1950s sci-fi primer “Keep Watching the Skies!
  • Robot Monster is a mainstay on “worst movie ever” lists, including the Medveds “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.”
  • Included as one of the experiments of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (Episode 107).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The “robot monster,” with his diving helmet topped by a rabbit ear antenna, all perched on top of a shaggy Halloween ape costume—especially when he’s framed by the swirling soap bubbles arising from his atom-age alien technology.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It’s the bubbles that put it over the top. An incompetent apeman alien in a diving helmet I can accept. Dialogue like “I must—but I cannot! Where on the graph do must and cannot meet?” is absurdly awful, but period-appropriate. The random appearance of battling dinosaur footage is common detritus when you are digging around in the scrapyards of cinema. But the unexplained presence of the bubble machine—a piece of equipment important enough to get its own mention in the opening credits—nearly breaks the weirdometer. Where on the graph do “apocalyptic alien invasion” and “happy little bubble machine” meet?

“Trailers from Hell” on Monster from Mars [AKA Robot Monster]

COMMENTS: Plan 9 from Outer Space has long been recognized as the ultimate so-bad-it’s-good unintentional sci-fi comedy of the 1950s, and Continue reading 160. ROBOT MONSTER (1953)