Der Krapp

by Brad Linaweaver

Robot Monster II ~ Installment 6

(Last time I introduced Ro-Man, the star of Robot Monster. This memorable character -- an ape suit with a diving helmet head -- had just put through a call to his boss on the moon. The Great Guidance. We resume. )

The Great guidance, by the way, is the same costume sans antennae. The faceplate has been glazed over. He has a weapon called the Z-ray, I think; no, wait, it must be a C-ray because old GG (everyone’s hashish dream of the deity) often refers to his calcinatory death ray. Whenever he turns on the C-ray we get to watch old newsreel footage of World War II (as near as I can tell). GG tries to con us; he would have us believe we’re seeing how he destroyed human civilization. He’s also got a Q-ray that lets us enjoy stock shorts of lizards masquerading as dinosaurs. (This flick has something for every kind of cinemagic fan.) The whole glorious concoction is in 3D, making no impression on the 2D TV viewers who don’t know that the almost watchable stock shots were originally in 2D. Does this mean that during its theatrical run the interesting shots stand out from the rest of the film by not standing out?

The Great Guidance is even bad luck, at least in Tallahassee, because the first time we totally lose our picture to the TV snow furies is when he’s lecturing us. Let down by the cable system! Hsssssss goes the set. Although the picture is temporarily lost, our faith is not. We can’t give up without a fight. We pray. It is Sunday, after all. “Oh Great Guidance,” we chant, “bring back the picture.”

I must admit I’m tempted to flip channels to a PRC western. I’ve seen Robot Monster before. But the others stand firm so I pray some more. We will not extinguish hope…and sure enough the picture comes back. A commercial. Someone must have gotten hold of an A-ray, a beam of pure advertising energy that brooks no interference.

After the ad, we get to see a few more minutes of the flick until the Hssssss ray returns us to the snow. We hang in there, hoping we’ll be able to see the climax. (The last third of the movie is close enough to the end to be considered a climax.) The deity is either merciful or wrathful because our wish is granted. My only regret is that none of us had a Z-ray. Would have suited the quality of the film, you know?

Meanwhile, back at the cave, Ro-man keeps going in and out, in and out. His cardboardish moon equipment is arranged neatly at the mouth of the cave. There is a good reason. The director doesn’t have to worry about interior lighting. If memory serves, there isn’t one interior shot unless you want to count a few feet into the cave. Such a set-up is rather convenient. The hero can gawk at the cardboard, then run for cover behind a rock when Ro-Man emerges to use the Lawrence Welk Machine for a message to the moon. After Ro-Man finishes hobnobbing with the boss, he wanders back into the darkness. Is it my imagination, or does he step more lively when he returns to the night. Could there be a moon-ape potty in the back of the cave? It would explain a lot.

Don’t think the ape suit has to carry the entire film on its matted shoulders. It has ample assistance from the script, if there really were one. Our heroes are… well, portrayed. They are the only human survivors in a post C-ray would. They survived because the father of the clan is a genius who vaccinated his loved ones and jut-jawed hero against stock shots. The hero intends to marry a pretty girl; I think she is the daughter of the genius. There’s also an old bag who is married to the genius and there are two kids, a little boy and girl. (The latter is my favorite character because at one point she ad-libs a cute question: she asks if the grown-up daughter is going to have a date with Ro-Man because a meeting has been arranged. It must be an ad-lib. Anyway, it turns out to be foreshadowing.) Half of the film is pent with these people standing around dumbfounded, waiting for death. It’s a very serious film because death finally comes, and in its wake we see the unraveled spool of human ambition; we see Ro-Man’s tragic flaw, his moment of humanity, his decline and fall; we see a horde of confused lizards…and the little boy wakes up.

Yes, it was all a dream. Are you ready for the shock ending to the surprise ending? I’ll tell you later.

It’s a wonder anyone ever gets killed because Ro-man spends so much time strolling and looking tired and getting chewed out by the Great Guidance. At any rate, the little girl dies first. It begins with the wedding ceremony. The whole gang, excepting R-Man and GG, is gathered at the fortress, the front yard of which is protected by those ever-present Jacob’s ladders. The hero and the daughter of the genius are tying the knot. The little girl is an onlooker. Hero has a bare chest and Mrs. Hero has a bridal gown. He has a big smile; she has a worried mother -- the bag -- whose contrite expression may prove she was the only member of the cast who really knew what they were doing. The genius performs the prescribed rites. Then the newlywed couple goes traipsing off into the wilderness for their honeymoon.

Wouldn’t you? Why stay in a protected area where that genius is always lecturing you in his faltering manner, when you can have the privacy of the woods and Ro-Man? The little girl understands and follows. I think she takes the newlyweds some flowers, or is it a package of contraceptives? Hard to tell. We had some snow back there. (I know what you’re thinking -- contraceptives?! When the world has almost been depopulated? Well, would you bring a child into a world under the control of GG?)

Onward. The little girl enters stage right with her gift. Mr. and Mrs. Hero accept the gift and tell the little girl to hurry on home, because nasty old Ro-Man may be lurking about. Little girl exits stage left. No one points out that she is going in the wrong direction. There weren’t any fancy camera angles or nothin’ -- they just blew the directions.

Whoaaa! Can it be? Is the Ro-Man approaching? It must be his afternoon stroll. Maybe he will show her the way home. He’s just menacing enough to try something like that. The cutting is fast and furious. Here he comes, waddling up the side of a grassy hill. Girl is toddling along. Cut to him. Cut to girl. Cut back to him. Back and forth, round we go. Aw'right aw'ready! Get on with it. They do.

This sweet, young child knows she has nothing to fear from the big ape. She’s been vaccinated. If only she knew that earlier her brother was zapped by the C-ray, and when he didn’t die it was possible for the superior intellect of Ro-Man to figure out that the ray did not kill the kid. Furthermore the boy made matters worse by telling the enemy of all humanity about the vaccination. As a consequence, the villain did some heavy thinking and decided he’d have to kill with his bare gloves from then on. The big mouth bastard must have known remorse because after spilling the beans he did some mugging for the camera and said, “Oops!” He obviously didn’t tell his sister about it (knew she’d tell the genius and they’d all have to listen to another lecture). Now the girl walks up to that robot monster and says, in a real sweet voice, “You can’t hurt me. My daddy won’t let you.”

It is Ro-Man’s finest hour. “We’ll see,” he gloats with his finest Soupy Sales impersonation, grabbing her. And the monster carries her relaxed little body of screen, leaving the sordid details to our imaginations.

Not that Robot Monster is in the Val Lewton school of subtlety -- the fight scene that pits Ro-man against Mr. and Mrs. Hero has to be seen to be believed, or disbelieved. Still…I can’t help but wonder if there’s a scene missing from Robot Monster. Perhaps Forry Ackerman could launch a campaign to find the still of Ro-Man doing whatever he did to the child. Maybe she was drowned, maybe something worse. Her corpse is found by genius and wife, and as far as their mourning goes, its acting is to be preferred. Death be not proud, when you’re so awkward.

©1977 by Brad Linaweaver