Der Krapp

by Brad Linaweaver

Robot Monster III ~ Installment 7

There are artistic pretensions in Robot Monster. For one thing, there is a running motif. Once during the credits, we see a flash of light up in the sky, flowed by a descending fireball that, by the alchemy of a quick cut, becomes a salamander that falls on the snout of a sad alligator wearing a dinosaur fin. Later, this is shown when the Great Guidance is on a rampage. Kubrick’s bone-into-spaceship is nowhere. (The best part of the movie may be considered that part of the credits that pauses over a display of old pulp magazines. After that, the movie is downhill.)

By Jove, now that I think about it, there’s another motif. The rabbit ears! Every time Ro-Man fiddles with them we lose our TV picture to the snow furies. Hssss! Patience in the night. I suspect that the bubble machine helps bring back the picture. (I’ll bet those bubbles look important in 3D.)

Ro-Man is afforded all the best lines; “You can’t escape,” and “Your death will be... (insert gesture) indescribable!” His most memorable comment raises the film from the dung heaps of trash to the pinnacle of sub-mediocrity. It’s a thematic statement for the film. And before I give you the “word,” I’m gonna tell you what it’s all about:

Like so many horror movies, Robot Monster is another variation on the beauty and the beast fable. In the fine tradition of King Kong (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and even Psycho (1960), it is a female who reaches the inner well of emotion, a well that even gurgles in the obviously male Ro-Man’s burly chest. There is a lovely scene of Ro-man carrying Mr. Hero’s widow (who is attractive, by the way) through the rock quarry to his cave. If you look closely, you can see that she’s got a big grin. She’s having a grand old time and the pleasure must be contagious because he wants in on a good thing. He tries to make love to her. He wants to know if she can have the same feelings toward him that she had for the handsome -- and currently dead -- hero. Ro-Man pulls her hand to his side. She doesn’t resist overmuch. They actually try to kiss! I saw it! Ever try to kiss a space helmet?

The great Guidance is hacked that his agent -- an all purpose one-“man” army -- could have the hots for an Earth girl. Would the progeny be fat and exuding bubbles? The prospect is too much for GG... He gives an ultimatum. Ro-Man for the first time in his life makes a choice, preferring freedom to conformity. We are not surprised when Ro-Man is wiped out for his audacity. GG bombards the traitor with something that looks like farts from the negative zone. GG says that if Ro-Man can live a Hu-Man, he can die a Hu-Man (moon ape always emphasize the second syllable). Then, just for the hell of it, GG turns on the Q-ray thus releasing dinosaurs that “will destroy all life,”’ GG knows what he’s talking about: the lizards look tired enough to be dead. A sex scene would have been more interesting.

Yes, we shed a collective tear of empathy when Ro-Man, in pensive close up, defied his master’s direct order to liquidate the girl. He didn’t want to kill her, but he suspected the penalty for disobedience. To kill? The theme: “I must... (insert wildly gesturing hand and bobbing head) but I cannot.”

A moment so powerful is out of place in an otherwise banal film. We can congratulate the creative minds behind this project on their restraint here. Even though Robot monster is of the school that hold the woman responsible for the tough guy monster’s mistake, the point wasn’t overstated. Of course if I’d directed it, I’d have someone come out at the end and say, “Oh no, it wasn’t the girl. It was Great Guidance killed the Ro-Man!”

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. After we find out that the story was nothing more than the boy’s dream, and the cast wanders off, you’ll never guess who comes out of the cave after them, arms outreached. It wasn’t Lon Chaney, Jr.

In the end
When all was done and said,
Fried monkeys lay dead;
By watching it through
We’d paid our dues
And time it was
For those Monday morning
Test pattern blues.

So ends the Fall Of The Ro-Man, the first time I did an article about the joy of watching drek. I leave you with a final quote to contemplate as you drive to the next ASFiC meeting; Ro-Man looks to the heavens and asks: “At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet?”

It’s interesting to place Robot Monster in perspective to the 3D cycle of the 50s. Initially some good genre films made use of the process. There were the dynamic Gothic horror qualities of House Of Wax (1953), with Vincent Price (WB), the memorable impact of Jack Arnold’s It Come From Outer Space (1953) -- based on Ray Bradbury’s script “The Meteor” -- and the simple effectiveness of the Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) (both Universal). Strange little items like the Maze (1953) (Allied Artists) also receive the 3D treatment.

If Der Krapp is to single out any releasing outfit for a distinction, it should be Astor Films. Not only did they give the world Robot Monster in 1953 but bounced back with Cat Women Of The Moon in 1954, also 3D. The second film is pretty bad but not really in Ro-Man’s league. (Both deal with the moon for some reason.)

In a future installment I’ll give the loving treatment to Cat Women. This raises the question of what Der Krapp will do to keep from becoming stale. There is a veritable universe of awful SFantasy film (unfortunate but true). We’ll never run out of material to roast, and from time to time bad books will merit a look just for variety’s sake.

I pay close attention to the letters column and take requests seriously. Deb Hammer-Johnson has suggested the lesser films of Lionel Atwill as grist for my terrible mill (he was in quite a few good ones but I’ll by-pass those and go straight for the you-know-what). Dan Taylor has brought up the subject of Bert I. Gordon (Mr. BIG) and his juvenile excursions into the subject of giantism. I’ll certainly get around to both of these in time.

Next month I begin my long-promised examination of Japanese monster movies. Ah, what is the significance of tons and tons of rubber?

©1977 by Brad Linaweaver