Monday, November 25, 2013

BAD MEANING GOOD #1 - Robot Monster 3D (1953)

ROBOT MONSTER 3D    (1953)

Cosmic Ray Calcinator Beams?

Giant, stock footage dinosaurs?

Witty banter?

A diabolical Gorilla Man?

Looks like this could only be… Robot Monster!!

     This isn't an especially obscure film, and I'm not exactly breaking new ground
by pointing it out as a movie that's so bad it's good.
The reason I wanted to discuss this particular movie is the fact that it's widely known as
But does it really still deserve that title after all these years?
Has NO ONE made a film superior in its inferiority than the 1953 anti-classic, Robot Monster?

     That statement just seems a little dated in a decade that brought us American Pie 
number whatever-they're-on-by-now or those teenage dance battle movies.
Back then you had to film a guy in a gorilla suit with a fishbowl on his head to make a bad movie.
It took some effort.
You had to kidnap Santa Clause or splice in scenes of a deceased actor, giving him top billing…
you had to be creative to be bad.
Nowadays, the bigger your budget, the more likely your Battleship's gonna sink.
  (get it? like that movie…? Battleship…? Yeah, I never saw it either.)

     That's got a lot to do with my interest in "bad" movies and why I can watch them over and over,
while your average "good" movie (let's say, Dances With Wolves, for example) I can barely finish once…
if I ever muster up the patience to get to them at all (Yes, my respectable film-watching friends,
I promise to sit through The King's Speech some day. I just gotta finish my never-ending
Italian Mad Max rip-off marathon first, ok?).

  There's a reason why Zombie 3 is funny and re-watchable,
while World War Z can tell a mostly similar story,
only to have it come out bland and uninteresting.

There's a reason why this:

will always trump this:

                                             What exactly is that, anyway?

     So, without any further unnecessary explanation,
indulge me, if you will, while I… explinate (?)… 
why Robot Monster 3D is NOT one of the worst movies of all time,
and is, in fact, the BEST movie ever made… 
ok, that might be a bit much…

It's a beautiful morning in Bronson Canyon:

home to such classic film and t.v. sets as 
Gunsmoke, Star Trek, Batman, Rawhide and… Star Trek
just to name a few,

and after a short dirt-nap in the comfy rock pile,
young Johnny goes peaking around in a nearby cave,
only to discover RO-MAN and his fiendish bubble machine,

who uses his cosmic ray calcinator beam to unleash unstoppable stock footage
from One Million B.C. and The Lost Continent
to wipe out all but 8 humans in a matter of seconds.

We only see some of this happen,
when RO-MAN shows the 6 survivors an instant replay on their magic projector screen
(that somehow works, even though they have chosen to seek safety
in a roofless pile of rubble right around the corner from RO-MAN'S cave).

It's ok, cause he can't detect them on account of the electric fence
they've installed around the perimeter.

RO-MAN is a one man pre-emptive strike against the HU-MANS,
who have grown too intelligent and must be wiped out.
Seeing how the entire eradication of the human race
is carried out in a matter of seconds, one might wonder if that assessment was based more on paranoia 
than scientific research, or how this everyday family survived the attack… outside!

The short answer is:
The professor has injected them all with a serum that makes them immune to death rays… 
I'm guessing he threw this miracle vaccine together in the seconds it took to kill EVERYTHING
or he would have injected more people with it. That, or he just didn't really care for anybody else anyway.

     Where were we?
     So, RO-MAN is trying to convince the survivors to give up
and accept a "peaceful surrender death" as opposed to a "painful resistance death".
He's a pretty reasonable guy.
Especially, given that he's under the constant scrutiny of The Great Guidance
who has given him "till the Planet Earth revolves once more"
to take out these pesky HU-MANS.

    The humans, because they need things to do, have a communicator that broke during the attacks
and now can only be repaired by Alice if they want to talk to the guys in the Space Platform… 
and she gives it her best, in true A-Team montage style,
but even after two days of randomly turning screws and fighting off despair and weariness,

     It doesn't matter anyway cause RO-MAN destroys the Space Platform in the very next scene.
The space "Platform" is actually more of a rocket flying around in circles, carried by a giant, human hand.

Or maybe we're not supposed to see the hand. I'm not sure.
     He then reports that HU-MAN 7 and 8 are gone,
which leads to a powerful brooding sequence by the professor,
who decides to contact RO-MAN and introduce the family to him 
(to put a HU-MAN face on the carnage) while they all taunt him for some reason.

     Then, in a twist worthy of Shamalan, RO-MAN sees Alice and falls instantly in love with her
making him question his RO-SENSIBILITIES.
He decides that if there's to be any sort of truce, the negotiation will be with
"The One Called Alice", basically asking her on a date.
     To the entire family's astonishment, Alice agrees to this.

     Upset about her decision, Roy pressures her into marriage. 
(Hey, I wouldn't let the very last kinda hot, dumb chick on Earth 
slip right through my fingers at the charms of 
a guy in a gorilla suit who's "boyfriend resume" includes
"resurrected dinosaurs and crushed all humanity, at the same time.")
They immediately throw an impromptu wedding and everyone is joyous,
forgetting the dire circumstances that brought this occasion up, much less
the absurdity of the whole idea in the first place.

     RO-MAN goes for a long walk in all directions

(bad editing or an example of his omnipotent power? You decide), 
when he runs into little Johnny.
He attempts to Death Ray ole Johnny
who tells him all about the vaccine he and the family have taken and
all but draws him a map to their camp… 
if you wanna call the rubble pile they're hanging out in a "camp".

     Next, RO-MAN runs up on little Carla and, after a clumsy struggle,
strangles her.

     Her last words are: "My daddy won't let you hurt me!"
  Your daddy seemed ok with letting you wander around the post-apocalyptic wasteland, I wouldn't put all my beans in Daddy's basket just yet.

     Ro-Man is quick to report his victory over little girls to the Great Guidance.
He also adds that perhaps it would be best to keep one HU-MAN specimen alive.
I wonder which one he's got in mind?

     Meanwhile, on a romantic honeymoon, only a couple yards away from RO-MAN HQ…
Alice and Roy are obliviously making out in the bushes when their nemesis happens upon them
and instigates yet another clumsy struggle. 

It's the epic, 
Don't Tear-The-Gorilla-Suit-It's-The-Only-One-We've-Got
confrontation we've all been waiting for and it does not disappoint (or impress)!

     They both were asking for it in their own way.
She knows The Big Guy's got the hots for her.
Roy knows he's no match for a Gorilla man from space.
Both know they're goofing around right outside his cave.

     Maw and Professor find Little Carla's lifeless body and emote accordingly.
     At the funeral, the Professor offers these haunting words of wisdom to the grieving Johnny…

"No regrets, Johnny, we enjoyed her as long as she was with us, and now, somehow, we have to find a way to live without her."

     They immediately get over the deaths of Carla and Roy and get straight to their Independence Day-like Plan,
with Johnny being the jet flown by Randy Quaid, while Maw and The Professor get to be Will Smith and BrundleFly.

     After some "Me-Time", RO-MAN is tying up his blushing bride so she won't run off 
while he negotiates with the remaining HU-MANS.

Then he cops a feel and gives her a good conking on the head just to shut her nagging pie-hole.

     They agree to meet in "The Ravine" when "The Sun Passes Over The Mountains",
then, just as he gets rid of one nuisance and gets back to his prize,
The Great Guidance calls up to remind him that he's a failure.

[Responses like this do very little to support his case…]
("Yes…to be like the HU-MAN. To laugh, feel, want… why are these things not in the plan?")

Double G ain't trying to hear all this trifling and lays down the brass tax…
forcing Ro-Man to ponder over the concepts of "MUST" and "CAN NOT".

"I cannot, and yet I must. How do you calculate that?
 At what point on the graph do 'must' and 'cannot' meet?
 Yet I must. But I cannot"

There's an absurd theme of existentialism at work in our suddenly sympathetic antagonist,
and it's part of what makes Robot Monster not just another bad Guy-In-A-Gorilla-Suit movie.

In a somber scene, the HU-MANS wish Little Johnny well, hand him a Star Trek phaser
and leave him alone in "The Ravine" while they make their way to RO-Man's layer.

Great Guidance keeps badgering RO-RO  to get it over with and snuff the chick,
but this just throws the Big Guy into the eternal conundrum of "Must" and "Can Not".

"I must, but I cannot. Great Guidance, I cannot kill the girl… but I will kill the boy. Al-ice, do not hate me - I must!"

     When it comes to killing Johnny, it's not as difficult an idea.
He lumbers off menacingly after the boy, while Mom and Professor rush in to untie Alice.
It's the ole' "Statue Of Liberty" Play!
The Malachi Crunch!
The Velociraptor Fake-Out!
("Clever girl...")

     The climactic uh… "battle" between Johnny and Ro-Man is a breathless roller-coaster
of unbearable white-knuckle tension as…


     Ro-Man… "kills" Johnny to death but Great Guidance is all out of patience
and sends out the lightning and the dinosaurs and the "CYCLOTRONIC VIBRATIONS" 
                                                  Even RO gotta go.

     And, just when you're starting to get overwhelmed by the sheer doom and apocalyptic terror,
we see Roy, very much alive and carrying Johnny who, we now learn, fell down and bumped his head
and dreamed the whole thing.

     Johnny looks mostly disappointed that Carla's not dead, but he finally agrees to "PLAY HOUSE" 
with her when they get home.
     The ladies, who didn't already know the professor and Roy in this reality,
invite the handsome strangers to join them in living happily ever after.

     The End  

          OK, so upon further analysis,  maybe Robot Monster actually ISN'T the "best movie ever made" 
and maybe I'm just that guy who always says that about whatever he happens to be watching at the time, 
but the point is: 
It's just so much more interesting to watch this train-wreck of a film unfold, zits and all, 
and be able to SEE that real people attempted to make a REAL movie (albeit, a ridiculous one)
as opposed to sitting through some generic Hollywood "blockbuster", starring models pretending to be actors,
that looks suspiciously like it was just randomly created by some automated Action-Movie Program
based on pre-determined calculations of things that are instantly pleasing to the lowest common denominator.

     Sounds like snobbery just for the sake of disagreeing with the mass movie going public at large?
     It FEELS like it, a little bit. 
     Believe me, I wish I could look past the annoying crash-boom-bang of the average Michael Bay film,

[Seems wrong referring to Transformers 2 as a "film" ]

bypass my bullshit filter and just let a popcorn movie be a popcorn movie,
but there's always a pop-song or a product placement or an annoying, soap opera-grade actor-person
or disingenuous, button-pushing sentiment for characters who were never successfully introduced,
much less worthy of the sympathy of the intended audience.
     There's ALWAYS  a love interest and there's ALWAYS an idiotic, wise-cracking comic relief guy.
If he's white, he's a stoner/surfer "dude" and if he's black, he's one of the Wayans brothers.

     There's an infamous rumor about Phil Tucker, the director of Robot Monster, 
attempting suicide in the aftermath of the film's universally poor reception.
This may or may not be an exaggeration. He DID try to off himself, but there were other factors involved
that may have had a much heavier impact than his movie having bombed.
That's not what's important here.

     The important thing is that history remembers Robot Monster.
The image of RO-MAN carrying Alice off to his Bronson Canyon lair
has become iconic in representing 50's sci/fi monster movies.
It has developed a strong cult following over the years, both in its original form
and the now-classic episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

     58 years ago, Phil Tucker set out to make a sci/fi thriller that tapped into its audiences fear
of nuclear holocaust, invaders from outer space and… dinosaurs (?).
4 Days and $16,000 later, he unwittingly made a fondly remembered, absurd comedy.

     The several-hundred-million dollar, disposable, interchangeable, cash-in epics of the last 10 years are already forgotten and out-dated by the time their inferior sequels are even in the can,
yet they are viewed by modern audiences as the pentacle of filmmaking,
the top rung in the evolutionary ladder of visual storytelling.

     I guess we'll have to wait until 58 years from now to see if that really is the case
or if we're actually living in the cinematic dark ages.

A time when more movies were being produced than ever before,
but only a handful worth remembering.

Peace… Or the extreme lack there-of,