ARRIVAL OF WANG
Monster comes with quite the reputation, often being
mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Plan 9 from
Outer Space as one of the 'worst' – and so most
inadvertently entertaining – films ever made. And it's a
reputation that is pretty much deserved, although I would question
both the entertainment value and the sheer badness of the film
to different degrees.
Don't get me wrong – this is sheer, unadulterated rubbish
for the most part. A masterclass in basic filmmaking, the story
opens (after a preamble I'll discuss shortly) with the last six
people on Earth trying to escape the clutches of Ro-Man, an invader
form another world (who, as you all doubtless know, is played
by a man in a gorilla costume with a diving helmet on his head)
who was conveniently wiped out the rest of humanity off-camera.
They are equally conveniently stuck out in the desert, and most
of the 'action' alternates between their makeshift camp and the
cave that Ro-Man has set up shop – his advanced technology
consisting of a video communications screen (which the humans
also have) and a machine that pumps out bubbles for no logical
reason beyond the fact that director Phil Tucker thought it looked
cool, needed something to justify the 3D and had obtained one
for free from the manufacturers (they get a significant mention
in the opening credits).
Ro-Man may have wiped out the rest of humanity, but thanks to
an inoculation, these surviving humans are a trickier problem,
and so much of the film is taken up with him being berated by
his boss on the home planet for his incompetence and talking to
the humans on their viewer, offering them a 'painless death' if
they surrender. They are having none of it though, and when Alice
(Claudia Barrett) agrees to negotiate with the alien, her father
(John Mylong) and boyfriend (George Nader) object vigorously,
tying her up to prevent her leaving. They suspect – with
no reason at all, but correctly as it turns out – that Ro-Man
has developed an unlikely crush on the girl, and while you might
think it would a sacrifice worth making to ensure the survival
of humanity, this God-fearing lot will have no truck with such
behaviour. In fact, so fixated are they with propriety, that Barrett
and Nader go through a marriage ceremony after one date –
if you're going to repopulate the species, you won't do it out
of wedlock, goddammit!
Monster is nonsensical rubbish... and yet within the
context of the film, that makes a certain sense. The film opens
with annoying children Johnny (Gregory Moffett) and Carla (Pamela
Paulson) meeting a couple of archeologists while out on a family
picnic, then suddenly lurches into the main story, where these
characters are part of the family. So it's hardly a spoiler to
reveal that the film is actually a child's dream – a low
rent sci-fi version of The Wizard of Oz, perhaps.
The whole story, therefore, makes a certain amount of sense when
seen that way. It explains why Johnny is shown as a heroic, spunky
kid who helps save the day, and why his whiny kid sister gets
killed by Ro-Man. In fact, we should perhaps praise Tucker for
so accurately translating a small boy's fantasies to the screen,
with no quarter given towards logic or the adult audience.
But before you go off thinking that Robot Monster
might be an unheralded work of art, I should point out that even
allowing for this interesting approach, the film is astonishing
shoddy, with terrible acting and dreadful production values and
even at 62 minutes, feels a bit slow. There are great moments
– Ro-Man's infamous “I must... but I cannot... but
I must... but I cannot” speech, the scene where the kidnapped
Alice pauses from screaming to have a calm chat with Ro-man about
his technology, the ridiculous stock footage of dinosaurs (which
again make a sort of sense if the story is filtered through the
mind of a little boy – what kid doesn't love dinosaurs?)
and of course Ro-Man himself, a classically dreadful alien creation
- but on the whole, the film lacks the sheer weight of brilliantly
bad dialogue and general nonsense to have the same entertainment
value of Ed Wood's great works.
Neither as unremittingly terrible or as entertainingly trashy
as its been made out to be, Robot Monster is
a definite 1950's curio, up there with 'what were they thinking?'
flicks like Beast of Yucca Flats for sheer oddball
outsider cinema appeal. It's certainly worth seeing, especially
with a crowd and the assistance of alcohol. There are enough fun
parts to make the slow pace acceptable, and while not the howlingly
funny movie it's been hyped as, it's definitely unique!
This Cheezy Flicks edition refers to itself as 'drive-in quality'
– basically, it looks like any other public domain film
you might pick up (i.e. not digitally remastered!) and
despite the suggestion of the original poster artwork used on
the sleeve is most definitely not in 3D.
IT NOW (USA)