Film Review: Robot Monster (1953)

Also known as: Monster From Mars
Release Date: June 24th, 1953
Directed by: Phil Tucker
Written by: Wyott Ordung
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: George Nader, Claudia Barrett, George Barrows

Three Dimensional Pictures Inc., Astor Pictures, 62 Minutes

Review:

This is considered to be a horrible movie in the same vein as other 1950s and 1960s low-budget sci-fi schlock that found a resurgence on Mystery Science Theater 3000. This film may be recognized on a slightly higher pedestal than many of the others, as it was featured in the first national televised season of that classic show. I hadn’t seen this movie since I first saw it riffed on MST3K in syndication in the mid-90s, so it was cool revisiting it over two decades later.

The one thing I remembered about this film and it is really the only thing worth remembering, is the monster. His design is truly bizarre and really original, even if he looks like he was pieced together from whatever was on clearance at a costume store. Essentially, we have a large gorilla wearing a diving helmet with antenna, whose face looks like clay (even though the poster shows it as a skull).

The monster is a Martian named Ro-Man Extension XJ-2 and he lives in a narrow ravine with a magic mirror that lets him talk to The Great Guidance, who is just a blowhard bully that looks exactly like Ro-Man. The mission is for Ro-Man to use his death ray to kill all the “hu… mans”. A few people aren’t effected by the death ray so Ro-Man has to find a way to kill them by any means necessary. Ro-Man falls in love with a “hu… man” girl, however. So then shit gets confusing. He does murder a female “hu… man” child by strangulation, though. Which seemed quite harsh, especially for a movie of this caliber from its era. In the end, the movie is just some little boy’s dream so maybe the boy is a psycho that secretly wishes that his annoying sister would be murdered by a brutish space ape.

The film was shot in 3D and, at the time, it was critically praised, as it was well-executed and done by people who had no experience in the medium. The film is mired by awful effects though. It features some dinosaur battles but they are just comprised of stock footage from various films: One Million B.C.Lost Continent and Flight to Mars. It also employs various footage from Rocketship X-M and Captive Women.

The film’s score was composed by Elmer Bernstein, who would later go on to do the scores for The Great EscapeThe Ten CommandementsThe Magnificent SevenTo Kill A MockingbridSummer and SmokeWalk On the Wild Side and the hugely successful music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Robot Monster is not very good. It deserves to be featured on MST3K and to be riffed to shreds. It cut a lot of corners and suffered because of it but it isn’t different in that regard, to other films of the same ilk from that time. The bizarreness of its monster is memorable, though. In fact, Ro-Man is sort of cool in his hokiness.

This isn’t an unwatchable film but it is a lot more enjoyable seeing it featured with MST3K‘s hilarious commentary.

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