Today is historic. It marks the first time that this site has featured a guest contributor. If you don’t like my writing, this could be the post for you!
I’m really hoping that this isn’t the first you’ve heard of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I fear that for many it is. On the bright side, I might get another person or two into the show. It’s undeniably huge with its cult following, but it deserves more mainstream recognition.
The unique premise alone should be enough intrigue you all; a man and two robots trapped in space, being forced to watch horrible films. Even those who have never seen an episode probably recognize the image of silhouettes in the corner of the screen, pointing up at and making fun of old movie scenes. Plus, everyone loves wooden dialogue and plot holes big enough to drive a truck through.
I should clarify for those who are unfamiliar. I’m not taking about bad movies like Sharknado. I’m talking about bad movies where the director was convinced he had cinematic gold on his hands. It’s am important distinction to make. Films made today that are on SyFy weekly, or go straight to DVD, are typically made with the intention of appealing to the B-movie audience. The real magic happens when a filmmaker gives it his best shot and fails to deliver his message with any coherency or grace.
MST3K was well aware of this, and focused on the latter. Over the course of their eleven years, they mocked monster movies, old black and white detective stories, spy films, and more. One of their staples, however, was classic 1950s science fiction.
As luck with have it, my friend Adriana posted a photo of the 1953 movie Robot Monster on Instagram, as part of her 100 Days of Robots campaign. Having watched MST3K with her before, I mentioned that Robot Monster was a Mystery Science Theater episode. Of course, we then immediately had to schedule a viewing, which came to fruition mere days later.
Since she has quite a way with words, I thought it’d be fun to document the watching of the movie and post our thoughts on certain aspects. As usual, I was right. We had a blast, and Adriana was kind enough to contribute her thoughts on the short before the movie, the movie itself, and the riff/joke quality put forth by the show.
Let’s dive into Robot Monster and see if we can’t make a believer out of you. If you don’t want to listen to me, listen to Adriana. She’ll hit you if you don’t.
The Short- Commando Cody
Dan: These old serials are the best. A lot of times MST would riff on one of these weekly installments if the movie they were doing for the episode ran short. Robot Monster is barely over an hour so there were two Commando Cody episodes prior to the film. And boy, were they ever fraught with danger and heart-stopping thrills.
I’ll be upfront about this and admit that I didn’t follow the story at all. These were chapters four and five, so it was sort of impossible to jump into an analysis of the plot anyway. It was simple enough to understand that Cody was the good guy, fighting bad guys in classy suits and space people in bath robes. That was all we needed to know.
I was happy that one of the chapters included a fist fight. Something about fight scenes from the 1940s/50s films cheers me up, even when I’m not feeling particularly down. This one didn’t disappoint, as we were treated to punches missing by four feet and a spastic leap over the table. In the end, however, the good guy who wasn’t Cody got his face beat in by the two EVIL GOONS who then stole his lady friend. Cody showed up and wasn’t about to have that, so he took off on his jetpack. Literally, he flies like this:
He somehow catches up to the plane the bad guy’s got the woman in, but it foiled when the jerk pops the wheel off of the control panel and parachutes to safety. The woman is doomed! Also I didn’t know plane steering mechanisms just came off like that. I think there should at least be a screw holding it in place or something.
Cody enters the plane but it’s took late because instead of just carrying the lady to safety using the jetpack he clearly has, the plane straight-up nosedives into a mountain.
Here we reaped the full benefits of the serialized science fiction format. After that tense cliffhanger, we barreled right along to chapter five, where we discovered that our worry was for naught. See, Cody and his lady friend actually escaped moments before fiery impact, with a parachute that was on the plane all along. Huh. I guess Cody wasn’t really needed for this daring escape.
From there, it just got more confusing. Cody went searching for the bad guy, using a control system on his jetpack that included an “up/down” dial. So simple yet amazing. Cody ends up getting shot at and taking a header into a bush. Then something else happens, and somehow two guys go flying off of a cliff when another guy leaps out of a moving car, sending it into the other vehicle.
I realize that summary lost steam at the end, and that’s because I did too. I wanted to see a robot monster and was getting impatient. This blog is free, so you can’t complain.
Adriana: Commando Cody is actually somehow the first half of the movie, again because they took out the parts that made sense. He seems at first like I might want to bear his children-he’s a chiseled philanthropic rocket moon man who saves women from airplanes. But then I think that he might expect me to be a stay at home mother and wear pearls and know how to cook a meal so that all the components are finished cooking at the same time so they’ll all be served hot and I realize that it could never work between us.
Robot Monster Plot
Dan: In a nutshell, this movie is about a family of five, two random people, and one obnoxious man who survive an apocalypse brought on by a bubble-blowing gorilla wearing a space helmet. The two random folk are killed off almost immediately so I didn’t bother remembering their names or why they were in the movie. So it really just focuses on the family and the other guy, who’s an assistant to the archeologist dad guy. Actually like the entire family seem to be archeologists, from the really old parents to the roughly seven-year-old children.
The antagonist is Ro-Man, the aforementioned man-in-a-bad-gorilla-suit. He’s killed off everyone on earth, save for our heroes, with a combination of a machine that spews bubbles and montages stolen from other movies. Specifically, triceratops fighting and an alligator pretending to be a dinosaur.
Because film makers are required to include this, even in movies only an hour long, the stupid assistant guy falls in love with the middle child, a young women in her late teens or early twenties. They somehow managed to revolve a ton of scenes around them making out in the bushes. I feel as though their priorities could have used some re-evaluating, to be honest
The movie takes a dark turn when Ro-Man straight up murders a child by shaking her back and forth. It’s at worst a slightly too intense hug but it’s enough to kill her all the same.
It should come as a surprise to no one that they end the movie with the entire plot being a dream of the boy’s… or was it?? It doesn’t matter.
Adriana: Robot Monster plot is indubitably prolific. Monsters are classic and robots are classic. And this story was doing post apocalyptic theme before it was cool (clearly the robot monster is a hipster). So combine a kick ass end of times theme with a hybrid villain and you’ve got the foundation for a great story. The only thing it was missing was a budget over 20 dollars. Oh, and continuity.
Seems like due to lack of budget they removed about an hour of film. And I’m thinking they chose the hour that made any sense.
The movie was quite hilarious in spite of this. There was this family who was contaminated by a mutagen that caused them to grow into gigantic turt — wait wait wrong story. They were contaminated by a mutagen that made them really super healthy and I’ll be honest I don’t even know if they ate vegetables. Furthermore, the dad was like 60, the mom was 55, the oldest daughter was 36 and the youngest kids were just born a few minutes ago.
So the family in itself is comical. Add to that a robot monster with no face, a boss with no face, and the fact that THEY KILLED THE BABY FIRST and you can tell it is a first rate comedy.
So all in all, I like the movie. I especially loved the old lady hanging out at the top of the ravine wondering who these weird people were filming a movie in her back yard. I half expected her to rush down with a broom in her hand cackling for everyone to “stop H’whackin off in my garage.”
[Editor’s note: Yes, that is a random woman watching them film a movie wherein there are supposed to be only five people left in the world]
It made me want a bubble machine that looks like a radio so I’m not too happy about that because let’s face it- where in the sweet & salty fuck am I gonna find one of those? Ro-Man probably has it back on the moon or wherever the hell he was hangin’ out.
Joel and the Bots- The Riffs
Dan: I’ve always loved dry deliveries in comedy, and they don’t come much better than Joel’s. The later MST3K episodes might be a little more popular in the riff department, but Joel’s are always so innocent and wonderful. No exception here, as he made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions. Just a simple “Catch!” as the little boy was being handed carefully to his father over the stone wall of their shelter was enough to do it. It’s the simple things in life.
Plus, this episode gets bonus points because it featured a host segment where Joel breaks not one, but two chairs over Servo’s head, after Servo takes a page out of Ro-Man’s playbook and threatens to annihilate Joel.
Adriana: The riffs that Joel and the bots do are fun- the running joke about syrup has followed me in the days past and I keep questioning friends about the syrup choices and silently judging their answers. I also loved that Joel pointed out that the Robot Monster decided to rule the world from a fucking cave. There’s an entire empty city!! Or does the BUBBLE machine only work at the cave? And my favorite is when Servo says “That guy’s uglier than a mud fence”
Dan: What can I say? I’m a sucker for anything MST3K. I can watch an old movie or show and find plenty of entertainment just enjoying the absurdity with friends. When you factor in a hilarious comedian and two equally-hilarious robots, then you have a party. A small, some would say sad party. But I don’t care. The meaning of life can be found in kindred spirits laughing over cinema that misses its mark by a thousand miles.
I would watch this movie again, right now, and it’s 12:22 AM on a work night.
Adriana: WHO decided to put the glued up alligator in the mix? Like when Ro-Man and the monster killed the entire human race except the Waltons, did they simultaneously bring back the dinosaurs? And from the film they used I am inclined to believe that reptiles WERE harmed in the making of that movie. Shameful– that was a straight up death roll.
Phew. I hope you all enjoyed listening to Adriana and I babble on about a movie that few people would voluntarily watch. Thanks for reading and a big thank you to Adriana for agreeing to this.
Just because I don’t want to end on a picture of a poor reptile being abused, here’s Joel and the Bots wearing garbage bags.