Mystery Science Theater 3000: ROBOT MONSTER, with RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON parts 4 and 5
June 25, 2014 2:02 PM - Season 1, Episode 7 - Subscribe

(1953, B&W, Sci-Fi, Horror, Post Apocalyptic, Gorilla Suit, Worst) aka Monsters From The Moon. The alien Ro-Man comes from the stars and wipes out all of humankind with his Calcinator Death Ray, except for a small family of survivors. Or does he? "Moon Monsters Launch Attack Against Earth! How Can Science Meet The Menace of Astral Assassins?! Adventures into the Future in new Tru-3 Dimension!" YouTube. We have arrived at last. Our fragile vessel has run around on a terrible iceberg called ROBOT MONSTER. This movie was proclaimed by the book The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time by Harry Medved and Richard Dreyfuss as the worst movie ever made. We know better, of course, but it's still one of the very worst movies MST3K ever did, and the first of that notorious cadre we've reached. Yet despite its extreme badness, also likable and incredibly goofy. Probably the best episode of the first season, and the first classic MST episode.

DVD on Amazon (vol 19)

Satellite News - Annotated MST3K - - MST3K Wikia - Daddy-O

IMDB [2.9 stars]
"The monstrous Ro-Man attempts to annihilate the last family alive on Earth, but finds himself falling for their beautiful daughter."
Directed by Phil Tucker
Written by Wyott Ordung
Starring George Nader, Gregory Moffett, Claudia Barrett, and George Barrows and John Brown as the body and voice of Ro-Man the Monster.
posted by JHarris (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wow, there's a lot to cover here --

Charles Beesley writes in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film:
Bello laughs meet stark terror as the last six "hu-mans" in existence are caught in a death struggle with the dreaded Ro-man, a bogus gorilla in a plastic diving helmet. The hairy invader is under pressue to figure out why his calcinator death ray is ineffective against professor Gregory Moffett and his crew, which consists of George Nader, Claudia Barrett, two horrible children, and Selena Royle--the high-class moll who taught Joan Crawford mnners in The Damned Don't Cry. Ro-man strangles the professor's little girl, pummels Nader, and is about to do something really subhuman to Claudia when he gets an important call from his superior. The Great One punishes Ro-man for his incompetence by unleashing a devastating U-ray; cities and dinosaurs fall in an orgy of stock-footage destruction. Already something of a legend, Robot Monster was shot in four days in Hollywood's Bronson Canyon for under $20,000. Ro-man's interplanetary receiver is a standard war-surplus job on a kitchen table which fills the air with bubbles when in use. Music by Elmer Bernstein (To Kill a Mockingbird). Stock scenes from One Million B.C. and Flight to Mars. Movies don't come better.
Here's what Kevin Murphy had to say in The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide -- I'm quoting it all for a change, because it's really the most coherent plot synopsis I've seen:
Okay. Try and follow. A boy gets struck by lightning, and the world ends. Two lizards with dinosaur makeup glued on toss each other around. Cut to sometime after this damned annoying apocalypse, when a robot monster lives in a cave guarded by a bubble machine. He's named Ro-man and he wears a big gorilla suit and a space helmet he probably stole from First Men in the Moon. He spends most of his time gaily ambling though Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and talking on his shortwave. He falls in love with a half-dressed woman who lives in some ruins on the edge of the park with her family, which includes the boy who got struck by lightning and caused the world to end. You gettin' all this? Good. The woman is a brilliant scientist, but turns into a blubbering imbecile at the sight of her boyfriend, who is an even more brilliant scientist. The woman constantly gets carried around by her father, her boyfriend, and ultimately Ro-man. Remember Ro-man? He has a vague sort of sexual fixation on the woman, though he threatens to kill her and her family a jillion times. Finally, Ro-man takes the lady back to his cave (incidentally, I believe it's the same cave we see in today's Commando Cody episode) and tries to rip her clothes off. He delivers a strange soliloquy abou wanting to be hu-man, kills his new girlfriend's little brother, and dies when lightning hits him. Then the world ends again, fer cryin' out loud, and the same couple of lizards tear at each other on a miniature set. The end. Oh! I almost forgot, the whole movie's a dream. Ta-da.

Reflections: Ever since Oppenheimer and his crew irradiated the New Mexico high desert, there's been an obsessive fixation with post-apocalyptic sorts of stories. It's easy. You start with a clean slate, add a culture stolen from ancient mythology, make all the women young and sexy and dress them scantily, in furs or leather with lots of buckles, insert ripply tanned sullenly stupid men, a wizened old codger, and a robot sidekick named Kluutak or Pago or some damn thing, face them off against a dark power run by Frank Langella, give them all laser rifles but no cars or telephones, and have a big old battle for survival in the desert near Bakersfield. Bingo. No, I say, try a pre-apocalyptic story, now, there's a toughie. How the world's going to end seems to be much less interesting to science fiction writers. Except maybe Anthony Burgess. So here's your homework, kids. Try basing your science fiction on something that's "possible" instead of "unlikely" or "damn ridiculous" or "just plain goofy."
Here's one more! Stephen King has a chapter on his book on horror Danse Macabre on bad monster movies, and he talks about Robot Monster in, um, glowing terms:
Here is what an uncredited reviewer (Beck himself, perhaps) had to say about the 1953 movie Robot Monster:
It is a handful of flicks like this that makes all these listing chores [i.e., The Movieguide feature] something to look forward to. Certainly among the finest terrible movies ever made, this ridiculous gem presents as economical a space invasion as ever committed to film: one (1) Ro-Man invader consisting of (a) a gorilla suit, (b) a diving helmet with a set of antennae. Hiding out in one of the more familiar Hollywood caves with his extraterrestrial bubble machine (no, we're not being facetious: it actually is a 2-way "alien" radio-TV thing, consisting of an old war-surplus shortwave set resting on a small kitchen table, that emits Lawrence Welk-like bubbles), Ro-Man's trying to wipe out the last six humans left on earth and thus make the planet safe for colonization by Ro-Men (from the planet Ro-Man, where else?). This early 3-D effort has attained legendary (and richly deserved) status as one of the most laughable of all poverty row quickies, although the pic does make some scatterbrained sense when viewed as a child's eye monster fantasy (it's all a dream experienced by a sci-fi-crazed '50s tyke). Rousing musical score by Elmer Bernstein is great and keeps it all moving. Directed in three frenzied days by Phil Tucker, who also did the little-known and equally hysterical Lenny Bruce vehicle, DANCE HALL RACKET. Stars George Nader, Claudia Barrett, John Mylong, Selena Royle.
Ah, Selena, where are you now?
I have seen the film discussed in this review, and will personally testify that every word is true. A bit further on in this chapter we will listen to what CofF had to say about two other legendary bad movies, The Blob and Invasion of the Saucer Men, but I don't believe my heart can stand it right now. Let me just add that I made a grave mistake concerning Robot Monster (and Ro-Man can be seen, in a mad sort of way, as the forerunner of the evil Cylons in Battlestar Galactica) about ten years ago. It came on the Saturday night Creature Feature, and I prepared for the occasion by smoking some pretty good reefer. I don't smoke dope often, because when stoned everything strikes me funny. That night I almost laughed myself into a hernia. Tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was literally on the floor for most of the movie. Luckily, the movie only runs sixty-three minutes; another twenty minutes of watching Ro-Man tune his war-surplus shortwave/ bubble machine in "one of the more familiar Hollywood caves" and I think I would have laughed myself to death.
There's an article up on The Dissolve titled "How Plan 9 From Outer Space Earned And Lost The Title of World Movie of All Time." It is very interesting and recommended reading. For a while it's been an article of faith, among non-MSTies at least, that Plan 9 was the worst movie of all. It turns out that this perception is due to a book written by Harry and Michael Medved (before hopping on the conservative talk show bandwagon) called The Golden Turkey Awards. What the article explains is that this is actually a successor book to an earlier one by Harry Medved and Richard Dreyfus called The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. Readers of that first book staged a write-in campaign to get the authors to recognize Plan 9 as the worst movie, and they acquiesced.

Well, guess what the movie that preceded Plan 9 for the title of worst movie was? It was Robot Monster. So, even though it's not Plan 9, know that this movie is certainly in the same class. Of course us MSTies know there certainly have been movies worse than Plan 9, like Red Zone Cuba and (makes sign of the cross) Manos. But Robot Monster and Plan 9 hit that happy intersection of badness and also likeability. They might be terrible, but they're also fun, even without riffing.

As always, Daddy-O's Drive-In Dirt, perhaps the best part of the indispensable Satellite News website, is a treasure trove of information. It reveals:
- The film was originally shown in 3D.
- Bronson Canyon, site of Casa Ro-Man, was also used in the filming of seven other MST movies.
- The woman's costumes were picked up by their actresses on a shopping trip.
- Director Phil Tucker tried to commit suicide after the film's bad reviews.
- Unlike what Larry says ("It stars no one!"), George Nader was very popular in the 1950s, but with stardom in reach, a tabloid threatened to expose his gay relationship, killing his career and dooming him to appearing in low-budget European films. We'll see him again in 420: THE HUMAN DUPLICATORS.
- George's nephew Michael Nader appeared in many AIP beach movies in the 60s, is (as of 1999 at least) a regular on All My Children, and also played Dex Dexter on Dynasty.

Host segments:
Pre: Joel explains the premise. Invention exchange, Mads: Mechanically-Inflating & Flaming Whoopie Cushion (Joel: "It's really sophomoric." Mads: "THAAANK YOOOU!"), Joel: The Cumber-Bubble-Bund, perhaps thematically appropriate considering the movie.
1: How does Commando Cody fly? They fail to figure it out. A great bit -- more bot head explosions.
2: Crow and Servo roleplay Ro-man and his boss. Joel misinterprets this entirely.
3: Joel and the bots compare the movie to surrealism. Things get weird fast.
Post: They run a short skit, "The Life and Times of Ro-man the Roman, or, In Search of the Historical Robot Monster." The first episode without the good-or-bad-thing-for-RAM-chips bit. After, Forrester: "Could we have sent a stranger man into space?"

Larry calls Joel an "Anti-gravity sewage leak." Huh? Forrester, before sending the movie, says "Deal with it, pink boy!" A Subgenius reference?

The movie's a bit short, so before-hand they show two episodes of Commando Cody. In the first, there's an interesting sequence where the bad guys confer among themselves to figure out how to fund their evil Earth invasion plans. Successful villains know how to brainstorm! We also have another case of the bad guys just walking into the lab and starting a fistfight. Doesn't this top secret facility have any security?!

There's a bit at the start of the second serial where the bots momentarily rebel. Crow: "Hey Servo, let's ditch 'em!" Servo (to Joel): "You can't make me! You can't make me!" They try to leave but Joel drags them back. Servo: "This is Buddhist. You created us to suffer!" Joel: "I'm surrounded by idiots of my own design!"

There's a bit in the second episode of the serial where a weird framed bull's-eye on the wall of the lab in the background becomes the subject of a visual gag by Joel, where he drags out a giant prop dart to throw at it.

There are good host segments in earlier episodes, but this one has a couple of real classics: the bots trying to figure out how Commando Cody can fly without "doing cartwheels all over Southern California," and Crow and Tom Servo roleplaying the two Ro-Men, and Joel's reaction to Servo doing so. I always thought it was one of those little touches that really makes MST what it is that Joel happened to have two random breakaway chairs handy to bash Servo with.

Guy from movie: "I'm bossy? You're so bossy out oughtta be milked before you come home at night!"
Joel: "Dibs!"
Crow: "I'll get a stool and a pail."
Servo: "That's udderly ridiculous."
Crow: "Oh, cow could you say that?"
Servo: "Are you gonna milk this for all it's worth?"

Woman (feverishly working on doodad with scientist boyfriend): "Roy, what time is it?"
Crow: "It's Miller Time!"
Woman: "No, what day is it??"
Crow: "It's Miller Day!"

My favorite moment is when Ro-Man is wandering through the park wastes of Earth in an amazingly dopey fashion, and Joel starts singing "Peeking through the knothole of Grandma's wooden leg." These scenes, the music tries desperately to sell us on Ro-Man's horror and cruelty. It tries hard, but... no. Sorry, Elmer Bernstein, your efforts were admirable, but for naught.
posted by JHarris at 2:08 PM on June 25, 2014

One more thing from Annotated MST3K:

The film's composer Elmer Bernstein was a fairly well known film composer who created memorable scores for such films like The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, and arguably his most famous; The Great Escape. Apparently the reason he scored such a Z-Grade film as Robot Monster was due to him being black listed from Hollywood by'The House of Un-American Activities Committee' after being accused of writing reviews for a Communist newspaper.

Wow. And there exist people who would prefer we went back to that.
posted by JHarris at 7:44 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Manos is the worst movie. Red Zone Cuba is terrible, but the MST3K for RZC is fucking hilarious. Manos is so bad not even the Satellite of Love crew can make it watchable.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:01 PM on June 25, 2014

Youtube says this episode is blocked where I am. How are you getting around it?
posted by Partario at 11:08 PM on June 25, 2014

Huh, I just looked myself and now it's blocked for me too. Very odd. Who the heck would block Robot Monster? To my knowledge the movie is public domain.

There was another source for it on YouTube, but it looks like it's blocked too.

There is a copy of the movie on Vimeo. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we can use that one for Friday's showing.
posted by JHarris at 11:31 PM on June 25, 2014

Yay! When is the viewing on Friday? I only realised those happened last Sunday.
posted by Partario at 11:40 PM on June 25, 2014

Traditionally, and this time too, it'll be at 8 PM Eastern. I'll post the link to the sync-video room earlier that day. See you there!
posted by JHarris at 11:41 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

There some great line in there that goes something like "when on the graph do 'love' and 'must' cross"? Just shockingly bad. I have not seen the MST3K version, and I might have to.
posted by ignignokt at 4:33 AM on June 26, 2014

JHarris: "The film's composer Elmer Bernstein was a fairly well known film composer who created memorable scores for such films like The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, and arguably his most famous; The Great Escape."

Not to mention Ghostbusters.

I remember this episode being a real kick. I'm going to see if I can make some time to rewatch it tonight and post my thoughts here. Thanks for getting this started, JHarris!
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:09 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could wait until tomorrow and watch it with us maybe....
posted by JHarris at 7:17 PM on June 26, 2014

From the episode guide quoted above:
There's an article up on The Dissolve titled "How Plan 9 From Outer Space Earned And Lost The Title of World Movie of All Time." It is very interesting and recommended reading. For a while it's been an article of faith, among non-MSTies at least, that Plan 9 was the worst movie of all. It turns out that this perception is due to a book written by Harry and Michael Medved (before hopping on the conservative talk show bandwagon) called The Golden Turkey Awards. What the article explains is that this is actually a successor book to an earlier one by Harry Medved and Richard Dreyfus called The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. Readers of that first book staged a write-in campaign to get the authors to recognize Plan 9 as the worst movie, and they acquiesced.
I have always wondered about this, actually; I'd heard Plan 9 built up as "the worst film of all time," but when I finally saw it, I...was underwhelmed. It didn't really seem to live up to the "bad" hype. ...I may have also played a bit of dirty pool, but when I screened it with my beloved Blood Freak as a double feature once, everyone preferred the latter - even the people who'd loved Plan 9 before this.

This actually explains a lot. I didn't really see what was so appalling about Plan 9, and chalked it up to "well, I did also like Ishtar, so maybe it was just me...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:27 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The sync-video room is up! This week it's:

As always, it'll be running up until the showing with the movie and other assorted MST shorts, RiffTrax best-ofs, and other related material. If something happens to close the browser tab or crash Chrome before the 8 PM "official" showing, when I reopen the room the URL will be different. If that happens, when I find out I'll report the new URL here and in Chat.

Good luck, and remember to bring snacks!
posted by JHarris at 1:45 PM on June 27, 2014

Ah, I made an error, the room actually is at:

The above link must have snuck onto the clipboard while I was building the playlist, sorry about that.
posted by JHarris at 5:16 PM on June 27, 2014

We got up to 8 tonight (9 if you count someone's second account). Unfortunately the only non-blocked copy of the movie was on Vimeo, and it turns out that sync-video handles that very poorly. We had to manually sync the video, thus negating the entire reason we were using sync-video in the first place, so I'm going to be looking for a new sync solution I think.

Since we just had a thread about it, after the movie I put in the YouTube video of Starcrash, and... yeah, pretty silly. Also, contains long stretches of just spaceships zooming around and lasers and blowing up stuff.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by everyone. We're now over halfway through the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Next time it's 108: THE SLIME PEOPLE, which I think I've only seen once before! See you then!
posted by JHarris at 8:36 PM on June 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

We have something of a problem.

Surveying the rest of the first season on YouTube, I notice that now it's all either blocked or "not available in your country." This is sudden enough not to be accidental. Apparently someone decided to just do a massive copyright block on MST3K content, despite it having been on YouTube for years up to this point. And for 108 at least, Vimeo doesn't appear to have a copy of the episode.

I am not currently aware of a solution to this.
posted by JHarris at 9:00 AM on June 28, 2014

I will say, if there's no way to host the weekly showings, then my will to spend all the time constructing these posts every week falters considerably.
posted by JHarris at 9:02 AM on June 28, 2014

I was just coming in here to say thanks to JHarris for hosting these every week, but I was curious if there was a way to save it, and there might be. It looks like sync video will play any video as long as its available on the web (check the last FAQ here: There's plenty of cheap hosting around, or even dropbox or something like that will do. I know I have all of these as AVIs, I'm sure other people here do too.
posted by hobgadling at 2:37 PM on June 28, 2014

I still haven't found a good solution hobgadling, while I have web hosting for supplying the file, sync-video seems to want to take a lot of time loading, I suspect, a 400+MB file in full beforehand for viewing. I've been waiting for 30 minutes in a private room and it's still loading. (BTW, we'll probably be moving to private rooms for viewing if I have to host the file myself.)

I might have to go with something self-hosted, or maybe write an Ask post about this in the near future. A quick web search suggests a framework called Popcorn, but I haven't done a lot of Javascript coding. We might take a week break from the posts and viewings while I find a good solution. (I'd ask zarq to take over for a while, but his account's disabled? WTF?)
posted by JHarris at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2014

Yeah, I just noticed last week that I Accuse My Parents and it's short are blocked in the US on YouTube. I was able to work around with a proxy, but it's very weird.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:18 PM on June 30, 2014

Okay, I just got finished watching the episode on DVD after spending the whole weekend tied up with other stuff. Sorry to hear that things aren't going well for the sync-video chat room so far, I really want to join in for a shared MeFi viewing one of these weeks.

On the brighter side, I was happy to discover that the movie was just as cracked as I remembered it. There's not much I can add to the comments above, but the overall weirdo avant-garde/outsider-art vibe of the whole thing puts it a few cuts above your standard monster-movie schlock. I think its early cult-canonicity as the "worst movie ever made" comes more from it being ahead of its time than being truly bad, per se. I maintain my long-held opinion that were it not for "Robot Monster", a young David Lynch would have never made the jump from avant-garde painting to film.

As for the host segs, it's always a bit strange for me to see the early first-season episodes and remember that the puppeteering and characterizations for the SOL Crew and Mads didn't spring forth fully-formed from the git-go. Although it's nice to see that Joel and Forrester didn't change too much over the years, Crow and Servo always seem a bit too stiff and robot-y compared to their later selves. I'll be curious as the chronological-rewatch continues to see if I can spot the moment they transform into the little scamps we know and love.

It struck me while watching that the Josh Weinstein version of Servo is basically his 20-years-later Cinematic Titanic persona, which seems so much more natural than his Stoogesque clowning as Erhardt. Although I suppose he went on to much more lucrative things after MST3K, it's too bad that fans are so one-sided on the Josh/Frank issue. Speaking of Josh, did anyone else notice the top of his head while he was controlling Servo during the second host segment? I'll give it a pass since it was an early ep, but it must've been on screen for at least half of the seg.

Anyway, I'm pumped to see the rest of the season if we can get the technical streaming issues taken care of and bring more MSTie MeFites on board. Would it be kosher to scrounge some of the recent MST3K threads on the Blue and send some personal MeFi Mail invites to the more prominent commenters/contributors?
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:53 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just filling everyone in on where we are so far, regarding showings --

Hobgadling offered to write a Javascript solution to handle syncing. I've not heard much else from him though, maybe it's stalled?

I currently have no reasonable way of doing weekly showings, which are the purpose of these recaps after all. That's way I didn't put one up last week. Once there's a solution I'll see about continuing. Sorry about all this.
posted by JHarris at 7:37 PM on July 6, 2014

The YouTube videos seem to be working fine. I just watched a bunch of later season episodes today and I checked FanFare to see how far you had gotten (the first season is a bit too rough for me). Both Robot Monster and The Slime People worked fine for me in the US on an iPad.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:14 PM on July 19, 2014

Yeah, I noticed a few days ago they were working again. I haven't resumed the posts and viewings yet because the pizza mines have been extraordinarily taxing lately.
posted by JHarris at 7:30 PM on July 19, 2014

Also, I'm kind of wondering if a direct link on a semi-prominent website might have somehow caused the earlier round of blocks/takedowns.
posted by JHarris at 2:59 AM on July 20, 2014

Might be good to only link to the synch room?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:21 AM on July 20, 2014

I caught this movie (not on MST3K) in the middle on late night tv in the late 80s or early 90s, with no sound for some reason, and to this day it was one of the most baffling experiences of my life.
posted by rodlymight at 12:16 PM on March 26, 2020

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