Robot Monster (Blu-ray 3D Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jun 27, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray 3D
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Robot Monster (Blu-ray 3D Review)


Phil Tucker

Release Date(s)

1953 (July 25, 2023)


Three Dimension Pictures (BayView Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: D+
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A+


In the history of so-called “bad” movies, few films have garnered as much unintentional hilarity and simultaneous appreciation by B-movie fans as Robot Monster. Indeed, the visage of a gorilla costume adorned with a diving helmet and antennae has forever been synonymous with lower-tiered, science fiction films and ephemera. Filmed in a mere four days in 3D, this little independent black-and-white engine-that-could managed to eke out a minor profit, likely only making a little over $16,000 back of its budget, though it wound up pulverized by critics. It was also immortalized in 1980 by Harry and Michael Medved’s book The Golden Turkey Awards as one of the worst movies ever made (which also erroneously stated that the film made $1 million dollars at the box office, which it certainly did not). On the other hand, it never received quite as much ink as its all-time reigning successor, Plan 9 from Outer Space.

The main story involves a small family comprised of a mother (Selena Royle), her beautiful daughter Alice (Claudia Barrett), her young son Johnny (Greg Moffett), and her young daughter Carla (Pamela Paulson), who are having a relaxing picnic in the country when Johnny discovers a pair of scientists, Roy (George Nader) and a Professor (John Mylong), working in a nearby cave. They all become friendly with each other, but during an afternoon nap, an alien species invades Earth and destroys all but a few survivors, them included. One of the aliens, Ro-Man Extension XJ-2 (George Barrows), has been sent to hunt down and destroy whomever is left with his death ray. The family and the scientists go into hiding, even as Ro-Man continues to warn them that their days are numbered and that he will soon find and eliminate them.

Despite Robot Monster’s excellent use of 3D, which is shockingly equal to what the major studios were producing at the time, the film is simply not very good. It’s poorly scripted with chintzy props, questionable performances, and a confusing plot that can only be described as a child’s nightmare, which is what director Phil Tucker’s intention was for it from the very beginning (a point that, surprisingly, seems to have fallen on deaf ears for many). That all said, it’s still quite charming in its sincerity. Like Plan 9, it attempts to have an underlying message, in this case about what it means to be human, which Ro-Man learns over the course of the film… after slaughtering most of the human race. Better late than never. One might equate the nightmare aspects to Invaders from Mars or The Wizard of Oz, and the look of Ro-Man might be attributed to King Kong, but in any case, these things serve more as inspiration. There’s certainly no film like Robot Monster, that’s for sure.

The majority of those who’ve seen Robot Monster have likely only ever seen it on TV or in lower resolution home video presentations, and certainly not in 3D. In fact, it wasn’t seen in 3D for many years until 2003 when it was shown to a sold-out crowd at the first World 3-D Film Expo. Bob Furmanek of the 3-D Film Archive saw to it to find the various surviving elements for it, as well as its opening short Stardust in Your Eyes, which features an entertainer named Slick Slavin (Trustin Howard) warming up the audience with impressions of various celebrities. During Robot Monster’s original exhibition, Stardust in Your Eyes was shown before it, but for years, it was missing and not included with the film at all. That’s now be rectified and it’s been put back in its proper place. Even better, it’s been further restored since it was included on the Flicker Alley Blu-ray 3D release of 3-D Rarities. What we have now is a complete theatrical presentation of Robot Monster, now presented the way it was meant to be seen.

Robot Monster was shot by cinematographer Jack Greenhalgh on 35 mm film using a “Tru-Stereo” dual-strip 3D camera system, finished photochemically, and presented in both 3D and flat in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. BayView Entertainment presents 3-D Film Archive’s 70th anniversary restoration of the film sourced from surviving left eye and right eye prints in three separate presentations: polarized 3D, anaglyph 3D, and normal 2D—all on the same disc. Opinions are mixed on exactly what “Tru-Stereo” equipment was used to shoot the film, but there are two theories by 3-D Film Archive’s Jack Theakston and 3-D expert Mike Ballew: either a pair of Éclair cameras or a pair of Mitchell NC cameras were used, either rigged with mirrors to achieve filming on two separate strips of film.

Regardless of which 3D camera system was employed, the 3D images captured for Robot Monster are outstanding. The flat 2D image certainly reveals the limitations of the elements that were used (an unavoidable drawback to using prints), but even so, it’s still very watchable, with a decent bitrate to help it along. It just doesn’t have the depth of detail and contrast that you’d normally expect from younger generation elements (which may or may not exist in the Wade Williams archive, something that as of this writing, is impossible to access). More importantly, the polarized 3D presentation is stellar, with only minor moments of ghosting. During the restoration, certain frames were found to be missing and had to be replaced with copies of other frames in order to complete the restoration, but they’re not obvious. Most jarring of all is a sequence in which two different sets of images were used to simulate the world’s destruction, which has been faithfully re-created here. As such, it’s the only 3D film of its era to do something so heretical, and it’s quite effective, but it may throw off viewers in a negative way if they’re unprepared. Otherwise, the vast majority of the presentation is well aligned and works beautifully with amazing depth. The anaglyph 3D version was created using 3-D Film Archive’s Adaptive Multi-Band Anaglyphic Encoding process. It’s definitely superior to any anaglyphic version of the film seen previously, and it also provides those without access to a polarized 3D interface a way to experience it properly. So there’s something here for everyone.

Audio is included on all versions in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a track that shows its age with certain limitations, including a mild hiss present throughout, but dialogue is discernible while both sound effects and score are given plenty of support.

Robot Monster on Blu-ray 3D sits in a blue amaray case with a pair of anaglyph 3D glasses and an insert featuring new 70th Anniversary Restoration artwork by Stewart McKissick on the front and extras information on the reverse. Most of the bonus materials on this release are divided into two sections: 3-D Content and 2-D Content, none of which are selectable from the main menu and run as one continuous feature (with chapter stops, of course). Regardless, here’s what’s included:

  • Audio Commentary with Greg Moffett, Mike Ballew, Lawrence Kaufman, and Eric Kurland
  • 3-D Content (63:52)
    • Restoration Trailer
    • Memories of a Pooped Out Pinwheel
    • Travels Through Time and Space
    • The Blonde Slave’s Revenge
    • Madonna and Her Bubbles
    • Adventures in 3-D #2 3-D Comic Book
    • Return to Bronson Canyon
    • Whatever Happened to Ro-Man?
    • Robot Monster Side-by-Side Restoration Demonstration
  • 2-D Content (37:34)
    • Saving Slick
    • Robot Monster Trailer
    • Trailer Reel
      • Prevues: Coming Attractions Snipe
      • It Came from Outer Space Trailer
      • Coming Attractions: Sangaree and House of Wax Snipe
      • Old Doc RKO Air Conditioning Snipe
      • Side Streets of Hollywood 3-D Attractions Snipe
      • Tuesday Thru Thursday Snipe
      • Hannah Lee Trailer
      • Tuesday Snipe
      • The Charge at Feather River Trailer
      • Matinee Daily at 2:15 Snipe
      • Inferno Trailer
      • RKO Cool Vacationland Snipe
      • Second Chance Trailer
      • Newspaper Clippings Gallery
    • Monster of Mars Alternate Opening Title
    • Trailers from Hell with Joe Dante
    • Robot Monster: Mistakes & Innovations
    • Robot Monster Diaries Book Recommendation
    • Rescuing Ro-Man
  • You Asked for It with Optional Commentary by Gary D. Rhodes (7:54)

This mammoth amount of material begins with an audio commentary featuring actor Greg Moffett, 3-D expert Mike Ballew, and Lawrence Kaufman and Eric Kurland of the 3-D Space Museum. It can be a slow commentary at times due to Moffett’s participation, who’s a bit up there in terms of age, but he still offers a humorous and friendly perspective on his experiences making the film. The other men interject with facts about the film, especially Ballew who is only too eager to share his knowledge of the 3D process (read more here about his upcoming book Close Enough to Touch: 3-D Comes to Hollywood). The 3D extras begin with a Restoration Trailer, as well as Memories of a Pooped Out Pinwheel (a memorable line from the film), which features an interview with Greg Moffett. Travels Through Space and Time is a glorious collection of stereoscopic photos with running commentary by Hillary Hess. The Blonde Slaves Revenge and Madonna and Her Bubbles are two additional 3D shorts, and there’s also a 3D comic book, which can be paused to be view the individual pages. Return to Bronson Canyon features Bob Furmanek, Bob Burns, his late wife Kathy, and others revisiting one of the filming locations. Whatever Happened to Ro-Man? is a humorous news-style report on what Ro-Man is doing these days. The last of the 3D extras includes a side-by-side restoration demonstration, which I’m told included multiple instances of shrinkage, water damage, vinegar syndrome, missing frames, and much more. (The Herculean efforts of this restoration, especially by 3-D guru Greg Kintz, are not to be underestimated!)

Among the 2D content are three excellent featurettes: Saving Slick, Robot Monster: Mistakes & Innovations, and Saving Ro-Man, which were created by Sean Thrunk at Crimson Mountain Productions. All three feature Bob Furmanek discussing the discovery and restoration of the Stardust in Your Eyes short, various little known aspects of the main feature, and the history of how the film elements were found and restored. There’s also the original Robot Monster trailer, and a set of trailers, snipes, and newspaper ads for other films released during this era. The alternate Monster of Mars TV title is included, as is Joe Dante’s Trailers from Hell commentary on the trailer featuring this title. Also included is a brief one-page recommendation for the Robot Monster Diaries book, written by Kevin Scott Collier. Last is a segment of the TV program You Asked for It, hosted by Art Baker and featuring Bela Lugosi as “Dracula” performing a magic trick before speaking with Baker. It also features Shirley Patterson, who appeared in films like World Without End, The Land Unknown, and It! The Terror from Beyond Space. This segment also features optional commentary by author Gary D. Rhodes.

To say that this one of the biggest and best releases of the year, especially if you’re a 3D fan, is an understatement. Robot Monster has never really had it this good, and thanks to the restorative efforts of 3-D Film Archive and the distribution of BayView Entertainment, it can now be seen in the most positive light possible, and it deserves its re-evaluation. I cannot—yet I must highly recommend it!

- Tim Salmons


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