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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: July 2017

10 - Robot Monster and the “Watchable … Terrible” Cult/SF Film


As Lincoln Geraghty reminds us, early 1950s sf cinema, typified by films like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Thing (1951), Invaders from Mars (1953), and War of the Worlds (1953), was often marked by a rather serious tone and effect, presenting “America and the world in the grip of emergencies … that jeopardized the future of the [human] race” (23). Despite their sometimes strange monsters and strained plots, the “emergency” visions in these films urged audiences to contemplate the trajectory of their newly atomic–driven world, to reconsider the tense and potentially destructive relations between nations, or, simply, as The Thing prompted viewers, to “watch the skies, keep watching the skies” for possible threats—from aliens of the extraterrestrial or earthly sort. Yet other films of the same era, works like Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Cat–Women of the Moon (1953), and Robot Monster (1953)—all similarly invoking the specter of monsters, invasion, or what Susan Sontag famously described as the “imagination of disaster” (215)—just as often moved viewers in rather different ways. While tracking many of the same concerns and anxieties of the era, these works and their monstrous visitors prompted, both then and now, a less than serious, at times even a laughing response—albeit, I want to suggest, one that only underscores the sorts of strains and exaggerations that often characterize sf films.

As most will readily recognize, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Cat–Women of the Moon, and Robot Monster are also typically cited as cult films, movies that have a special following and special appeal; in fact, films that often seem to traffic in or derive an element of their popularity from that very tension between the serious and the strained that, for some, is the downfall of many sf films. Some commentators describe these as exploitation films, some as camp texts, and others, like Jeffrey Sconce, simply as “bad” films that have been effectively redeemed for viewers and critics by a “paracinematic sensibility” they project (“Trashing” 102), that is, by their tendency to make us mindful of conventional film aesthetics and, in the process, to subvert those same aesthetics.

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Science Fiction Double Feature
  • Online ISBN: 9781781384640
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