I grew up obsessed with robots. How I haven’t run off with a replicant is a mystery to me.
When I was a wee lad, there was a particular show I watched with my mother every single day that sparked my infatuation with, as the show’s evil/comedic doctor would call them, “ferrous Frankenstein fiends in tin clothing.” That show was Lost In Space — the original from the ’60s, not the okay reboot on Netflix. Robot was my favorite part of the show. He was officially a Class B-9-M-3 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot, but he was known as plain old Robot. You might say Robot was my first crush. My father bought me a wind up Robot toy and I eventually had a model that I prized, until I burned it during my pyro phase, along with all my Star Wars figures, Aurora Monster models and anything else I could get my hands on.
Next came Robby the Robot, who appeared on Lost in Space and nearly made me lose my mind with metallic lust. He may have been trying to get rid of Robot, but damn I was in love with his look. I was over the moon when I discovered he was on an episode of The Twilight Zone and the sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet. Robby and Robot were, in my tiny mind, my ideal friends. They would protect me, perform cool robot tricks and make me the envy of every kid in school.
A comic book nerd, I read ROM Spaceknight and the limited run series, Shogun Warriors, because they starred robot-esque characters great and small. Neither series was very good, but I bought every issue just the same. I even owned a two-foot tall Mazinga with missile launching hands from Shogun Warriors because that’s what that comic was all about — a giant ad for Japanese toys.
Sure there was Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, but he didn’t seem like a lot of fun. So that was it for me, two awesome ‘bots and a few others in clunky old movies that never left much of an impression.
Then came the VCR and a slew of movies I might have otherwise missed. Thanks to that little machine, I could record Forbidden Planet when it was on TV, taking the time to pause between commercials so I had an imperfect, commercial-free version. The eerie electronic soundtrack to that movie is, in my estimation, the scariest ever composed. I’m listening to it as I write this.
By the time the ’80s rolled in, reruns of Lost in Space had faded off station programming. My quick little recording finger had nothing to capture. I was crestfallen, but not for long, thanks to the evil empire known as Disney. As soon as the videotape of The Black Hole became available, I scooped it up. Evil Maximilian and cute and lovable Vincent became my new dynamic duo. That red, Satanic looking Maximilian scared the pee pee out of me, and I loved it! Old enough now to buy my own models, I painstakingly put Max and Vincent together (only to melt them a few years later). I watched that movie until the tape got all wonky and fuzzy, not matter how much I adjusted the tracker. By the way, try to make a children’s movie as dark as that one today. Not sure our budding snowflakes could handle it. Or maybe they could, it’s just their helicopter parents that would wig out. Way to raise a generation of fragile neurotics, everybody!
But I digress.
I know Ash in Alien was technically a robot, but he looked human, so that held no appeal for me. You had to be a bonafide “bucket of bolts” to win me over. Totally digging sinister Max, imagine my glee when Saturn 3 came along. Starring Kirk Douglas and “It Girl” Farrah Fawcett (who was kind enough to strip down for us), the happy duo living off-world found their Eden destroyed by a crazed, giant robot named Hector. Hector looked like a body builder on ‘roids, with this teeny little head that was really just a pair of eyes. Fucking freaky. Hector was not to be messed with. I rooted for the robot to kill the humans. I also rooted for Douglas to stop showing his kinda-fit/kinda-saggy body. I didn’t buy that tape, but I did rent it over and over and over. It was a perfect blending of my passion for robots and horror. You have to visit this site to read all about the insanity behind the production of Saturn 3. Hollywood is insane.
Then my father came home with a movie called Silent Running. I think he said he’d seen it in a theater in the city when it had come out in 1972. He said it was out there in a space hippie kinda way, but I’d love it. Starring Bruce Dern, this overlooked gem is about a botanist in space, a post-apocalyptic ride through the stars. Dern was assisted by three robots, Huey, Dewey and Louie. They couldn’t speak, but I’ll be damned if they couldn’t tug on your emotions, especially when little Huey is damaged. I’ll bet George Lucas had them in mind when he created the ultimate robot, R2D2.
Do I need to even say that R2D2 and C3PO were the best part of Star Wars to me? Shit, I even loved the junked out ‘bots the Jawas captured and sold more than Luke or Han or Darth (who looked like a robot, but I knew a person was in there).
Blessed with the ability to own or rent these movies, the ’80s were a robot smorgasbord for me. I may not obsess over them as much now that I’m an old man, but if I’m flipping around and stumble upon Lost in Space or Forbidden Planet, I may flip no further. My goal when I was a kid was to make enough dough to buy Robby and Robot and have them on display in my house. I still have that goal. Should I start a Kickstarter campaign? I promise, if people contribute, they can come and stare at them like wide-eyed kids with me.
Danger, Will Robinson, danger! The end of this post has arrived!
Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal—he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. You can follow his madness at huntershea.com.