Dread X: AUTOMATION Director Garo Setian’s Top 10 Lesser-Known Robots of Horror
The latest film from Dread Presents (the horror distribution arm of our parent company, Epic Pictures) is Automation, a techno-thriller that suggests humans aren’t the only ones who should be worried about being replaced by cutting edge technologies. Pick up your copy on Blu-ray HERE; you can check out the trailer embedded at the top of the article and the synopsis below.
A workplace robot, AUTO, transforms into a killing machine when he discovers he will be replaced by a more efficient model.
Automation stars Elissa Dowling, Sadie Katz, and Parry Shen.
For this installment of Dread X, Automation director Garo Setian lists his Top 10 lesser-known robots of horror! Give his selections a look-see below.
V.I.N.C.E.N.T. from The Black Hole (1979)
Despite less than stellar wire work at times, the robots in Disney’s The Black Hole are super cool. There are actually three kinds of robots in the movie but the standout is the sinister Maximilian, a floating, red monster that manages to have a personality despite not speaking a word. Kudos also to Roddy Mcdowall’s excellent voice work as V.I.N.C.E.N.T, a different kind of robot whose appearance was dismissed as “cute” and an R2D2 rip-off. But Vincent is a bold and at times arrogant robot who manages to hold his own in the action scenes. The film sets up a “Davey and Goliath” standoff between V.I.N.C.E.T and Maximilian which is eventually paid off during the climax. And everyone who has seen The Black Hole remembers the nightmare fuel imagery of Maximilian lording over hell with his creator trapped inside at the end.
Hector from Saturn 3 (1980)
This atmospheric sci-fi thriller from the director of Singing in the Rain, Stanley Donen, is more fun than its reputation suggests. It is basically just four characters trapped on a base and one of them is Hector, an eight-foot-tall robot powered by what appears to be human brains. This imposing robot is topped with an almost ridiculous looking tiny head, but it all adds to the unique flavor of Saturn 3. The other characters include Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett and a dubbed Harvey Keitel whose psychotic brain and lust for Farrah Fawcett is ultimately copied to the robot Hector’s brain. Fun Hijinks ensue.
The Robot from Colossus of New York (1958)
I made the mistake of showing this one to my son when he was 10-years-old thinking it would be a fun old fashioned black and white robot monster movie, but this film was nightmare fuel of the highest order. In the story, a scientist dies in a tragic accident and his Dad and brother successfully transplant his brain into a large robot body. While successful, the brain is in constant torment longing to be with his wife and son, and feeling the disconnect from his body. But it’s his voice which sounds like a radio message from hell itself that will chill you to your core. Really creepy stuff with an appropriately cold and lifeless looking giant robot.
RoboCop 2 from RoboCop (1987)
It goes without saying that the look of RoboCop is somewhat influential on Automation. But the beast RoboCop 2 is a fine creation as well and manages to have some interesting personality quirks. In an effort to better control their creation they put the mind of a psychotic addicted to a drug called NUKE into the body of the super large, heavily armed successor to RoboCop. The thinking is they can control him by getting him to do things in exchange for a hit of his drug of choice. The whole thing is already kind of ridiculous imagining this kind of robot being the future of law enforcement and patrolling city streets. But then having the robot addicted to narcotics too? That’s some next-level satire! And the firepower this thing delivers during the action is a true sight to behold.
Robot Teachers from Class of 1999 (1990)
Mark Lester’s follow up to Class of 1984 is a completely different animal than it’s predecessor. This film is another satirical sci-fi thriller, but this time it is taking on the issue of education. And it does so with extreme firepower with three former battle droids being employed in a high school as teachers. But the violent behavior of the students provokes the robot teachers to revert to their original programming and they end up going to war with the students. Great action and special effects follow as the teachers played by John P. Ryan, Pam Grier, and Patrick Kilpatrick turn the school into a war zone. The robots all have special weapons, Patrick launches rockets from his arm, Pam Grier has a flame thrower and John P. Ryan has a drill to “mold young minds.”
Security Robots from Chopping Mall (1986)
As a trailer editor, I get to work on a lot of fun movies. One fun project was cutting all the trailers to the Vestron Blu-ray releases and this was the first one I did. I always loved this fun tongue-in-cheek killer robot movie. In the story, three shopping mall security robots get struck by lightning and go on an after-hours laser-shooting rampage on a bunch of partying young adults in a shopping mall. The robots, reminiscent of the 1954 movie GOG, are a lot of old school fun. And they all speak with director Jim Wynorski’s voice, often politely saying “Thank you, have a nice day” after killing people.
Proteus IV from Demon Seed (1977)
This is a weird movie based on a novel by Dean Koontz that is well worth seeking out if you haven’t seen it. Julie Christie plays the wife of a man who has created a groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence called Proteus IV. He also has equipped their house with so much tech that when Proteus (voiced by an awesome Robert Vaughn) decides it wants to have a child, so it traps Julie Christie in her home and through means a bit too complicated to explain impregnates her! The battle of wills between her and Proteus are the highlight here, as well as some very cool practice effects. And Robert Vaughn’s voice is great!
Leslie from Dark Side of the Moon (2016)
This “trapped on a spaceship with a creature” movie recently surfaced on Blu-ray and it is a good one worth seeking out. The robot in this film is not the threat and while highly impractical is an interesting idea. In this Event Horizon style thriller, the ship’s computer (Leslie) appears to be the usual voice (Camilla More, one of the twins from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) that echoes through the ship and computer consoles. However, there is a main computer control room where officers can speak with Leslie personally. In these scenes, the physical embodiment of Leslie (also played by Camilla More) speaks from a chair only moving her head occasionally. Its a distinctive touch with a few hints of extra strangeness in Joe Turkel’s character’s almost possessiveness of her.
Robot Boxers in Real Steel (2011)
Real Steel has no horror elements, but the robots are all well designed and distinctive. And like Automnation, this film involved the concept of people being replaced by robots, but in this case it is human boxers being replaced with robot ones. What I loved in the film was the way the film played with the imagery of Atom, the robot who is really just an automaton for Hugh Jackman’s character of Charlie. And yet… there are moments where director Shawn Levy stays with Atom a few moments after other characters leave the room and we just hold on his face. Or there is a bit where he is just looking at himself in a mirror. Moments like this just make you wonder…. is there a soul of some kind in there? Or are we just putting our own emotions onto a lifeless automaton?
Robots from Total Recall (2012)
The remake of Total Recall gets a bad wrap. It may not have a prime era Arnold Schwarzenegger, the sarcastic tone of Paul Verhoeven or the planet Mars, but it does have Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel kicking tons of ass and some of the best-looking robots put on screen in recent history. In many ways, the film is sort of the next evolution of the tech we introduce in Automation as the robots are now doing most of the jobs in a massively unemployed world. Its so bad, the main job people have is working on the robots that have pretty much automated the human workforce out of existence! Watch this one with a fresh pair of eyes. You might be surprised how much you like it.
Honorable Mention: KARR from Knight Rider (TV Series)
There were two episodes in the original Knight Rider series where Michael and KITT (the supercar that talks with the voice of William Daniels) go up against the original prototype of the car named…. KARR. The difference between KITT and KARR is KITT was programmed to protect the driver at all costs where KARR was programmed to protect itself. Oops! KARR was voiced by two different voice actors. In the original episode, it was Optimous Prime himself, Peter Cullen. But in “The Return of KARR”, he was voiced with extra menace and underlying emotion by the legendary Paul Frees (The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland and the Rankin Bas Christmas Specials). Paul’s voice with the added synth quality was a major inspiration of mine for AUTO. It took us a while to find just the right adjustment to give Jim Tasker’s awesome voice that high tech sound. You go too far in one direction he would sound like a 50’ robot. Too far in another and it wasn’t “sci-fi” enough. Our finisher Eric Chase sent me various samples until we finally found the exact sound I was looking for.