Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE WAR OF THE ROBOTS (1978)

Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE WAR OF THE ROBOTS (1978)

1970s Italian horror (or in this case, sci-fi, I suppose) truly was the best of times and the blurst of times, wasn't it? Maybe you'd get a purely original li'l sumpin' sumpin' like Suspiria, or maybe you'd get a li'l sumpin' sumpin' ripping off whatever smash hit was happening in Hollywood at the moment. No matter whether you've got an original or a rip-off on your hands, though, one thing's for sure: the film's poster is probably bitchin'.

So it is with The War of the Robots (La guerra dei robot, 1978), which arrived in the wake of Star Wars and takes a lot of...mmm, let's say "inspiration" therein, but it simultaneously comes off as a relic hailing from an earlier era of sci-fi cinema, where people in jumpsuits have long conversations filled with "technical"-sounding nonsense ("Navigation computer?" "In function. Our objective is at 1.5.") whilst standing in front of a wall of blinking lights...before their plastic model starship slowly glides along in front of a matte painting.

I, for one, find all of this to be a GD delight. I just can't get enough of the aesthetics in The War of the Robots, what, with the sparkly turtlenecks, silver boots, futuristic headwear, pew-pew laser guns that sometimes don't make any noise, women sporting the hairstyles of Ann Jillian or Annie Lennox, and the "light saber" fights that remind you just how cutting-edge and amazing Star Wars really was.

This movie is best enjoyed (if it's within your wheelhouse to enjoy it at all, that is) if you disregard the narrative as much as possible. A "gang of aliens" kidnap a professor and his assistant because their race is going extinct, and the professor has built a machine that can "create artificial life." The good guys, led by Antonio Sabato (Senior!) as Captain John Boyd, set off to rescue the pair not only because it's the nice thing to do, but also because the machine, which is back on Earth, will "explode" if the professor doesn't stop it. And while this is "the future," don't worry, there are still the dubious sexual politics and plot developments of the 70s at play!

That's...kind of it, except there are twists and double-crosses that don't make much sense, but who cares? The group touches down on an asteroid, we get the blaster and saber fights, people spend a lot of time jogging down corridors--sometimes in a cave, sometimes on a ship--and the aliens all look like this:

The best thing about their gold suits-and-terrible bowl cuts look is that in a (not at all) shocking twist, it's revealed that they are not aliens, but robots...and so that means that whomever designed these robots added the gold suits and terrible bowl cuts. This makes me wonder what look I would give my personal robot army, if I had one. I hope we find out some day!

The plot is enjoyably ridiculous and gives way to many a dialogue gem:

  • "So, you've got a plan. Perhaps you're planning to murder everybody!"
  • "How long do you think those two will hold out?" "Not long. Yet those two are amazing."
  • "When I think of all that's happened, it makes life fantastic."

It's the kind of sci-fi movie where they make a big point of everyone putting on their "anti-radiation spacesuits," and then they all walk outside without helmets, you know?

I want to be 1000% in on The War of the Robots, but to call the pace "glacial" is too generous. The soundtrack, which consists of a lot of bleeps and blorps and honestly is the real star of this show, does its best to keep things moving but it's a losing battle. No matter how much you dig the kitschy aesthetics, there will come a point around 45 minutes in where you begin to incessantly wonder when it will be over. This effect is no where more pronounced than the final 20 minutes of the movie, which are taken up by a lethargic spaceship dogfight that wants to be the Death Star run at the end of Star Wars so very badly but is like...I don't know, it's the Death Star run in a coma, and it will likely test whatever remains of your patience. Not that the effects aren't dazzling!

Do I recommend this? Maaaaybe, if you have as much of a soft spot for this kind of thing as I do. I am tickled by the whole endeavor, and anyone like writer/director Alfonso Brescia (working here as "Al Bradly"), who tries to make a sci-fi epic with $1.99 and a dream. The vision may not be realized--not even close--but the imagination is running wild, and I can get on board with that. Really, when I think of all that's happened in The War of the Robots, it makes life fantastic.