Robots In Horror and Halloween Legend
This article is an excerpt of GolfBlogger’s book: Things In The Basement: A History of Halloween Horrors, available on Amazon at the link.
Killer robots are another being from the realms of science fiction that have found their way into the Gothic Horror and Halloween lexicon. No Halloween night is complete anymore without at least one robot, constructed of cardboard boxes and tinfoil has found its way to your door.
Robot comes from the Czech word Robota, meaning worker. It was first used to refer to artificial men in Karel Capek’s 1920 play, Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR). In the play, robots destroy humanity after being given souls, which allow them to behave more like humans (now there’s a chilling commentary).
But Capek’s robots were not the first mechanical men in literature. Greek mythology tells of a bronze automaton named Talos. The aforementioned Golem is a sort of mechanical man. And the beloved Oz stories by L. Frank Baum feature any number of mechanical men, including the Tin Woodman, Tik-Tok and a mechanical giant which guards the entrance to the kingdom of the Nomes. And of course, there are the robots in Fritz Lang’s 1927 cinematic masterpiece, Metropolis.
Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov coined the term “robotics” in his 1941 short story, “Liar!.” That also was the story in which he created the now-well-known “Three Laws of Robotics”, which state:
1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Of course, not all robots follow these laws; some have never even heard of them. Without feelings, they proceed according to a logic all of their own. And that is what makes them so scary. Robots are cold and unfeeling. You can’t appeal to their emotions. They don’t care if you beg. Worse, their hydraulic systems make them inhumanly strong and fast.
Perhaps the ultimate expression of robotic horror can be found in James Cameron’s Terminator trilogy (1984’s The Terminator, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). In the trilogy, a global computer system rebels against its human creators and unleashes mechanical horrors bent on the destruction of man. A similar theme is found in the Matrix trilogy.
Robots occupy much the same place in our modern imagination that the undead and other horrors occupied in the superstitious minds of our ancestors. Just as demonic horrors are unfeeling and unstoppable, so too are robots. It’s just that robots are more believable to the modern mind.