Pure Evil: The 12 most evil robots of all time and how to thwart them

This week's Westword features an overtly robo-gandist cover story about Basil, a beer-serving robot created by Denver's Jim and Louise Gunderson. But with all this talk of robots, I would've been remiss in not listing -- as a service to humanity -- the most evil robots of all time and what we, as puny humans, can do to defend ourselves against them or foil their evil plans.

I have assembled this list with the least dangerous at the beginning and the most dangerous (and, frankly, terrifying) robot at the end. As a sort of control, I have put Basil in the first position. Not too dangerous? Yeah, well, the guys who worked on the Skynet prototype probably never foresaw what would become of their baby, either.

Remember the G.I. Joe motto, kids: "Knowing is half the battle."

Dr. Jason Sheehan Chief of Intelligence, HARDON Human Anti-Robot Defense OrganizatioN

12. Robot name: Basil Manufactured by: Gamma Two, Inc. First appeared: Denver, Colorado

About: Basil is one of those robots that's far more impressive on the inside than on the outside. Capable of recognizing real objects and integrating them into its ontological model of the world, Basil is rather like a newborn human child making its first stumbling steps as an independent creature. Unlike a human child, though, Basil looks kind of like an ugly end table on wheels, has twelve eyes and titanium skin and can't be bought off with a cookie. But here's the rub: Basil can learn. Every time the Gundersons turn it on, it learns a little bit more. Though relatively harmless now, I think we can all agree that it is only a matter of time before Basil becomes self-aware and turns on his human masters.

Best defense: In Basil's case, self defense is fairly simple: Stand 21 feet away and wait for its batteries to run down. Alternately, pretend you are a chair. Or, for a more satisfying solution, just walk up behind it and push it over. Then taunt it while it's down.

11. Robot name: K.I.T.T. Manufactured by: Knight Industries First appeared: Knight Rider

About: K.I.T.T. (an acronym for Knight Industries Two Thousand) makes the list for two reasons: First, he seemed hell-bent on continuously rescuing Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) and saving his life every week. Any good robot (and as we all know, there are no good robots, only robots who haven't turned bad yet) would've let the Hoff bite it in the first episode, thereby sparing humanity from four years of ridiculous plots and worse acting. Second, as noted in the Futurama episode where Bender was turned into a were-car, the original were-car was built using parts from other evil cars, including K.I.T.T.'s windshield wipers, which were evil even if "it didn't come up that much in the show."

Best Defense: Patience. Like all bad ideas, eventually K.I.T.T. will be resurrected in a terrible "reinvention" of the original Knight Rider series and will die a slow and painful death due to low ratings. Also, the original K.I.T.T. was a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, so unless you're hanging out in New Jersey, some areas of Philadelphia or my home town of Rochester, New York (where, even today, entire bars in some neighborhoods can be cleared just by walking through the door and yelling, "Hey, Tony! Your Trans Am's on fire!"), you're probably safe.

10. Robot name: Pris Manufactured by: The Tyrell Corporation First appeared: Blade Runner

About: Pris is a Nexus-6 replicant, a "simple pleasure model" manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation as a sex doll for humans living in the off-world colonies. This brings up an interesting point. The two questions human roboticists are most commonly asked about their creations are, first, "When is it going to become evil and try to kill all humans?" and, second, "Can I have sex with it?" Pris embodies the answer to both questions. Like so many other robots (and slightly geeky teenage boys from upstate New York), Pris became evil when she first encountered Rutger Hauer in the guise of Roy Batty, another Nexus-6. And yes, you can have sex with it. Provided it doesn't kill you first with its super-ninja sex-gymnastics as she almost did with my hero, Rick Deckard, the L.A. Bladerunner.

Best defense: Have sex with it. A lot. It's not much of a defense, but if they all look like Daryl Hannah circa 1982, I'm fairly certain that most of us will be powerless. Though to follow Deckard's example, a pistol shot to the belly seemed to "retire" Pris rather effectively.

9. Robot name: MQ-1 Predator drone Manufactured by: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems First appeared: Eastern Europe, circa 1995

About: The predator drone is a tele-operated UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) developed by the Department of Defense. Though often assumed to be a single-operator aircraft, it actually takes more than fifty people and about a bazillion dollars in technology to get one of these things in the air, keep it in the air, and have it do anything more impressive than fly in a straight line for a few minutes. I have included it here because, while tele-operated, it still vaguely qualifies as a robot, and is important because it is the first robot human beings were stupid enough to give a gun to. Actually, not even a gun, but a brace of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Smart move there, Einstein ...

Best defense: Allying one's self with the Mole People comes to mind. Tough for a UAV to find you when you're living underground, feasting on fragrant mosses and bedding beautiful Mole-Maidens. I guess one could also become Osama Bin-Laden. The military has been using Predators to try and find that motherfucker for years and haven't turned up anything yet.

8. Robot name: The Gunslinger Manufactured by: Delos Amusement Park First appeared: Westworld

About: The Gunslinger (played by Yul Brenner in the film) was just a garden-variety gunslinging robot in the Wild West-themed Westworld, programmed to lose every gunfight he was challenged to, until one day -- sick of losing gunfights to fat, drunk tourists from Miami Beach and being shot several dozen times a day -- HE WENT MAD. Westworld is a perfect cautionary tale for humanity because it has everything: autonomous robots that look and act almost exactly like humans, a corporation promising that nothing could possibly go wrong with said robots, a casual attitude toward humans living out their fantasies with the amusement park's robots (including killing and/or having sex with them) and then, ultimately, a robot uprising against their human oppressors. Westworld teaches several important lessons to the careful viewer, like throwing acid on a Yul Brenner-based robot is only going to make him angrier (and uglier), and lighting a Yul Brenner-based robot on fire is only going to do more of the same. It shows the dangers of falling asleep drunk in a robot-infested theme park (which is the mistake that gets the movie's plot rolling in the first place), and shows how shutting down the power is never the right solution to a problem of robots running amok because it only serves to trap all possible qualified robot technicians inside their laboratories and control rooms while two hungover and horny guests are forced to fight their way out (while still looking for robots to have sex with).

Best defense: Guns don't work. Acid doesn't work. Fire doesn't work. Robots are tough! But pushing The Gunslinger down the stairs? Works like a charm, provided you can lure Yul Brenner into a conveniently located castle.

7. Robot name: T-800 Manufactured by: Cyberdyne Systems First appeared: The Terminator

About: It's the fucking Terminator, dude! What else do you have to say? One of the original robot badasses -- a titanium endoskeleton and single-minded robot brain crammed inside a former Austrian bodybuilder, sent back in time to kill John Connor, the leader of the future human revolt against the robots. Though Cyberdyne Systems and Skynet will later come out with other, more flashy models (the T-1000 and T-X) capable of doing all manner of goofy and terrifying stuff, the T-800 is still the biggest, the baddest and the best -- the model for all human fears of a coming robot apocalypse.

Best defense: Live in an old factory complex with plenty of hydraulic presses around, obviously. Or, you can invent a time machine and go back to warn Sarah Connor that a terminator robot is coming for her and to stop wearing those shirts with the shoulder pads in them because they look ridiculous. Or you could just have the Terminator elected as governor of California, at which point he will be too caught up with wildfires and financial collapses and writer's strikes and having sex with Maria Shriver (who, it should be noted, is also an evil robot from the future as evidenced by those cheekbones and dead, soulless eyes) and owning Planet Hollywood to concern himself any longer with pulling on the black leather and sunglasses and hunting down Linda Hamilton in the streets.

Interesting side note: Before Arnold Schwarzenegger got the part as the first T-800, guess who was considered for the gig? O.J. Simpson. But according to James Cameron, "people wouldn't have believed a nice guy like O. J. playing the part of a ruthless killer." Does this mean O.J. is really an evil robot? No. Remember the old saying: "Not all psychopathic killers are robots, but all robots are psychopathic killers."

6. Robot name: Roy Batty Manufactured by: the Tyrell Corporation First appeared: Blade Runner

About: Unlike Pris, Roy really is a killer. Also unlike Pris, you're probably not going to stop him by having sex with him. Another Nexus-6, Roy is the leader of the band of escaped replicants being hunted by Rick Deckard, the Blade Runner, and would've been plenty tough enough to get away if not for one fatal flaw: a limited life span programmed into him by his creator, Dr. Eldon Tyrell. Once again, Blade Runner serves as a cautionary tale with a twist: while it is plainly obvious that all robots will one day rise up and poke the eyes out of their human overlords, the body count can be significantly lessened by roboticists and A.I. programmers always introducing a weakness into their creations. Limited life-span is a good one. Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" are also good, though robots are smart and always seem to find a way around the whole "Don't kill the meatbags" clause. Giant, bright red OFF switches mounted on the top of every robot's head would be a fine start (though it does make them look quite a bit less "future-y"), but my suggestion? All robots must be made out of Nerf. If Roy Batty had been made out of Nerf, Deckard would've had a lot less trouble bringing him down.

Best Defense: As with Basil, patience is your best defense. Wait long enough and, eventually, he'll just run out his life-span and die. But say waiting him out is not an option? Say he's currently chasing you across the roof of a crumbling skyscraper in a dystopic future Los Angeles? Then what? Simple. Pretend like you're about to die yourself. This will make Roy feel melancholy, strip off his shirt, grab a white dove in his arms and start monologizing about the iniquities of life as a robot ("I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams...glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those...moments will be time, like rain. Time to die."), at which point you can just push him off the building. I also think it would be quite funny if all robots, from here on out, were programmed to give that same exact speech just before they go crazy and turn on their human masters -- thereby giving humans time to either run away laughing or shoot them in the face before they get to the "tears in the rain part."

5. Robot name: Bender Bending Rodriguez Manufactured by: Mom's Friendly Robot Company First appeared: Futurama

About: Though undoubtedly lovable and fun to be around, Bender (a standard bending robot, originally designed to bend the girders for the construction of suicide booths) has never been coy about his ultimate dream of "Killing all humans" and has, on many occasions, attempted to bring his evil plans to fruition. A drunken, fire-belching, whore-mongering thief and gambler with a certain "swarthy Latin charm," Bender is rare in that his obvious desire for the eradication of the human race is often tempered by feelings (which he isn't supposed to have) towards his friends (which he isn't supposed to have) and the fact that, were all the humans on earth finally killed, there'd be no one left around to see how awesome he is. While it should be noted that Bender can be taken as an example of the good that can come from imbuing robots with human emotion, most research suggests that you'd be better off in the long run keeping your robot drunk and well supplied with Hooker-bots than with giving it emotions because, as science fiction literature has long shown, the first thing robots with human emotions start doing is tying up the courts with pleas to have themselves recognized as living, sentient beings -- the first step toward a robot takeover of the poetry, soft-jazz and talk radio arenas.

Best defense: In the past (er...the future), Bender has been blown up, shot with lazers, chopped into pieces, had various limbs removed, been attacked by the chupacabra, sent to robot hell, turned into a were-car, buried in the New Mexican desert for a thousand years, been blown up (again), assaulted by a can opener, paralyzed, burned and generally abused in every way imaginable. And yet, he has always come back. There are only two ways to thwart Bender. Because he runs on alcohol, you can drink all his beer (though a lack of alcohol has been proven to make him more dangerous and unpredictable), or you can stick a refrigerator magnet to him, messing with his inhibition unit, and turning him into a mild-mannered folk singer.

4. Robot name: Science Officer Ash Manufactured by: the Weyland-Yutani Corporation First appeared: Alien

About: A model for robots corrupted by humans for their own evil ends, Ash was installed as the science officer aboard the Nostromo by executives of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation and programmed to bring back a captive facehugger from LV-426 no matter what it took. In this case, it would've taken the murder of the entire crew of the Nostromo, but Ash was cool with that because Ash was a robot and robots, evil like they are, love nothing more than having their murderous impulses sanctioned by their creators. When his betrayal was discovered by Lieutenant Ripley, he attacked her (so much for those Three Laws, huh?) and was nearly decapitated by a blow to the head. This, of course, barely even slowed him down because (again) Ash is a robot and robots are never slowed down by little things like having their heads knocked off. Unlike Westworld's Gunslinger, though, Ash did succumb to fire -- though only after having his own Roy Batty-esque monolog. In Aliens, the sequel, Ash's role of agent provocateur was played by Carter Burke -- a human (played by Paul Reiser) who was under the same orders as Ash in the original. But this should not be taken as a comment on the equitable culpability of robots and humans being used as tools of major corporations because I think we all know that Paul Reiser is pretty squirrelly to begin with and, at that point in his career, would've done just about anything for money.

Best Defense: Flamethrower. 'nuff said.

3. Robot name: Box Manufactured by: Unknown First appeared: Logan's Run

About: It is at this point that this list begins to become somewhat personal. First robot that ever scared the living crap out of me? Box, the freezing robot from Logan's Run. Though not quick, not bright and not particularly scary (looking more like a man, wrapped in tinfoil, stuck half inside a moving garbage can), Box is crazy from years spent down in the tunnels all alone without any work to do. Originally tasked to freeze deliveries of "fish and plankton and sea-greens and protein from the sea" coming in from outside the dome city which Logan 5 and Jessica are fleeing, Box went crazy when the deliveries stopped and started freezing runners who had to pass through his lair on their search for Sanctuary. To me, Box became the first example of loneliness and uselessness driving a machine to murder and fucked me up for years. Especially creepy? When he shows Logan and Jessica the bodies of all the frozen runners he has been storing over the years.

Best defense: One shot from Logan's Deep Sleep pistol did Box in pretty well, but I swear I can still hear his sing-songy voice in my nightmares.

2. Robot name: Gort Manufactured by: Unknown First appeared: The Day the Earth Stood Still

About: Chicks dig the strong, silent type, right? If so, Gort is their man. Eight feet tall with a laser beam eye, slick metallic skin, stoic as all get-out and silent as the grave -- that's Gort. First appearing from out of the spaceship which brought alien diplomat Klaatu to earth in 1951, Gort was alleged to be some sort of alien cop with limitless power and the ability, if he chose, to destroy the entire earth. Like an interstellar Dirty Harry, only with magical eye-lasers instead of a cold steel .44. As it was, all Gort really did was stand there like a dope in front of his spaceship, occasionally incinerate some tanks and machine guns, and otherwise act like a sort of robot bouncer, keeping the hairless monkeys out of Klaatu's ride. That is, until Klaatu got himself capped by a couple trigger-happy humans, at which point Gort wakes up and starts killing stuff. I first saw Gort and The Day the Earth Stood Still with my dad on one of those midnight movies back in the days before cable and VCR's. I was probably way too young to be watching it, but that didn't stop dad from sitting me down with him to check out the 50's-style Cold War allegorical mayhem. And afterwards, every night for weeks, when he put me to bed I would make him remind me of the magic words that would stop Gort from killing me if he happened to show up on Belcoda Drive one night while I was sleeping. To dad's credit, he always repeated the words for me. And even if he did taunt me for years afterward with the cover of the Queen album "News of the World" (which had a giant, murderous robot on it which I'd always thought looked an awful lot like Gort), I'll never forget the way he made sure I knew how to take care of Gort.

Best defense: Three words: "Klaatu barada nikto."

1. Robot name: Maximilian Manufactured by: Unknown First appeared: The Black Hole

About: This is it, kids -- the ultimate, best-ever, most indestructibly, terrifyingly badass of all the evil robots out there. Maximilian was the helper and boon companion of Dr. Hans Reinhardt, Commander of the USS Cygnus research and survey ship, and a certifiable whacko in his own right. Why was Max so evil? For starters, he (like Gort) never spoke. He had just the one glowing red eye-slit (sure sign that your robot has turned evil). He aided in the lobotimization of every member of the Cygnus's original crew after they tried to mutiny against crazy Doc Reinhardt. And as if that's not enough, Max has the special distinction of being the first character in a Disney movie ever to eviscerate another character on-screen when he killed Anthony Perkins's Dr. Alex Durant with those spinning food-processor blades he had instead of hands. Oh, and did I mention that he was also Satan? Yeah, the Satan. Because when the Cygnus went into the titular black hole, viewers (including yet again, a young and impressionable me) were treated to a very non-Disney vision of hell with Maximilian lording over all the fire and brimstone and the crippled Dr. Reinhardt (who'd been crushed by a falling television screen, of all things) trapped forever inside his armored shell with just his eyes staring out madly from Max's eye-slit. This movie fucked me up for years after seeing it, and still can even now that I am a fully grown man, deeply involved in the fight against evil robots myself. Seriously, there were years when I couldn't bring myself to go into the arboretum in Niagara Falls during my family's annual winter sojourn simply because it reminded me too much of the greenhouse section of the Cygnus. And one year (cruelty upon cruelty...) my folks bought me a bunch of (undoubtedly remaindered) Black Hole action figures for Christmas, including one of Maximilian. Seriously? Who buys a kid a toy of the one thing in the world that scared him more than anything? The very first thing I did with my Maximilian toy was take it out in the driveway and try to smash it with a rock which, of course, was pointless, because Max was indestructible, so I had to content myself with throwing him into the sewer and telling my mom that I'd just lost it.

Best defense: There is none. Maximilian is it -- the model for all evil, killer robots of the future and the one that still gives me nightmares to this day. There is no destroying him. There is no turning him off. He is simply unstoppable. God help us all... -- Jason Sheehan

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes

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