Monster on the Campus

Director: Jack Arnold

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The old teensploitation flick Monster on the Campus (1958) must've disappointed carloads of teenagers at the drive-in movies of the era, because the teens in the tale (Troy Donahue & Nancy Walters) get very little screentime. Instead, we are given a story about the faculty & their families, with plenty of crusty character actors of the era popping by.

The side-cast included such folks as Whit Bissell as Dr. Cole & Hank Patterson as the night watchman, whose faces are always recognizable in these old films whether or not one remembers the names. Patterson is probably best remembered as Mr. Ziffel on Green Acres. Bissell was a persistent guest in scores of television series of the '50s through '70s, as well as playing the mad scientist in I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957).

Monster on the CampusIt's an appealing old cheapy for its basic & attractive black & white cinematography. It begins with a rather jaunty attitude with Professor Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) tickled to have acquired a dead coelacanth for his classes in prehistoric studies.

This big weird fish, unchanged since long before the age of dinosaurs, is present in the film as a really well made model. Whoever made this cool prop must also have made that set of hominids through the ages (including Piltdown Man who was later revealed to be a hoax).

The blood of the coelacanth, as it turns out, contains a bacteria or virus that induces temporary reversion to primitive forms. So a dog that laps some water from bloodied melted ice turns into a fanged prehistoric wolf & becomes vicious, but later turns back into a nice pet. A dragonfly that lands on the corpse of the coelacanth later turns into a giant dragonfly (another nicely made model, though the wings look totally etched in sheets of hard plastic).

Each time Blake manages yet again to infect himself, he turns temporarily into a murderous cave man (Eddie Parker rather than Arthur Franz under the make-up), not remembering his deeds when he reverts to being modern man. His scientific methods are utterly sloppy; he even manages to get the coelacanth virus in his pipe's bowl & turns cave-man after puffing on his pipe.

A bloodless film like most from the '50s, still, the cave man's first victim, Nurse Molly (Helen Westcott), is shown dead & strung up in a tree by her hair, pretty gruesome for the day.

Eventually the professor becomes a threat to his own fiance, Madeline (Joanna Cook Moore, later Andy Griffith's Mayberry girlfriend), permitting the standard "monster carries girl away" scene.

One cutesy moment is when Blake is on the phone to a coelacanth expert in Madagascar, whose name is Dr. Moreau of H. G. Wells' Island of Dr. Moreau fame.

The film greatly comes across as a Jekyll & Hyde variant, but in the climax reminds one of the original Lon Chainey Jr. Wolfman (1941) except the similarly staged on-screen transformation back to human form is much more badly done for Monster on the Campus.

There's plenty to find fault with if one wishes. The film is overall strictly by the numbers with no real surprises in it, & a few contradictions such as the cave man sometimes having big feet sometimes not. But it has a hefty dose of charm for anyone who rather enjoys 1950s drive-in movie horror films.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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