NIGHTMARISH NOSTALGIA: MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958)
MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958)
Starring Arthur Franz, Joanna Moore and Troy Donahue
Directed by Jack Arnold
Written by David Duncan
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Until the moment about an hour in when the titular creature is finally revealed, 1958’s Monster on the Campus is a half-decent sci-fi monster mash whose debates about evolution and how man’s primitive nature lies just below the surface of civility are engaging enough to suspend our disbelief about such a silly concept. Then we see Bud Westmore’s masked monster and the whole thing devolves into ridiculousness… fun ridiculousness at that, though.
Arthur Franz (Invaders From Mars) stars as Prof. Donald Blake, a university scientist excited by the arrival of a coelacanth from Madagascar to his campus laboratory. But the arrival of the creature, previously thought to be extinct since the Cretaceous period, brings with it deadly trouble as all those who come in contact with it, animals and humans alike, find themselves reverting into primitive versions of themselves. A series of murders, which Blake attributes to a subhuman creature exposed to the coelacanth’s gamma-irradiated flesh, leads the scientist to conduct an experiment which will confirm just how close to animalistic brutality we all are.
Screenwriter David Duncan, responsible for the English version of the original Rodan (1956), keeps the talkier scenes breezing along with half-plausible dialogue delivered with an admirable amount of seriousness by the cast, especially Franz whose character Blake is at times testy, arrogant and unlikeable. Points, too, to Duncan for naming the Madagascar scientist Blake talks to over the phone “Dr. Moreau.” Very nice. Further nods to Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde become obvious, too.
Director Jack Arnold’s pedigree as a monster man was well-established by 1958, having helmed sci-fi horror classics like 1954’s Creature From The Black Lagoon, the Richard Matheson-scripted Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), and not-so-classic but still entertaining genre fare like 1955’s Tarantula and 1953’s It Came From Outer Space. His work here is solid, although he’s let down by his Black Lagoon makeup man Bud Westmore who replaced Jack Pearce at Universal when Pearce’s painstaking techniques (he created Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy) were determined to be too expensive and time-consuming, and were replaced by hacks, I mean purveyors of foam rubber like Westmore. The resulting “monster” looks like a dime store rubber mask you’d pick up the afternoon of a Halloween party.
Monster on the Campus can be found on Universal’s The Classic Sci-Fi Collection, Vol. 1, a six-disc, 10-film set which also includes Arnold’s Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man, overall a great collection of fun creature features whose monsters result from science run amuck. Monster on the Campus isn’t the best flick in this set (that would be Shrinking Man, of course), but its flaws and cheesiness aren’t strong enough to make me think I’d been made a monkey of.