Monster on the Campus (1959) | Jack Arnold’s hairy rather than scary sci-fi
From the master of 1950s American sci-fi, Jack Arnold, comes the science gone awry black and white horror chiller, Monster on the Campus.
‘You will see evolution in reverse’
California college professor Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) acquires a prehistoric fish fossil from Madagascar called a coelacanth, whose irradiated blood causes a dog to sprout large canines, a dragonfly to grow two-foot long, and Blake to revert into a subhuman from 100 million years ago. But when it goes on a killing spree, how long will it take for Blake to work out that it’s the beast within him that’s causing all the mayhem on his doorstep?
Man-monster Campus Terror!
If the UK’s Hammer Films were known for their Home Counties gothic horrors set in the confines of Bray Studios, then director Jack Arnold (1916-1992) was best known for setting his many of his US sci-fi’s (It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, The Monolith Monsters) in cosy California townships, where evil alien forces cause chaos in impossibly wholesome ‘mom and Apple Pie’ communities. And the evil in question in this college town is the oozing blood from a defrosted coelacanth (or ‘silly-canth’ as it’s pronounced here) that turns our good doctor into the hairy pawed Beast of Dunsfield, but only for brief periods, in which he drags young women by the hair to their fright-induced early deaths.
Franz’s professor Blake gets nil points for health and safety awareness. He smokes while examining specimens, never wears gloves, and doesn’t even have a first aid kit in his lab. He’s also terrible at problem solving, as it takes two murders before he realises the truth.
The other characters aren’t that clued-up either, including Donald’s forgiving fiancé Madeline (played by Joanna Moore, whose real-life story is truly tragic) or the dumb detective (Judson Pratt), who thinks either a deformed maniac is responsible or someone is out to frame the professor. Wrong! He never considers the fact that Blake is always found at the scene of each crime, having blacked out, and with yet another torn shirt (a la The Hulk) to show for it. Duh!
Teen idol Troy Donahue puts in a early screen appearance as college jock Jimmy, who, along with Nancy Walters (of Blue Hawaii fame) witness the fossil’s transformation abilities in the film’s best moments, a scene in which Blake traps and kills the mutated dragonfly.
The Beast’s first transformation happens 11-minutes into the story, but we only ever see a hairy hand until the big climax, when we get that really bad joke shop mask, behind which is the legendary Hollywood stuntman Eddie Parker.
This evolutionary variant on Jekyll & Hyde isn’t the greatest sci-fi for Jack Arnold to go out on, but it does have its moments, particularly the excellent use of library music which carries the action, and the hilariously corny dialogue that includes lines like:
‘That’s impossible. Nobody’s got a footprint like that’.
‘Unless it was someone who had strange hands too’.
After this film, director Jack Arnold dabbled in comedy (The Mouse That Roared with Peter Sellers), teen exploitation (High School Confidential), westerns and light sex comedies before heading to TV, where he helmed many a childhood favourite, including Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch (he did the episode The Tiki Caves, which introduced me to a certain Mr Vincent Price), Wonder Woman and, oh dear, The Love Boat.
Monster on the Campus is out on DVD in the UK from Screenbound Pictures from 15 February 2016
Posted on February 14, 2016, in Might See, Might-See, Sci-Fi, Universal Horror and tagged 1950s sci-fi, Arthur Franz, Beast of Dunsfield, Eddie Parker, Jack Arnold, Jekyll & Hyde, Joanna Moore, Monster on the Campus, Nancy Walters, Sci-Fi, Screenbound Pictures, Troy Donahue. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.